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One night in 1981, brothers Grady and Steve Jacoway, who were both University of Tennessee students at the time, fell into a heated discussion at a Knoxville watering hole.

Graduates of McCallie School and devout fans of the Volunteers, this was nothing new, and it was almost always louder than most such disagreements because Grady had pretty much been totally deaf since birth.

Only this particular time, a third party joined in, a guy standing around 6-foot-4 and weighing about 240 pounds.

"I think he was transferring to UT from West Point," recalled Steve, the younger of the two. "He'd supposedly been a big-time football player at West Point, but he never played for the Vols."

Regardless, the guy didn't like the way Steve was going at Grady, who had become friends with the transfer.

"This guy was about to break me in two," Steve said. "And every time I'd tell Grady, 'Tell him we're brothers,' Grady would just lean back and smile, the way only Grady could.

"Then the guy asks, 'So you're fraternity brothers? That still doesn't excuse you treating him this way.' I'm starting to get worried for my life, and Grady just keeps smiling every time I tell him to tell the guy we're brothers. Finally, someone who knew us both came up and said something about us being the Jacoway brothers, and everything calmed down."

But the next day, and still unnerved by the event, Steve asked Grady why he didn't just tell the guy they were brothers.

Replied Grady, again breaking into a smile, "Because you were being a jerk and you got what you deserved."

This was just one of the many stories told Saturday morning at a graveside service at Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo about Grady the Great, who died June 9 of heart failure at the age of 63.

As relayed by his older brother Joe Schmissrauter, childhood friend Mark Schmissrauter — who couldn't be at the service — recounted a time when the two were McCallie middle schoolers and Mark needed a dollar for a Coke or something at the school's canteen.

"Grady made me sign an IOU," Mark remembered. "Fifteen years later, we're meeting for lunch one day and Grady pulls out that IOU. He says, 'You owe me $2 now — interest."

A McCallie classmate from 1976, Dr. Walter Rose, remembered playing youth football against Jacoway's Bright School team when Rose was attending Thrasher Elementary.

"Grady was really big and strong for his age," Rose said. "He wasn't easy to tackle. He'd come through the line, and his hearing aids were always clipped to his jersey. It was very intimidating."

Another classmate remembered Grady once buying 100 Matchbox cars for $25 apiece. He ended up selling them to someone in Europe for $200 each.

Yet it was real cars that Grady knew best, especially 1959 Lincoln Continentals. So knowledgeable was he about those models that when Ford Motor Company needed to fix a '59 Continental that was damaged while being temporarily on loan from its museum, the auto dealer reached out to him for help.

Turned out Grady already had the part they needed. It arrived within a few days, and the company sent most of its future business his way regarding parts for vintage Lincolns.

East Hamilton High School principal Brent Eller, the 2020 Hamilton County principal of the year, shared Grady's love of old cars. The two would often drive through the countryside hoping to find a particular car they wanted in someone's driveway or backyard.

"We may have even had a gun pointed at us a time or two," Eller said with a chuckle Saturday.

Not that Grady ever discussed his auto acumen with most of his friends. Not until his death did many people know of his long relationship with Ford.

But they all knew how much Grady had overcome to graduate from both McCallie and UT, where he earned a degree in business administration before enjoying a long professional career with Cigna, McKee Baking and Mountain Management Services.

As local attorney Ward Nelson wrote in an email thread last week concerning Grady's lifelong fight to conquer his deafness (he gave up football his junior and senior years at McCallie in order to focus full time on his studies): "Talk about overcoming a serious disability and touching every person who met him. I can't ever remember Grady not smiling. What an example of making lemonade out of lemons."

Indeed, that email thread detailed as well as anything how much Jacoway meant to his friends.

Wrote Chris Porter: "Grady was a gentle giant ... a big heart."

A sign of that heart: Despite limited income, Grady gave two of his most precious antique cars to his nephews for graduation presents. He never forgot birthdays. He always showed up early for gatherings.

Wrote Kathy Conley on a different web posting: "I still have the TN Vol Smokey Dog Christmas ornament he bought me years ago and every time I see it I think of him. He always had a smile on his face and was always kind to people."

Added McCallie classmate John Pregulman: "Grady was always kind and a gentlemen. We need more like him in this world."

Grady Jacoway may indeed have always struggled to hear, but the rest of us should listen to his story, to what obstacles can be overcome and what good deeds can be accomplished if only you'll choose to let a smile be your umbrella.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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