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In Loving Memory

jim-oliver-smoke-house-monteagle-tnJim Oliver (August 4, 1937 – May 16, 2007)

Mr. Jim Oliver, a Monteagle mountain fixture and entrepreneur for many years, died unexpectedly on May 16, 2007 at his residence in Monteagle, Tennessee.

Personal Testimonials - Click to open/close

“Jim was easy going and friendly…especially to young people. When his younger daughter, Nancy, and a few of us got a band together when she was in high school, he let us play for cookouts and pig roasts in back of the hotel. We had a blast. He supported our crazy dreams, especially those of his daughter. We will miss you, Jim.” ~ Dave D.

“I didn’t know Mr. Oliver personally but my parents stayed at the Smoke House a few years back and told me that if they ever traveled through Monteagle again they would definitely stay at Jim’s Place. This is no ordinary motel like the Travelodge or Super 8, this place is special. I was born in a Small town where everybody knew your name and when I was little we moved to Florida, Big Change! But the Smoke House reminds me of the country with that same relaxed everybody’s-like-family air; you know, the one perfect picture where the grandpa in overalls takes his grandchild fishing at the creek for the first time. It’s like that, more like a home. So thank you, Mr. Oliver, the Staff, and all the other wonderful people that make it that way!”

“My favorite memory of the Smoke House and Mr. Oliver is the friendly atmosphere and the obvious love that Jim had for his business and his family and friends and his patience with Rafia (Reathea).”

“I went to work for the Smoke House in 1998. Shortly after I went to work there my daughter ran away from home in Florida. When the police found her they contacted me at work (in the Lodge). I started to leave to go get her and “Big Daddy” stopped me and handed me $300.00. I tried to tell him that I didn’t need the money (although I wasn’t sure how I was gonna’ make the trip) and he insisted that I take it. He said “she’s gonna’ need things when you get back!” Then when I tried to pay him back he wouldn’t accept the money. I don’t know how I would have made that trip because at the time I only had $75.00 to my name. Mr. Oliver has been an employer, a mentor, and a dear friend to me. I consider it a real privilege to be a part of the Smoke House family. I have always been treated like family and hope to remain so. To James, Betsy and Nancy – all my love and deep sympathy at the loss of this great man. He left a gaping hole in my heart and I know you are all missing him terribly. You are all in my thoughts and prayers and will continue to be.” Yours truly ~ Elaine (Ryder) Morrison

“For the 10 years we spent in the area we had some wonderful meals, a family reunion, a place for our children to spend their time during the ice storm of “99, and a place to purchase some terrific memorabila. Thanks to you for providing a place to meet.” ~ The Grens

“I worked for the Smoke House under Jim, James David, & Hank as the booking agent for the convention center in the early 80’s. I was their only agent, and truly loved working with them. They gave me my own office, and I was treated like family. I brought my precious son to many of the events (he was 3-1/2 at the time), and he’s now 27!!! It was, is, and will always be a favorite place to visit, eat, & shop in the gift shop. Jim Oliver is a divine man, with a heart of gold, who will live on thru his family to all of us forever. Our hearts, thoughts & prayers go out to the family, at their great loss. Jim will forever live in our hearts. His smile & laugh were always a “kodak moment”. I am very blessed to have known him, James David, Hank, and all the staff at that time. I have many cherished moments, and pictures of them from the events I booked, etc. It is amazing how their business has exploded in growth thru the years, and how they’ve “given back” to the community, and been blessed immensely, and in return been a blessing to countless others. What a family of integrity! May God lift you up, give you comfort and peace at the loss of a great man, husband, father, and friend. Our hearts and prayers are with the family. Love, Jeannie Suttle & family”

“I opened my shop in the mall of The Smoke House in October of 1976 and remained until January of 1980. The shop was Highland Rim Boutique. Oh, so many happy memories. I am saddened to hear of Jim’s passing. My heart goes out to Nancy, Betty, and James David, Janace and Gwen. And to all of you who will miss him.” ~ Jackie Corbett Wakefield

