Don Sproles, the gentle guy who gave up his career as a lawyer to join his wife, Karen, in running a successful Knoxville restaurant business, was remembered in a memorial service yesterday at the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan. So many people came to pay their last respects that they had to bring in chairs when there was no longer any room to sit in the pews. And still many folks had to stand against the walls of the sanctuary for the nearly two-hour service.
Ginny Weatherstone, director of the Volunteer Ministry Center on whose board Sproles served for many years, including a stint as chairman, eulogized Sproles as someone who truly loved people. She said for 21 years, once a month, he would come to the Center and serve meals to people. “He knew our staff and clients by name,” she said. But she added that Sproles felt equally at home with his friends at tony Cherokee Country Club. “They say that people will forget what you say and they’ll forget what you do,” Weatherstone said. “But they’ll never forget how you made them feel. And Don made people feel special.”
It’s true that Sproles did that every day at the downtown locations of The Lunchbox, the popular eatery which he owned with his wife. He loved to talk politics and courthouse gossip with his customers, first at the location in First Tennessee Plaza, and later at the new spot at 607 Market Street. We at Moxley Carmichael consider The Lunchbox to sort of be our company cafeteria because we eat there so much, having been located ourselves in First Tennessee Plaza and now being located just a couple of blocks from the Market Street location.
Don’s older step-daughter, Lauren Karnitz, spoke at the service Monday about how Sproles accepted “the package deal” when he married her mother 30 years ago — in the process he also got two step-daughters and “an oversized shih tzu.” Later, he and Karen would have a son together, Matthew.
Karnitz said she was particularly impressed with the way Sproles handled his political campaign when he ran unsuccessfully for Knox County Commission in 2008. “He lost the political battle, but he won the bigger war,” she said. “He ran with dignity and integrity. He made us so proud. He made me, a political cynic, believe.” Sproles’ opponent in that race, Dr. Richard Briggs, attended the memorial service with his wife, Stephanie. I stood in line with them and Briggs recalled what a high-road campaign the two of them conducted. “Either one of us would have done a great job for the constituents of the district,” Briggs said. “Don was a great guy.”
The Rev. Cal Calhoun said that Sproles “found his purpose in serving others,” including his church, where he held many leadership roles. Calhoun praised Sproles’ “generosity, kindness, love and deep concern for others.” Calhoun said Sproles “was blessed and he knew it.” He was extremely grateful for his life, Calhoun said.
“Don died too early,” Calhoun said. “This broken, hurting world could have used another 20 years of Don Sproles.”
I loved the way Calhoun ended his eulogy. “If there is a banquet table in heaven, if Don has his way, there will be fabulous food on it — and even better wine! And if Don has his way, Don will be serving.”