It was getting close to 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and in a few minutes Dr. Steve Highlander would begin delivering a very emotional eulogy regarding the extraordinary life of wrestling icon John Farr.
But as he stood in the lobby of the North Chapel of the Chattanooga Funeral Home he also was grappling with the death of fellow local wrestling legend Jim Morgan, who likewise died last Friday.
"I guess I'd say this," observed Highlander, who considered Farr a coaching mentor and who was coached by Morgan at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Losing John Farr and Jim Morgan on the same day has been as devastating to the Chattanooga wrestling community the past few days as losing Thomas Jefferson and John Adams was to the country as a whole when they both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after ratifying the Declaration of Independence."
It certainly would be tough to find two men in the Chattanooga area who have left bigger footprints than Farr and Morgan.
Or as former McCallie coaching great Gordon Connell noted before the service, "In my opinion, John Farr is the father of Tennessee wrestling."
And Morgan, who graduated from McCallie but coached at both UTC and McCallie archrival Baylor?
"When I was first hired at Hixson High School, I got a handwritten note from Jim congratulating me," Connell said. "When we won the state there, I got another note. And when Jake Yost was hired as the McCallie coach this year, Jim wrote him a note, as well. That's 48 years of writing handwritten notes to people, and there is no telling how many others in this community have gotten notes from him. That's just one example of the kind of guy he was."
Stories concerning Morgan will no doubt be in abundance this Sunday afternoon at 2 when a memorial service will be held for him in the Baylor Alumni Chapel with a reception to follow. As the Lane Funeral Home website notes, there are sure to be remembrances from both his wrestlers and his chemistry students regarding "the life-long lessons he taught them: courage, humility, perseverance, dedication, loyalty, integrity and honesty."
But those same words also were in abundance at Farr's memorial service.
One former Red Bank wrestler spoke of Farr's years there, where he guided the Lions to three straight state titles. But he also recalled a morning in Nashville when, after eating breakfast at a Music City restaurant, the younger brother of one of his wrestlers was being bullied by a couple of high school kids.
Farr told the bullies as the whole Red Bank team gathered: "You better have brought your lunch, because you're going to be here for awhile."
George Farr, a relative, also wrestled for him at Red Bank.
"I weighed 111 pounds, and he wanted me to wrestle at 108," George Farr said. "When you're 111 pounds, trying to lose three pounds can be hard. So he'd put me in the whirlpool with the temperature at about 110 degrees. When I turned red, he'd pull me out. But if wasn't down to 108 yet, I went right back in."
Regarding weight, Farr was also a wrestling official at numerous UTC matches when Morgan was the Mocs coach. It was the practice of some of the less scrupulous coaches Morgan dealt with to ask if the weigh-ins could be on the honor system. Morgan once told Highlander that Farr might have been the only coach he'd ever known who he wouldn't have suspected anything of he'd asked for such a thing.
Morgan also said he never questioned Farr calls during a match, because if he called it, it was always correct.
But Farr was so much more than a wrestling coach or official. He served with distinction in the Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was the longtime president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame. Said Mickey Haddock, who succeeded Farr, "Everything he was involved in, he left it stronger than when he started. He certainly helped the Hall of Fame, especially with finances."
Longtime East Ridge High coaching legend Catherine Neely, the current president of the Hall, noted the magnificent model train collection that Farr kept in his basement.
There was also this from granddaughter Amber Farr, whose father is John Farr Jr.: "He'd pay me $5 an hour to move paperwork around in his office, which was mostly so he could spend time with me."
Recalled Connell in remembering that state-title run at Hixson: "We caught two of our wrestlers smoking cigarettes before the state. I went to John to ask him what I should do. He said I should talk to Luke Worsham (the Baylor coaching icon who had coached Farr when he was a Red Raider). Luke said I should let the rest of the team vote. They all voted to let them wrestle, and we won the state. John was very wise."
It was certainly a life well lived. He and Delores, married 48 years, raised two fine children in John Jr. and Ginger, were blessed with three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. On so many fronts he left everything he touched better than he found it.
But there was also this, the sweet thought of a family friend known as "Little John," who said of the twin losses of the 84-year-old Farr and the 80-year-old Morgan on the same January Friday: "We did not lose Mr. Farr. He just went to that big wrestling place in the sky, and Jim went with him so he'd have someone to wrestle with."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com