“I first met Jim Oliver when I was a teenager on a date at Monteagle Diner. He did his normal routine of meeting everyone and “getting to know you”. I found out that we were cousins because his Mother and my Grandmother were sisters. I did not know very many people on my dad’s side of the family except for his brother, Brent, and my grandparents, since my dad was never around while I was growing up. Needless to say, I frequented the Diner before I left the area and was gone 15 years. When I returned home, Jim had the Smoke House and we became reacquainted. Jim made me feel truly like family. He invited me to all the family get togethers. I have two very special memories of Jim. Jim and Brent gave me my first surprise birthday party. They came to the bank where I worked and picked up all my co-workers and me in the Limo and had wine and cheese on board. When we got to the Smoke House, it was a night to remember! There was also a time that I was pretty down on my luck, raising a child on my own. Jim was renovating the motel and I asked him if he had any fairly decent mattresses and how much he would want for one because mine was old and in bad shape. He said probably around $50, which sounded good to me. He would check and see and let me know. One afternoon when I got home from work, my front porch was completely full of not only a NEW mattress and box springs, but a beautiful country mirror, lamps and two rockers for my front porch and needless to say, he would not take a dime for any of it. Jim’s generosity and kindness was beyond compare. He touched so many lives and will be greatly missed. My heart and love goes out to Becky, Nancy, JD, Betty, Gywn, and Janice.” ~ Sherrie Sartain Wade

“We, too, will miss Jim, my mother (Bernice Gross) worked for Jim for 25 years or more. It was her second home, she loved Jim and his family like her own and she loved her job and all the friends she met through her work at The Smoke House. Jim was very willing to help people out, and that is what we will as others, remember about Jim. He was kind to our family, as is Betsy, James David and Nancy, Janice and Gwen and we will always treasure our past memories of Jim and will always love his family. Love to all.” ~ Becky Rose

“In the early days of Clifftops, there was a running feud between Jim and Cleon Hartman who was the resident manager. Jim usually got the last word. This one time, Jim wanted to subscribe to the Chattanooga Times but the Times would not deliver unless Jim had an approved newspaper box. Jim promptly erected a bright white Chattanooga Times box on a post at his driveway. Cleon wrote him a formal letter explaining that white was not an approved color for anything in Clifftops and that mail and newspaper boxes were not permitted by the covenants. The paper box came down but Jim thought about this and had his lawyer help write a response. The response said in effect that he wanted a waiver of the prohibition against farm animals in Clifftops because he was having trouble controlling the growth of sawbriar on his lot. He stated that he wished to buy some goats to help solve the problem. “You understand,” he went on, “I don’t plan to get any white goats — just brown and gray ones in earth tones to be in line with the architectural rules.” Later when I was managing Clifftops, Jim and I had occasional differences of opinion which we always settled as friends. However, just let someone else criticize my methods, and Jim was first into the fray in my defense. He was a good neighbor and a loyal friend.” ~ Cam Stewart

“When I first started working with the Smoke House, I had no idea what was going to happen to me. I was going through a bad divorce but always found that the Oliver family was always there and very supportive of me. Jim was a very special person in my life as well as my family’s. He would come by my office and say “Lets go look at the house” or something. He just wanted to go ride. So I would. He would call me 15 times a day just to tell me things that needed done, even if it had nothing at all to do with what I was working on at that time. He just always knew that I would get it done for him. I work very closely with his family now and we really miss this man more than words can ever say. Sometimes it gets really hard, but we know that he would want us to go on. My love goes out to the whole family that me and my family have always felt a part of. Love you all.”

“I lived in Nashville from 1979 to 1989, and worked for a motorcoach tour company while there. I had many occassions to visit the Smoke House, and can honestly say I enjoyed every visit. I never met Jim; however, while conducting a fam trip for the State of TN, I did meet a son. He was so gracious, and made everyone feel as though they were at home. I have never forgotten that visit. I plan to be back in TN next (08-10-07), and will be stopping at the Smoke House on my way to Chattanooga! My thoughts and prayers go to the family.”

