CLINTON, Tenn. — Jake Butcher, who helped bring the World’s Fair to Knoxville before his family’s East Tennessee banking network collapsed amid a federal investigation, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Holley-Gamble Funeral Home Director Perry Dupree confirmed that Butcher died Wednesday morning.
Butcher and his brother, C.H. Butcher Jr., built their father’s banking business in Clinton into a multimillion-dollar financial network that included United American Bank. They were also well connected.
Jake Butcher had twice run for governor as a Democrat, and had used his extensive political and business connections to help land the World’s Fair in Knoxville in 1982.
The fair was widely considered a success and brought in more than 11 million people over its six-month run. City officials hoped the fair would lead to redevelopment at the site, a former rail yard downtown.
Instead, according to media reports, the day after the fair ended, federal agents raided the brothers’ multibillion-dollar banking empire. Federal agents padlocked the doors of United American in 1983. Ultimately a slew of banks with total deposits of more than $1 billon failed. Some depositors were insured, but others lost their life savings.
The brothers pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and bank fraud and both served time in prison before being paroled.
“I got a lot of misery at the end. It was my fault. I have no one to blame but myself,” Butcher told WBIR-TV in an interview for the station’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the World’s Fair. “If I had been successful and hadn’t had the great debacle in banking that happened to me, we might have been challenging Nashville today. We really had things going for us in Knoxville.”
While friends acknowledged Butcher’s wrongdoings, they also remembered him as generous, funny and loyal.
“Jake Butcher was a personal friend of mine before we were political competitors in 1978 when we both ran for governor of Tennessee,” Former U.S. Rep. Bob Clement of Nashville said in statement to WBIR-TV. “People make mistakes and I believe we have to forgive, forget and move forward. Jake Butcher loved Tennessee. He particularly loved East Tennessee. He was a successful businessman, entrepreneur and we know what a difference he made with the World’s Fair.”
C.H. Butcher died in 2002.