Fate required some members of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” to grab their bootstraps early in life and make something of themselves. James Beecher Mize was such a man and he was a success as a result.
Beecher, as he preferred to be called, was born in Fountain City on May 12, 1920. His parents were William G. and Gertrude Underwood Mize. His father had served in World War I and was a victim of a poisonous gas attack in France. Upon his return to civilian life, his frequent Veterans Administration hospitalization made it very difficult for his wife and three boys. However, their mother saw to it that he and his two brothers attended school and applied themselves. Beecher attended elementary school at first Brownlow and then Fountain City and entered Central High School where he graduated in 1938.
His native musical talent enabled him to teach himself to play piano and he was accomplished on the instrument at an early age but the Central High marching band needed a tuba player. As a result, Beecher played in the inimitable O’dell Willis’ band and experienced Mr. Willis’ character building regimen.
J. Beecher Mize and the former Geneva Wood, his high school sweetheart, were married on May 12, 1940, at a time when the war clouds over Europe and in the Far East were looming.
The United States’ participation in World War II soon required his services and Beecher joined the U.S. Army, where he was trained as a radio operator and served throughout the campaign in Italy. When there was a break in the action, he often found himself playing piano in an orchestra entertaining his fellow soldiers in some USO wherever his service took him.
Upon his return home, Beecher first worked for Hunley-Turner Co. in the heating and air conditioning business. His expertise in refrigeration enabled him to install the first automated milking equipment for local dairies. He later formed a partnership with Marshall Moore and established Moore and Mize Air Conditioning Co. which evolved into Mize Air Conditioning Co. after he brought his two sons, J.B. Jr. and Ron, into the company.
The very successful business won several dealer awards, but Beecher Mize never lost his love for music. He served several churches as minister of music, vocalist, composer and pianist, including First Baptist of Fountain City, Lincoln Park, Calvary, Wallace Memorial and Gallaher View Baptist. Many families asked for his baritone solo performances for their weddings and/or their funerals.
When Calvary Baptist built its new sanctuary and Sunday school addition in 1965, Mize composed a cantata, “God and Man,” which was performed by the sanctuary choir at the dedication.
For the local celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, he arranged and directed a musical “Tribute to America” and was honored by the Tennessee Legislature for his contribution. For his 50th high school reunion, he composed and performed a musical program. As he became more and more prolific, he formed his own publishing company, Mize Music Publishing Co. One of his compositions, “To Be with God,” was featured on a record by the Imperials, a leading gospel quartet of the time.
J. Beecher Mize passed away on June 14, 1993, at St. Mary’s Hospital, survived by his wife of 53 years, his two sons, J.B. and Ron, and his six grandchildren. The family legacy lives on in the lives of his grandchildren, as all of them were CHS graduates and members of the band. Kim and Lisa are currently church pianists and Jeff, who has played in church orchestras, is playing trombone with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.
Mize will be honored at The 15th Annual CHS “Wall of Fame” Breakfast at the Central High School Commons at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. The ceremony will follow in the school auditorium. Tickets are $20 each and are available at the CHS office and from CHS Alumni and Foundation representatives. Call R. Larry Smith, 922-5433; Courtney Shea, 689-5730; the school office, 689-1400 or CourtShea@aol.com
Also to be honored: Hassie K. Gresham, longtime Central High School principal; Jackson K. “Jack” Bondurant, Class of 1922; and W. Thomas Dillard, Class of 1959.