I think Bobby Denton would have liked the beautiful funeral flowers from Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
I know he would have chuckled at the wreath created in the image of “Wivik,” the frog mascot of radio station WIVK. And the mums that formed a three-dimensional football from WNML, The Sports Animal. And the black-and-white checkered victory flag in the arrangement from Bristol Motor Speedway.
He would have been touched that Shannon, his wife of 15 years, somehow had the composure to sing “How Great Thou Art” at the start of the service. And, like the rest of us, he would have been moved to tears by the beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” performed by his longtime friend, country crooner Con Hunley.
It was a service earlier this week of which he thoroughly would have approved. From the slide show of photographs from his 73 amazing years on this planet to the recording by Dolly Parton gently mocking him as “king of the slicked back hair” in a reworded rendition of “Davy Crockett.”
I have known Bobby Denton for 30 years, since the early ’80s when Ron McMahan, one of his closest friends, became the editor of The Knoxville Journal where I was a young reporter. Ron soon became my friend and mentor and, through him, I would spend many fun days — well, evenings, mostly — with Bobby. When Ron passed away six years ago, his widow, Wanda, remained close to Bobby, and Alan and I would see him every time we visited Wanda in Naples, Florida, where both of them lived.
In Naples, Bobby, a reformed alcoholic, was always our cheerful designated driver as we explored the fabulous restaurants and patio bars Naples has to offer. Bobby never ran out of stories to crack us up. And, even though he lived in Naples most of the year, he was more plugged in to the happenings in Knoxville than I was — and I’m pretty plugged in. As we would drive around Naples, Bobby constantly took phone calls from Knoxville from friends filling him in on the politics and gossip from K-town. I would return from our visits with many new insights into the behind-the-scenes happenings in my hometown.
More than 1,000 people filled the pews of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church Monday for the “celebration of life” service. It truly lived up to its name — it was a celebration. The men involved, from the ushers to Con Hunley and the other participants, wore some of Bobby’s many orange ties, a reflection of his commitment to the University of Tennessee, where he served as stadium announcer at the football games for more than 40 years. One wore his orange blazer and Shannon clutched one of his handkerchiefs. Four colorful vans from the radio stations owned by Cumulus Media, the current parent company of WIVK, parked along Kingston Pike with their yellow bar lights flashing. WIVK is the flagship station where Bobby rose in the ranks over 36 years from disc jockey to vice president and general manager.
Bobby’s friends Jimmy Hyams and Mickey Dearstone barely held it together as they touchingly talked about their long friendships with Bobby. Talk show host Hallerin Hilton Hill knocked it out of the ballpark with his eulogy. Hallerin used the radio station call letters, W-I-V-K, to sum up the essence of Bobby’s life. But there was so much to say that he had to use each of the letters twice.
For the letter W, Hallerin said, “Bobby was a winner — he always wanted to win.” And, he added, “Bobby was a warrior.” He fought for things and people he believed in.
The I stood for “intuitive,” Hallerin said, describing Bobby’s “gut feelings” about people and things, including country music talent, which he had an uncanny knack of identifying. And “invest,” which is something Bobby did with people he believed in.
The V? Well that was for Bobby’s vision. And Vol, of course.
K was for Kryptonite, the fictional substance in the Superman comic book series that was the one weakness of Superman and others from the planet Krypton. In Bobby’s case, Hallerin said, the Kryptonite was alcohol, which Bobby eventually conquered. And, most important of all, the final K represents Bobby’s kindness, Hallerin accurately noted.
From our condo in downtown Knoxville, we could hear Bobby Denton’s voice wafting up from Neyland Stadium on the Saturdays of UT’s home football games. We could clearly hear him announce, “It’s football time in Tennessee!” and “Pay these prices and please pay no more!” referring to stadium concessions. We could hear the crowd roar its appreciation.
I dread football season.
Click here for WIVK’s tribute to Bobby.
Click here for the News Sentinel story about Bobby’s death.