William M. Johnson

June 12, 1936-Sept. 13, 2020


William Marvin (Bill) Johnson was born in Sparta, Tennessee, on June 12, 1936, the younger son of Ammon Estes Johnson and Mary Margaret Hill Johnson.

 He was preceded in death by his parents and older brother, Robert Hill Johnson.  He passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family, on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.

Bill attended White County public schools where he was a popular student and athlete; he spent his senior year at The Baylor School in Chattanooga and was a standout football player, earning an athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville.  He graduated from UT, in 1958, with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration/finance.

At UT, Bill was selected as a co-captain for the 1957 Volunteer squad; he was voted an All-SEC and All-American guard.  He was perhaps proudest of the fact that he was the first All-American and Academic All-American for the University, a feat that has only been replicated two times—Bob Johnson, in 1967, and Peyton Manning, in 1997.  During his college career, he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, served as the Army ROTC battalion commander, and received many other campus recognitions, most notably the Torchbearer Award, the highest award bestowed on a UT undergraduate.  After graduation, Bill served in the U.S. Army Infantry (1958-1960) then in the Tennessee Army National Guard (1960-1966) attaining the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

Upon returning to Sparta, Bill soon went to work at First National Bank, a locally owned institution, and was eventually both a member of the board of directors and president during his tenure there; his father, his maternal grandfather (Robert L. Hill), and great-grandfather (Richard Hill) had previously served as president.  He was well respected in banking circles and served as Tennessee vice-president of the American Bankers Association and director of the Federal Reserve Bank, in Nashville.  Upon his retirement from the banking industry, he became a consultant for and investor in Meridian Aggregates of Denver, Colorado, with his college teammate and good friend Tommy Bronson.  He occupied a consulting role with HealthTrust in their acquisition and divestiture of hospitals.

Bill lived by the motto “It is more blessed to give than receive,” and give he did.  He was a tireless worker for his beloved UT, serving on the Athletics Board from 1972-1974 before being elected to the Board of Trustees, in 1975; he served as vice-chairman of the Board from 1987-1991, retiring from this prestigious body, in 1996.  He was also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, serving as a director; he served in a director capacity of the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.  In 1972 Bill was selected by the Tennessee Jaycees as their “Outstanding Young Man of the Year” and devoted a great amount of time as a member of the Boy Scout Council of Middle Tennessee.  He was a longtime supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, and Cru.

Sparta and White County were dear to Bill’s heart, and his   ancestors have lived there since the very early 1800s.  The Johnson farm has been in the family for 125 years.  He felt a great obligation to give back to the city that had given him so much and served the people of the community in various ways, including as an alderman and vice-mayor of the city of Sparta, the first president of the United Givers Fund, the president of the Upper Cumberland Development Association, and as the director of the Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce. 

Bill’s faith was at the core of who he was. For the greater part of his life, he was an active and faithful fourth generation member of First United Methodist Church in various capacities, including Sunday School teacher and trustee.  He served the Methodists denominationally as a trustee of Martin College, in Pulaski, Tennessee, as director of the Tennessee Conference United Methodist Foundation, and as a lay- preacher.

Anyone who knew Bill, knew that, other than his faith, his first priority and greatest delight was his family. His children and    grandchildren were truly his greatest joy and source of pride. 

He is survived by his wife, the former Rena Jones, originally of Humboldt, Tennessee, who he met at UT; his three daughters and their husbands; and 11 grandchildren: Cynthea and Buz Amason (Athens, Georgia) - Phil, Mary Hill, Stephen, and Saralee; Cathryn and Billy Rolfe (Nashville, Tennessee) - Rena Clayton and Austin; and Carolyn and Tom Bronson (Brooksville, Florida) - Thomas, Robert Hill, John, Alice, and David Hale. He is also survived by his first cousin, Walter Hill Carlen and wife, Beverly (Cookeville, Tennessee) and brother-in-law Ted Jones Jr. and wife Cathey (Humboldt, Tennessee).  

Special thanks from the family to Bill’s colleague and longtime business associate, George Elrod (Sparta, Tennessee) who has been one of his closest friends since the first grade, and to Carl Johnson (Nashville, Tennessee) who truly was the son he never had.

There will be a visitation 4-7 p.m., on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, at Bilbrey Farms (1209 Gum Springs Mountain Rd., Sparta, Tennessee 38583, https://bilbreyfarmsvenue.com), with a celebration of life service at 2 p.m.,  Friday, Sept. 18, at Duck Pond Manor, with visitation and light refreshments to follow (665 Duck Pond Rd., Sparta, Tennessee 38583,  https://www.duckpondmanor.com/)

Honorary pallbearers are George Elrod, Sam Langford, Bruce    Hutchings, Carl Johnson, Phillip Fulmer, Gary Wyant, Doug Matthews, Tommy Bronson, Denny Mitchell, Jack Franklin, and Ed Taylor.

If you wish to make memorial gifts, they may be directed to:

  • YMCA of Sparta (https://spartawhitecountyymca.org/);
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes, c/o Jeff Lacy (https://www.uppercumberlandfca.org/);
  • Robert Hill Johnson Award Foundation at Tennessee Tech University (www.ttusports.com) [Kristie Phillips, Director of Annual Giving/Stewardship kphillips@tntech.edu Phone: (931) 372-6857.

Hunter Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.


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