“Betsy and family, my prayers are with you.  Love you.” ~ Duane

“I just remember many delicious meals at the Smoke House while I was at Sewanee. Unfortunately, I never got to meet the great man himself.” ~ Mills Morrison

“I met Jim Oliver when I met with him to talk about the hotel and restaurant business. Jim was a very friendly and affable person. We had a long discussion about the hotel and restaurant business and I was very impressed with his business acumen and knowledge. He never mentioned all the charitable things that he did for others, but I am sure that the good Lord has taken all those wonderful good works into account. Jim Oliver was a good citizen and American patriot. I appreciated his kindness when I visited him and was very sad to hear that he had passed away.” ~ James Cornell, Owner/President of Cornell Hotel Brokers

“My wife and I first visited the Smoke House in the late 70’s and continued to stop there for an overnight and country cookin’ before we continued on to Florida. Over the years I had the opportunity to meet Jim and enjoyed many “chats” at his favorite table in the restaurant. I recently placed an e-mail order for meats and then discoverd that Jim had passed. I am so sorry and extend our prayers to the Oliver Family. Knowing Jim was indeed a highlight of my adult life. I will always remember Jim, his friendly smile, and wonderful service to his customers and friends. Goodbye old friend, I will miss you so very much.” ~ Gary & Doreen Longanecker, Rockford, Illinois

“Years ago (won’t disclose the period) when the Sewannee Academy was still alive and well and there were actually poor and deprived students, we used to hitch a ride into Monteagle and would always stop just to kill time. Just stoppin’ by the Smoke House to smell country ham cooking was a feast in itself. One Saturday doing the above, this guy came up to me and just asked how I was doing and being somewhat of a conversationalist myself, I told him “not too good.” “BUT, a broke SA student could at least stop by and smell the breakfast cookin’ and get homesick….and homesick…..and homesick. Not even knowing who he was, he said c’mon with me son and bring your friends. He called a server over and I will never forget it: he said “let ’em just hurt themselves…the tabs on me.” Never got a chance to thank him ’cause he disappeared shortly thereafter. Bringing my son (12) up from Valdosta, Ga this weekend (9/28/07) and show him what mountain fever can do to someone. It is incurable ya know, and Mr. Jim was the absolute proof of the theory. Looking forward to the stay and the pancakes and the bacon and the country ham and the sausage and the…..well you get the picture. I hope I feel a hand on my shoulder during breakfast one morning.”

“He will be missed, but, his legend lives on. He created a wonderful place that people of all ages will enjoy and remember. Thank you, Jim. I wish we had known you better.” ~ Ginger Ferguson, Belvidere Market, Belvidere, TN

“My wife and I stayed at the Smoke House on our first anniversary. We took home a lot of memories and had a wonderful time there. Those cabins were awesome and the food was just how grandma would have made it. Thanks for being there.” ~ Randy and Treva Cuzzort, North Dakota

“I have known the Oliver family for many years. While going through losing my mother and father in Fla, I would pass through the mountain and spend the night. Jim would always tell me how proud he was that I was Betsy and Nancy’s friend. I have made so many memories and will continue to cherish all the times in my heart. I know that Jim is a legend on this earth with the kindness he has shown to everyone that knew and loved him. He has left behind these qualities in his three children…James, Nancy and Betsy. I have been blessed to know and love the family. I have and will miss this man on earth but I know, without a doubt, that we will still feel his presence, ’cause when we look in his children’s eyes and look towards the sky, we will find Jim Oliver.” ~ Love, Judy Bailey

“My husband and I met Jim back in 1991. We stayed at the Smoke House Inn after visiting family. We were overwhelmed with the community, the hospitality, and the beauty of Monteagle. We purchased land in Clifftops and plan to move to Monteagle within a year or so. We also bought a lot in Black Berry and put up a home. Mr. Oliver was always offering my husband his equipment to make things easier. Not only was he a very kind person, but he raised his son to be the same kind of person. I really don’t know the sisters, but in my heart I know they must be the same kind people as their Dad was. I know he will be missed by many; he may be gone from our sight but never our memories. Our deepest sympathy.”

“I am from Grundy County but lived in south Fla. the last 35 years. I was always in and out to see family. Many things impressed me about Jim but one of the most is what he gave back to the people, especially in this area. He was always there for any worthwhile fundraiser or any family needing help. The world needs lots more caring people like Mr. Jim Oliver. God Bless you and yours, Jim.” ~ Greg

“My husband and I were traveling to do some work and we stopped at the Smoke House on the way up and on the way back. The weather was getting bad, so we decided not to try and get back on the road to Florida. We stayed in one of the cabins which Jim gave us a cut on and we enjoyed it. We will be back. We are so sorry about your loss and just know that God needed a good cook to go along with the rest that he has, including my mother. God bless each and everyone…it gets easier but the hurt and loss never goes away. You are all in our hearts and prayers.” ~ Mr. & Mrs. Richard Hale

“We laughed so much!”

