Some mutual friends had recently notified me that Jimmy Holt, one of the state’s most popular outdoorsmen and a long-time newspaper colleague, was dealing with serious health issues and might pass at any moment.
That’s why I was surprised to get a phone call from him one morning a couple of weeks ago, a day or two after the death of my wife Mary Frances.
Jimmy offered condolences and said he how fond he was of Mary Frances and what a joy she was to be around.
We talked for 15 minutes or longer, reminiscing about our old newspaper days at The Tennessean. At one point I asked how he was doing.
“Aw, I’m hanging in,” he said, and shifted the conservation back to Mary Frances and said his prayers were with us.
A few days later I got word that Jimmy had died.
Middle Tennessee lost arguably its most popular outdoors personality and I lost a long-time friend. I wasn’t alone. Jimmy Holt was everybody’s favorite fishin’ buddy.
“Jimmy probably meant more to me personally and professionally than anybody I’ve ever known,” said Lebanon’s Jim Duckworth, a fishing guide, fishing-video producer and one of Holt’s pals for decades.
“He taught me everything I know about videotaping, he was the best fisherman I was ever around, and he was just a great all-around guy,” Duckworth said. “He had that same natural charisma that Bill Dance has – everybody who knew him loved him. Jimmy Holt had a million friends and no enemies.”
I first met Jimmy when I joined The Tennessean sports staff in 1967. At the time he was a photographer, and would go on to become the paper’s fishing writer and outdoors editor.
Jimmy was a superb photographer whose engaging personality gained him lots of behind-the-scenes access. One summer he met an aspiring young singer named Elvis Presley. Jimmy hung out around town with Elvis and accumulated a collection of candid photos.
In addition to being a newspaperman and photographer, Jimmy was also a Metro councilman and boat dealer. But it was his work on the Tennessee Outdoorsman Show, broadcast on Nashville’s PBS station from 1969-2001, for which he was most famous.
Jimmy’s wit and sense of humor made the show a long-running success. One example: Jimmy and co-host Glen Smith were taping a show on a section of Center Hill Lake known as Indian Creek when they struck up a conversation.
“Glen, I wonder why they call this place Indian Creek?” Jimmy asked.
“Gosh, I don’t know, Jimmy,” dead-panned Glen, turning his back to camera – which showed an arrow protruding from the back of his life jacket.
Such fun-loving hi-jinks didn’t distract from the fact that Jimmy was an expert outdoorsman, an avid fisherman and an authority on area waters. He caught fish – big ones and lots of them – when other anglers were getting skunked.
Jimmy was also a dedicated duck hunter. During waterfowl season Jimmy and Tennessean owner Amon Evans would disappear for weeks, hunting out of Amon’s duck camp in West Tennessee.
After Jimmy retired from the Tennessean I eventually took over the outdoor editor’s job and we stayed in contact over the years. Usually we talked about fishing or newspapering. Fittingly, our final conversation was about Jimmy’s concern for others – his mourning the passing of Mary Frances and his concern about how I was doing.
Now, after a half-century’s friendship, Jimmy Holt is gone. He’ll be missed here, but the angels are going to hear some great fishing yarns.