If the courtship and nearly 38-year marriage of Jerre and Barbara Haskew reads a bit like a fairy tale, that’s because it is like one. In fact, if all were privy to the facts, it’s likely that the Haskews – in addition to being selected as “Torchbearers” of the Class of ’62 at the University of Tennessee – would also land “Most Likely to Live Happily Ever After.” Provided, that it, that there were such an award.
By his own admission, Jerre describes himself as “the luckiest man in the world to be her husband.” And while he is infinitely proud to boast that Dr. Barbara Haskew is his Mrs., most Middle Tennesseans are probably more familiar with his wife’s professional role as the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Middle Tennessee State University.
After all, it is Dr. Haskew’s professional career within business and academe that most locals read or heat about, and to be sure, her accomplishments are many. However, one small peek into her private life and that of her family reveals much about the statuesque administrator who’s made a top-notch name for herself in the world of big business and education.
Jerre and Barbara first met at UT-Knoxville as students in the early 1960’s, and it was there that what has become their legacy of love for one another, and their own family, first began. “Jerre and I met at UT and probably (through) campus activities, although we may have had some classes together,” remembers Barbara. “We dated seriously in our senior yea – I had his fraternity pin – and we were both selected as ‘Torchbearers’ from our class…”
Ultimately the couple married and, over time, reared two daughters, Bonnie and Holly, while pursuing successful professional careers of their own. It was during these years that a passion of Jerre’s, music and songwriting, was moved to the back burner.
While in college, however, Jerre had been a member of The Cumberland Trio, a folk group that performed in the Knoxville area and even garnered national attention. The singing group, aside from performing on three segments of ABC’s popular “Hootenanny Show”, had yielded national acclaim when they played at half-time shows of televised regional basketball games. Thus, it was during the Trio’s heyday that Jerre, inspired by the imaginary friends children sometimes invent, decided to write a whimsical song for children, which came to be known as “A Lion Named Sam”.
“I fell in love with folk music in the late ’50s and began playing and writing in 1961,” recalls Jerre, whose own business, The Haskew Company, released a digitally remastered, 20-song compact disc of The Cumberland Trio in November. (The CD, which included the “Sam” song, was originally recorded in 1964 at RCA Studios in Nashville and produced by guitar great Chet Atkins.)
As for Sam, the lovable lion whom Jerre named in honor of his late father, Samuel, he is a character that “just came to me out of the blue,” explains Jerre, and the vehicle through which his creator urges others “to believe in yourself and your dreams, even when those closest to you sometimes don’t.”
Nonetheless, Sam, the charming lion, whose lyrical exploits found him “roaming the whole wide world” in search of adventure alongside his boy companion, recently experienced a renaissance when Barbara, in search of a way to show and preserve a side of Jerre that their children and grandchildren might not fully appreciate, turned “Sam,” the song, into “A Lion Named Sam,” a beautifully illustrated children’s book — and an unforgettable anniversary gift for Jerre.
“I was totally overwhelmed, amazed, surprised and speechless,” says Jerre, remembering the moment that Barbara presented him with the book’s proofs. “I cried tears of joy and I felt the love Barbara gave me through this wonderful gift that she worked over a year to develop.
“She is so very special in so many ways,” he adds. “She is the love of my life and also my best friend, and the finest most talented person I have ever known.”
For her part, Barbara calls the book a “labor of love” and “a thank you note not only for all those musical years, but a gift to our children, grandchildren and friends.” The book’s planning, however, was a difficult secret to keep, she admits.
“April 6 is our (wedding) anniversary…it was a Thursday, and we were planning to celebrate by going out to dinner on the weekend,” explains Barbara, “but I wanted him to get the book’s proofs on the actual anniversary.
“Besides” she adds “i was…about to POP! I had been teasing him about this great secret gift I had for him for many months. He had been guessing, and I was afraid I just couldn’t keep the secret much longer; he was truly surprised!”
Throughout the year Barbara spent planning the children’s book, she searched locally for an illustrator with no luck. Eventually, though, she retained he artistic talents of New York artist Patricia Mayes, who made Sam a visual entity for all to take in.
“Patricia interpreted ‘Sam’ as well as I could ever have imagined and more,” remarks Jerre. “She put her heart and soul into him, and it shows in the reaction of all.
Interestingly and somewhat ironically, the book’s creation, after a time, became a family project that everyone was directly involved in — except its author.
“My children were in on the planning after I had gotten it underway and were very excited about it,” says Barbara. “Of course, they know that their Dad loves music and used to sing professionally, but they have no memory of when he was doing this and probably hadn’t heard ‘Sam’ in years.
“For the grandchildren,” she notes, “it was a complete surprise. They just don’t think of ‘Daddy J’ as being a songwriter and storyteller. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this project — so that our children and grandchildren would understand how talented Jerre is and how much music was a part of our courtship and lives.”
Although “Sam,” the book, was intended as a gift of love within one family, already the magical lion has sprung a life of its own, and publishing the book is not the end of Sam’s tale, as it turns out.
These days, Jerre, who never thought of himself as a children’s author before now, has quickly begun to realize the impact of that little imaginary lion that he created back in 1963 when he wrote the “Sam” song.
“Barbara deserves all the credit for the idea and for making the song into a book, and Patricia Mayes’ illustrations completely captured ‘Sam,’ ” he says. “And now, because of the incredible reaction to the book/CD by children, we are working on a sequel, an adventure by the boy and Sam.”
Jerre says plans also now include putting the book on CD-ROM. In addition, it was because of the excitement created by the “Sam” book that The Cumberland Trio’s songs were recently remastered and released to the public.
Meanwhile, though, the Haskews continue to share the book, along with its accompanying CD, with family and friends, both old and new.
“The fun part for Jerre and me has been having other folks enjoy both the book and the CD,” remarks Barbara. “We have received such wonderful notes from many of them, and it has pleased us both to know that they, their children and grandchildren enjoy it.”
Moreover, she continues, “Strangers who saw a story about ‘A Lion Named Sam’ in the local newspaper have called us and asked for copies, and we have been delighted to send them one. I am behind in our mailings, but I get a few more out each weekend.”
Consequently, “The other delightful is outcome is that some folks have interested Jerre in remastering the whole album on which ‘Sam’ is included,” says Barbara, “and he may decide to make this available through some catalogs to those who are interested in the music of the folk era.
“We’ll probably reprint the book and re-do the CD to also put the visual images from the book on the CD so that kids can play it in the computer, see the book and sing along with it. ..That’s in the future but we are enjoying looking at those options.”
Future plans aside, already “A Lion Named Sam” has enriched many lives. “I hope the book will be a family treasure — not only because of what it represents about our life and love, but because it is a gift to kids and all the children that we hope will follow in future generations,” says Barbara.
“As our lives get busy and lots of work and activities compete for time, it is important to remember and celebrate that which is at the core of our lives and love.”
As for the Haskews’ upcoming anniversary, it’s anybody’s guess as to what Barbara and Jerre have in store for one another. And while time will tell, Jerre certainly won’t.
“I’ll never tell! ” he exclaims, regarding the gift he has planned for Barbara come April 6, 2001. “But whatever it happens to be, it will pale in comparison to this incredible gift of love she gave to me. ..and to the world of children’s books and music, through ‘Sam.’ ”
And as the story goes, it’s probably safe to say that the Haskews, as well as Sam, will live happily ever after, forever and ever. ..The End.
-Lisa L. Rollins, Murfreesboro Magazine, January/February 2001