“In 1985, I visited Monteagle for the first time since I had been a student at Sewanee for one term in the 70s. I was amazed by Jim’s Smoke House. I started eating there regularly whenever I passed through. In 1998, I re-married and took my wife up there for our honeymoon. We rented a cabin and all we did was room service except for one meal in the restaurant. My wife loved the place and I was able to introduce her to Jim. Oddly enough, after Jim had talked with us for a few minutes, he mentioned a new book about the Civil War and wanted to know if I had read it. I realized that Jim had remembered a conversation I had with him about seven years earlier. He was an outstanding individual and one who will be missed.” ~ P.D.O.


Jim was born August 4, 1937, to Irene Allie Phipps Oliver and Robert Cheatum Oliver in Pelham, Tenn; his childhood days to early teens were spent in Paynes Cove, Tenn. He is survived by two sisters, Geneva Grace Patterson (Dillon) of Pelham, Tenn., and Joann Pace of Monteagle, Tenn.; two brothers, Robert Melvin (Gladys) Oliver of Monteagle, Tenn., and Bernard Cheatum (Lois) Oliver of Murfreesboro, Tenn., life partner, Gwendolyn Gipson of Monteagle, Tenn., three children, James David (Betty) Oliver of Monteagle, Tenn., Betsy Jane Oliver of Monteagle, Tenn., Nancy Lea Oliver of Monteagle, Tenn., former wife, Bettye Janice Ross Oliver of Monteagle, Tenn., two step-children, Kimberly Suzanne Gipson of Cartersville, Georgia, Beau Gary Gipson of Monteagle, Tenn., step-granddaughter Shana Leigh True (JD & Betty Oliver) of Chattanooga, TN, and beloved pet, Gizzie.

He was founder and president of Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant, Lodge & Trading Post located in Monteagle, Tenn. In 1960, he and his wife, Janice relocated from Cleveland, Ohio after living there 10 years, to rent an existing business, The Beehive Drive-In. In 1963, Jim and his brother, Melvin pooled their resources and purchased the original Monteagle Diner at auction from Monteagle resident, Herman Sanders. After a successful ten year venture, in 1973, Jim and Melvin parted amicably, with Jim selling his interest of The Monteagle Diner to Melvin. By November of 1975, Jim completed construction on The Smoke House and opened for business. Utilizing his mother’s recipes, Jim’s country-themed restaurant soon became a regional favorite, and received nationwide recognition as one of the top 500 eating establishments in 1988 and again in 1989. A series of renovations followed, including the construction of 5,500 sq. ft. of meeting facilities, 85 lodging rooms and 19 cabins, campground, an on-site wine and spirits shop, wedding chapel, and real estate office. In 1998, The Smoke House Lodge was accepted as a member of the National Best Western franchise.

In addition to owning and operating a successful family-owned business, Jim devoted much of his time to helping others and in promoting the Mountain’s natural assets. Beginning in 1978, Jim, along with close friend and retired General Motors National Management Consultant, Hank Landers, spear-headed the state’s purchase of the then defunct Mountain Golf and Recreation Center, to be incorporated into the state parks system as the South Cumberland Recreation Area Visitor’s & Cultural Interpretation Center. Together, they were instrumental in saving Grundy Lakes and Coke Ovens from irreparable damage as a dumping site while restoring the area’s historic and environmental integrity.

Jim and Hank helped orchestrate the implementation of several civic programs for the people of Grundy County, including the Toddler’s Club, Exceptional Citizens Center, Mountain Medical Center and the Mountain Community Services Corporation. They also worked tirelessly to secure Social Security and veterans’ benefits for numerous individuals and sponsored several people in drug rehabilitation programs. A celebration of his life was held on Saturday, May 19, at 2:00 p.m. on the grounds of the Smoke House property. Graveside services were held for family only at Monteagle Cemetery. A reception for family and friends followed in the restaurant. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the American Diabetes Association, the Appalachian Women’s Guild, 492 Main St., Tracy City, Tenn., 37387, Mid-Cumberland Mountain Ministry, P.O. Box 706, Monteagle, Tenn., 37356 or charity of choice. Arrangements were made by Foster & Lay Funeral Home of Tracy City.

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