Mr. John Jernigan Austin of Ooltewah, Tennessee, passed away on Saturday, March 4, 2023. He was 70 years old.
John was born in Monroeville, Alabama, the son of the late Charles William Austin and Sarabeth Jernigan Austin. John was proud of his hometown, often reminding his children that he shared a birthplace with acclaimed novelist Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. As a child, John moved with his family from Monroeville to Arkansas, and eventually settled in Nashville, Tennessee due to his father’s job.
John – a father of three girls – lived his life surrounded by women, something he joked about “surviving” but (not so) secretly loved. And he loved his wife, Joy, more than anything in the world. High school sweethearts, John and Joy began dating when they were 16 years old after meeting at a church camp in Nashville. He went to Hillwood High School, while she was several miles away at Cohn High School, but the two spent all their time together, attending football games, school events, and hanging out with friends and siblings. The two married on March 9, 1974, in Nashville, after attending David Lipscomb University together – with Joy forcing John to wait to tie the knot because “she wasn’t getting married until she had her degree.” March 9, 2023 would have been their 49th wedding anniversary.
He was a very loving and proud father to his three girls, Amber, A.J. and Katy. When they were little, he loved brushing out their hair before bedtime – showing extreme patience with their wiggles and inability to sit still for long. As they grew into adults, he followed their lives with enthusiasm, and often remarked with surprise at how fast the years had flown by. John also regularly said how lucky he was that his daughters each married “the very best men” who he loved as his own sons.
But if there was a “reward” for living his life surrounded by women, it came for John in 2014 when his daughter A.J. gave birth to his grandson, Reed. The light of his and Joy’s lives, Reed sparked in John the kind of love and devotion that is so unique to grandparents. From the very beginning of Reed’s life – when, as a preemie, he spent several months in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit – John was by his side. And as Reed grew into a rambunctious toddler and then child, John was all in, building forts, playing with remote control cars, swimming, sharing Oreos, and saying over and over, “I can’t imagine not being able to see this little boy every day.” John also managed Reed’s school when in-person classes were shut down because of COVID. In the final decade of his life, as John was battling chronic health issues, Reed provided the inspiration John needed to stay active and engaged at a time when physical activity was becoming increasingly difficult.
Blessed with a sly, deadpan sense of humor, John had the ability to capture the irony or ridiculousness of just about any situation in a way that made one hope you weren’t in the middle of taking a drink when he shared his observations – because that drink was about to come out your nose! Comedian Buddy Hackett was a favorite of his. John also was an avid amateur weatherman, most famously standing on the back porch of the family’s home in Columbia, South Carolina, back in 1989 to “watch the wind” as devastating Category 5 Hurricane Hugo made landfall in the state. (Not to worry, though: The rest of the family was safely camping in an interior hallway.)
A self-taught, dedicated handyman, John loved a challenge when it came to at-home construction projects. Over the years he spearheaded just about every home renovation project under the sun – from building an entire new sunroom addition by himself to a complete kitchen redo to constructing a pool in the backyard for grandson Reed. An avid music aficionado, John had eclectic musical tastes – everything from the Eagles to Vince Gill to Simon & Garfunkel to k.d. lang to the Righteous Brothers and beyond. He was also the family’s forever reigning “King of Jeopardy” – it was useless to even try to beat him, his daughters quickly learned and warned others.
John stayed true to his Alabama roots all his life. Though he lived most of his life in Tennessee, when it came to college football, all roads led to Tuscaloosa. His entire family knew that if the Crimson Tide was on the field, John would be stationed in his lazy boy recliner decked out head to toe in University of Alabama regalia ready to cheer his favorite team to victory – just like his late mother Sarabeth, who was a devoted Bama fan in her own right. But if the Crimson Tide was his football passion, the Braves had first place in his heart when it came to baseball. Over the years he made the drive down to Atlanta many times to take his girls to watch the Braves together from the stands of every stadium the team played in over the last 30 years.
John retired as a sales manager from the Standard Register Company. His various roles in the company meant numerous transfers to new cities across the South – taking him and his family from Nashville to Atlanta to Columbia, S.C., and finally to Ooltewah, where he and Joy lived for more than three decades.
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Joy Helton Austin; three daughters, Amber McDowell (Jason), A.J. Wood (Rusty), and Katy Smith (Christopher); grandson, Reed Wood; brother Bill Austin (Marilyn); two sisters, Martha White (Benton) and Vera Phelan (Ed); and sister-in-law Jackie Appleton (Ray). He is also survived by many cousins, nieces and nephews who he loved dearly.
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Arrangements by Heritage Funeral Home, East Brainerd Chapel.