Jim Fyke, former state conservation commissioner and Nashville parks director, dies aged 78

James H. “Jim” Fyke, who served as Nashville’s city parks director for 25 years and as commissioner of the state Department of Environment and Conservation under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, has died at age 78 following a long battle with cancer, reports The Tennessean.

Over his 39-year career with the Metro Parks and Recreation department, including 25 years as Nashville parks director, Fyke is credited with leading the $18 million face-lift for the Parthenon in 2001, orchestrating the land swap with HCA that made the Centennial Sportsplex possible, and overseeing the single largest donation of land to Metro from the Al Beaman family.

“In a city with so many leaders in public service, Jim Fyke stands alone in terms of his accomplishments,” Mayor Megan Barry said. “Anyone who enjoys the rich bounty of our parks and recreation system owes a debt of gratitude to his vision and his effort during his career. Few earn the opportunity to make such an impact.”

Fyke was a top aide for multiple Nashville mayors, including Richard Fulton, Bill Boner, Bredesen, Bill Purcell and Karl Dean. He earned allies and friends as a soft-spoken man who could work through any conflict.

…Fyke stayed in Metro until Bredesen (who had previously worked with Fyke as mayor) in 2003 appointed Fyke as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner. He was named commissioner of the department in 2005, serving that post until 2008.

At the state level, he’s credited with the establishment of the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund to protect nearly 40,000 acres  and oversight of the $82 million investment into the North Cumberland Plateau, which involved partnering with The Nature Conservancy and two timber companies to protect another 124,000 acres.

“Jim Fyke was the model for what a great public employee should be,” Bredesen said. “I have always been impressed with how much he cared — about parks, about the environment and most of all about the people who use them.

“You can tell a lot about a person by how the people he works with regard him; Jim Fyke was respected and loved by just about everybody who came into contact with him. It has been a great honor for me to count him as an associate, and especially, as a friend.”

…Fyke is survived by his wife of 24 years Becky, daughter Claire Purcell (Richard), daughter Rebecca Bryant (Danny), son Ryan Malloy (Jesi), and grandchildren Kacey Purcell, Joshua, Andrew, Pax and Madeline Bryant, and Adalyn, Eliana and Brynna Malloy.

Funeral arrangements are not yet final.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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