Robert Jackson 'Jack' Higgs

Friday, September 25, 2015

Robert Jackson "Jack" Higgs, 83, passed away on the morning of Sept. 22, 2015. The son of the late Robert Lee Higgs and Mary Lee Cummings, Jack was a long-time resident of Johnson City, Tennessee, and a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, teacher, and friend.

Jack was born Feb. 23, 1932 in his parents' home in Anes Station, Tennessee, a small farming village that used to be a train depot named after his grandmother. His early life growing up on a farm during World War II gave him an appreciation for simplicity, humor, education, spirituality and family values that were deep-rooted and long-standing in his life.

He graduated from Marshall County High School and attended Castle Heights Military Academy as well as Vanderbilt University. He then graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a B.S. degree in 1955. He played football and baseball there, but is perhaps best remembered for being the keeper of the Navy goat.

He then served in the United States Air Force for eight years and was stationed for two tours in the Far East, including Taiwan, where, in 1958, he married Irene "Reny" Loy, who was from Knoxville, Tennessee.

He then left the service and entered graduate school, receiving his masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Tennessee in 1964 and 1967, respectively. He taught English for one year at Eastern Kentucky University while completing his PhD and then moved to Johnson City, where he was a professor of English at East Tennessee State University for 27 years until his retirement in 1994. During that time, he and Reny raised two daughters, Julia and Laura.

As a professor of all levels of college students, Jack Higgs left a legacy of appreciation for literature and learning, and especially for seeking a deeper understanding of oneself and the world, both past and present. As a scholar, he also published two anthologies on Appalachian literature, five books on sports, literature and religion, and hundreds of articles, speeches, book reviews and lectures on these themes as well as on the theme of humor. He has received numerous awards and honors, including being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his book, "God in the Stadium." During his retirement, he was a guest speaker, mentor, scholar, farmer (with a specialty of green beans), writer of fiction, and doting grandfather "Papa Jack" to grandson Sheldon and granddaughter Amalia. He always enjoyed eating good food, having lots of people around him, telling stories and jokes, and finding laughter and wisdom in all things.

His lifetime hobbies, besides reading and writing, included gardening, playing checkers and chess, racquetball and golf, walking, fishing, keeping up with the news and traveling.

Jack will perhaps be best remembered by his family and friends as a selfless soul who truly put all others before himself. He was a very kind, generous and caring person, an excellent listener and a wise counselor. His exemplary life renews hope in humanity and provides a radiant light for us to emulate. His gentle spirit, having touched hundreds if not thousands of people, will continue to resonate in those lives.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Irene Higgs; two daughters, Julia Lee Higgs and Laura Higgs Kappel; son-in-law Igor Kappel; grandson Sheldon Kappel; granddaughter Amalia Kappel; sister Rebecca Feagins, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

The family will receive friends from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27, at Tetrick Funeral & Cremation Services in Johnson City and will hold a Celebration of Life Service at 3 p.m.

The family requests that in lieu of sending flowers, written expressions and/or pictures of Jack's influence in your lives be sent to the family at 9 Okeechobee Drive, Johnson City, 37604.

Memories and condolences may be shared with the family at Tetrick Funeral & Cremation Services is honored to serve the Higgs family.