Affable and lovable are just two descriptions
of a local veteran attorney who embraced life with his every breath, but Wednesday
Bob Jessee’s short medical battle with pneumonia ended that.
Jessee, 60, died at the Johnson City Medical
Center late Wednesday
afternoon after three days in ICU, his brother and law partner, Tom Jessee
“He got a really bad case of pneumonia
and couldn’t get through it,” Tom said.
Even though his brother didn’t pull through,
Tom only had praise for the medical staff in the ICU at JCMC.
“The hospital was fantastic, the ICU staff
was fantastic. Dr. Steve Kimbrough, Dr. Jeff Farrow and Dr. E.C. Goulding and
Dr. Rick Rolen,” all worked tirelessly to treat Bob, he said.
“He wasn’t afraid of dying,” Tom said, and
agreed that his brother also wasn’t afraid of living.
“He just wanted to fall over dead, and
he came very close to getting to do it,” Tom Jessee said.
Those who knew him well knew his “alter ego”
was Mark Twain, Jessee’s brother said. Bob Jessee often quoted Twain, and like
the lovable author and humorist, loved to tell stories and travel.
“Bob truly was one of the best criminal
lawyers I’ve ever seen work. He made everybody feel good. He kept his temper,
kept an even keel and he was methodical.
“He just enjoyed life, enjoyed people,
enjoyed traveling. He had his way of doing things. He did things his way (but)
incorporated those around him into it. Life for him was truly an adventure.”
In fact, Bob Jessee had an upcoming trip
planned with Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp after the judge’s pending
Cupp said he was looking forward to the
“We were going to take about a month to go
places (out West) he had been and Diane and I had been to,” Cupp said,
referring to his wife.
“Bob was one of those true advocates. When he
took on a matter he did it with all the vigor you’d expect. He was a true
joy to preside over at a trial. More than anything, he was a friend,” the judge
But Bob Jessee’s friendships went far beyond
the courthouse and law offices. He was a man who treated everyone the same,
said friend Kimball Sterling, a local auctioneer with whom Jessee went
antiquing. Sterling said Bob was preparing for when he retired from practicing
law by working some at the auction house.
“He was starting to go to auctions with me …
he collected everything. He had a room in his house called The Habitat. It was
everything from Mark Twain to art deco to western. He has the meat cooler from Skobys,”
the now-closed restaurant in Kingsport, Sterling said.
“Bob was the type of person who would help
anybody who needed help. He’s the only Democrat that I ever liked in my life. He’s
the best damn Democrat that ever lived.”
Sterling said he and Jessee spent the day
together on Friday when they looked at a house for an auction, ate at the
Burger Bar in Bristol and then “we started driving down memory lane through
Piney Flats,” where Jessee pointed out things from his childhood growing up in
“We’d never done that before. It was a really
strange day,” Sterling said. “He was so much more than a lawyer. He was a great
human. There’s nobody I’d rather drink with, there’s nobody I’d rather eat
with, there’s nobody I’d rather die with than Bob Jessee. Just a hell of a
guy,” he said.
Attorney Jim Bowman, like many other
lawyers, knew Jessee more than 30 years.
“He was a prolific reader. He would take what
he called road trips; I think he drove all over the United States. He’d go by
himself and he’d keep a journal of his travels and things and come back and
regale all of us with his various experiences along the way,” Bowman said.
“Bob was just a unique individual. I don’t
think anybody ever met him that didn’t remember him. Every meeting you had with
him, no matter how casual or impromptu, was memorable. I don’t know anybody
that didn’t like Bob Jessee.”
Here are comments about Bob Jessee from
several in the legal community:
Attorney Cliff Corker: “I loved Bob. He would
always say, ‘Come on down to the habitat.’ He was a lawyer who could beat you
in court and drink a beer with you afterwards. He loved the practice but he
loved the camaraderie with others even more.
He was a dear friend and tough lawyer who had the greatest sense of
humor. He could always leave you laughing with his stories of the practice of
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis
Brooks: “My dad was a woodworker and did a lot of jobs for Bob when I was a
teen. I never met him then, but when I became a lawyer, he quickly became
my favorite. He always had a laugh, and he always asked me how my dad
was. He had a level of humanity and humility that was rare for a
lawyer. But he was like wrestling a grizzly in court. He’d turn
into a different person. For some time as a young prosecutor, it would
tear me up to have this man whom I loved so much to be ripping into me when
court started. The last jury trial I worked against him, a murder case, I
told Bob in the middle of the trial, ‘Bob, I like you so much more when I’m not
trying a case against you.’ He gruffly replied, ‘The feeling’s
mutual.’ There will never be another one like him.”
Attorney Donna Bolton said she and her
husband, attorney Matt Bolton, agreed they hoped they never forget the sound of
“It was warm and inviting. He was a
comfort, always, in our world of
problems. He loved his life,” she said. While the Boltons never met Jessee’s
son, Nick, they knew many things about him because of the stories Jessee told.
“Every day he was happy. He had his family,
his law family, the Grateful Dead and margaritas. If you had a case with him,
you knew he would fight for his client but teach you how to practice law at the
same time. The best part was in the end he would pull you aside and ask about
your kids, vacation, a case you tried and didn’t even know he knew about. He
understood and projected the philosophy that every day was as great as you
wanted it to be.”
Attorney Sandy Phillips: “Bob scared me into
being a lawyer. When I first thought about hanging out my own shingle, I
had no idea what I should do. Someone told me to go talk to Bob Jesse
because he was the best attorney in town. I made an appointment and he
agreed to see me. When we met, he quickly discerned that I was, at heart,
afraid to take a chance. He told me that only a coward was afraid, to get
the hell out and go practice law. I was so mad at him that I did just
that to prove to him that I could. He set my feet on the path to a
fulfilling career and I have always (once I got over being mad at him)
appreciated him for that. And watching him practice law helped me to
learn what grace and skill really are. “
Assistant Public Defender Bill
Francisco: “He lent me a shoulder more than one time. I miss him. There was not
an ounce of arrogance in him.”
Attorney Casey Sears: “He was just nice, calm
and classy. We sit around a lot in and outside of court, and a few of us have a
cigarette now and again. His presence in the hall, at the table or at the
ashtray was a calming influence on us newer, nervous attorneys.”
Bolton said Jessee was “father law,” to young
attorneys and the best feeling was to be invited to The Habitat.
“It was to behold. His mecca of treasures. We
were honored to spend time there, to see Father Law in his world. He lived by
the works of Mark Twain. He was the example of how to live. His loss will be
felt for a very long time,” she said.
Bob Jessee is survived by his wife, Sharon
Green, a son and daughter-in-law, Nick and Shelly, and brother, Tom Jessee. The
brothers were law partners for 31 years at Jessee & Jessee in Johnson City. Arrangements are completed and the family will receive friends today, 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. at Alta Cucina Restaurant.
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