some text
Gov. Bill Haslam answers questions during his first news conference on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Last in a series

KNOXVILLE -When it comes to the Haslam family, there's more to the story than Pilot and politics.

While the governor's race and Pilot's merger with Flying J received most of the attention in 2010, the family's influence on East Tennessee and elsewhere extends far more broadly, encompassing activities ranging from philanthropy to sports to popular culture.

Long known as University of Tennessee backers, the family has athletic interests that aren't limited to the Orange and White. In 2002, a group led by Bill Haslam bought the Tennessee Smokies minor-league baseball team, and in 2009, Jimmy Haslam bought a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the oldest franchises in the National Football League.

When it comes to popular culture, the family has a hand in entertainment of a different sort - television programming. Dee Haslam, who married Jimmy in 1976, is the CEO of RIVR Media Interactive, a TV production company that has created shows for Animal Planet, the DIY Network and HGTV.

Dee's father, Ross Bagwell Sr., had worked for NBC and Canada's CBC before launching his own production company in Knoxville. In 1994 he sold Cinetel Productions to the E.W. Scripps Co., which used Cinetel's archive of lifestyle programming to help launch the HGTV cable network.

Dee Haslam had worked with her father since her days as a college student, and after he had a heart attack she and business partner Rob Lundgren purchased the company from her father and her brother in 1999. Now known as RIVR Media, the production company quickly hit it big with "Trading Spaces," a home-improvement show that was transplanted from the United Kingdom and launched the career of celebrity carpenter Ty Pennington.

Millions for UT buildings

Perhaps the greatest impact on the area has come from the Haslam family's commitment to philanthropy. After founding Pilot Oil Corp. in 1958, Jim Haslam became active in civic affairs, eventually serving in leadership roles for organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Public Building Authority, where he led the charge on construction of the City County Building downtown.

His role in public life wasn't universally embraced. In 1999, for example, the Knox County Commission stunned many political observers by declining to reappoint Haslam to the PBA board - with one commissioner who voted against him calling the move a "sneak attack." The family patriarch also was involved closely in some controversial decisions related to the hiring of UT presidents.

But over the decades, Haslam's hands-on leadership style was accompanied by a willingness to put his own money, and lots of it, into the causes he supported.

One example came in 2006, when Jim and wife Natalie Haslam and the Haslam Family Foundation gave $32.5 million to the university, money that helped finance a six-floor, 174,000-square-foot building for the College of Business Administration and a 123,000-square-foot building for the School of Music that will include a new recital hall. Both buildings will bear the Haslam name.

Asked about his record of giving to UT, Haslam said he could never repay the university adequately for "what it did for me," adding that he arrived as a 17-year-old boy and left as a 22-year-old man. "It's always bothered me that in North Carolina and Virginia they cherish their universities ... and we cherish the football team," he said.

A formidable fundraiser

As important as his giving, is Haslam's willingness to wring money out of his network of friends and family.

Dan Matthews, the former rector of St. John's Cathedral on Cumberland Avenue, recalled that in the late 1970s, a bishop in his denomination asked Haslam and him to head a $3.5 million fundraising campaign. Matthews said he went to Haslam's office on Kingston Pike, where the businessman got out a yellow legal pad and began the list with a $100,000 pledge from himself and Natalie Haslam.

Next, he wrote down the names of Matthews and his wife, and said "Dan, how much you going to give?" Matthews said he eventually "took about three breaths" and offered $10,000, although he said in an interview that he wasn't making much more than that at the time.

At that point, Matthews said, Haslam spun around in his chair and called an Episcopalian from Nashville who owned a chain of gasoline stations. After some banter about sports, Matthews said Haslam explained why he was calling and told the man he needed a gift of $50,000. Within about 45 seconds, the Nashville businessman had agreed.

It was an eye-opening experience for the minister, and when Haslam hung up, Matthews expressed some doubts about his own ability to handle such "fast-track" fundraising. "Then he looked at me," Matthews recalled later, "and he said, 'Dan, you don't raise money by sending out a mimeographed letter.'"

Ann Bailey said her father doesn't ask people to do anything that he wouldn't do himself, including financial giving - and that approach has been passed on.

"I'm not ever comfortable going to ask somebody for something that ... I don't believe in and we haven't given to," Bailey said.

Bailey and her husband, Steve, have been involved in a wide variety of causes including the Episcopal School of Knoxville and the Knoxville Museum of Art, where Steve Bailey was chairman of the board. In 2007, the couple pledged $1 million to the museum, a gift that doubled its endowment.

The same year Jimmy and Dee Haslam gave $10 million to the University of Tennessee, money that benefited programs including the Haslam Scholars endowment and UT's Marco Institute, which focuses on Renaissance and Medieval Studies.

Bill and Crissy Haslam, according to financial disclosures from last year's governor's race, gave about $690,000 a year to charitable causes over a six-year period, including significant tithing to Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church and contributions to more than 170 charities.

Ben Landers, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Knoxville, described the family as "incredibly generous people," and said Jim Haslam has been the organization's top individual contributor for decades.

"I don't know where we would be in this community without Jim Haslam and the family," Landers said. "Their giving is just unprecedented."

News Sentinel business writer Josh Flory may be reached at 865-342-6994.


When Bill Haslam was sworn in as Tennessee's 49th governor, it capped a family rise to prominence that began some 60 years ago. The Knoxville News-Sentinel, a member with the Chattanooga Times Free Press of the Tennessee Newspaper Network, documented the family's journey to wealth and power.

Part One: Jim Haslam, family patriarch

Part Two: The young Haslam family and the start of Pilot Oil Corp.

Part Three: Pilot gets bigger

Part Four: The emergence of Bill Haslam

Part Five: Flying J purchase completed

Part Six: The Haslam family's philanthrophy