Dr. Gene Caldwell, a retired pediatrician and former Tennessee state representative, died Saturday, March 4. He was 84.
Caldwell, a beloved pediatrician who often said he was the luckiest guy in the world, died at NHC of Oak Ridge from congestive heart failure, according to his obituary. He would have turned 85 in 10 days.
Caldwell, a Democrat, served three terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives, representing the 33rd District from 1996 to 2002.
“Gene Caldwell was a great public servant and did much for our community,” said Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican. “He will be missed, but his contributions will live on.”
The district lines have changed a bit since then, but at the time, the 33rd District included part of Anderson County, including Oak Ridge, Clinton, and Norris, said Jim Hackworth, who is also a former state representative in District 33. Caldwell preceded Hackworth.
“He was a good friend and will be sorely missed,” said Hackworth, who served the district for eight years.
Caldwell and his family had moved to Oak Ridge in 1966, when he began his practice with the Children’s Clinic of Oak Ridge. He retired in 1994 after 27 years.
In 2008, after the Anderson County Commission asked the Emory Valley Center to leave the Daniel Arthur Building in Oak Ridge, Caldwell and Dottie Thompson became co-chairmen of the Capital Campaign to raise funds for a new building to house the Emory Valley Center. The building, to be dedicated the Caldwell-Thompson Building, is nearing completion, and Caldwell had hoped to attend the ribbon-cutting, which is set for late spring.
“Emory Valley Center is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and long-time advocate, Dr. Gene Caldwell,” said Jennifer Enderson, Emory Valley Center president. “Most recently, Dr. Caldwell, along with co-chair Dottie Thompson, was instrumental in securing necessary funding to make our dream of a new building for the people we support a reality. His devotion and contributions will continue to enrich lives in our community for years to come.”
The family requests that any memorials be in the form of gifts to the Emory Valley Center Capital Campaign, for which Caldwell worked so passionately during the last years of his life. Contributions should specify the Capital Campaign of the Emory Valley Center, P.O. Box 5328, Oak Ridge, TN 37831.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, at Holley-Gamble Funeral Home in Clinton, which is handling arrangements. The address is 675 South Charles Seivers Boulevard.
Caldwell’s obituary said he had suffered a cardiac arrest more than a year ago while visiting family in Colorado. His daughter Debbie Bader and his grandson Jeremy Birdwhistell called paramedics and instituted CPR, restoring Gene to life.
“Although the episode slowed him down, it didn’t change his characteristic positive attitude, and Gene continued to claim he was the luckiest man on Earth,” the obituary said.
Born Marvin Gene Caldwell to Georgie B. and Evelyn Brown Pruett Caldwell on March 14, 1932, Caldwell grew up on his parents’ farm in Woodland Mills in Tennessee’s Obion County.
“From the beginning, Gene knew the importance of education,” his obituary said. “As a student at Woodland Mills High School, he learned that in order to gain admission to the University of Tennessee, he needed a credit in an advanced math course that his school didn’t offer. It was decided that the principal would order the math textbook and teach Gene, and Gene in turn would teach the subject to his fellow students.”
Caldwell graduated from the University of Tennessee’s College of Agriculture in 1953 with a bachelor of science degree in agronomy. At UT, he was a founding member, No. 009, of Alpha Gamma Rho, the fraternity of agriculture students, and he and his fellow members, plus their spouses, became lifelong friends who held reunions twice a year. Caldwell never missed a UT Homecoming, his obituary said.
Caldwell joined the U.S. Navy while still at UT. After graduation in 1953, he married Bobbie McCoy, also from West Tennessee and a UT graduate. He and his young family were stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1954, and the following year they moved to Nashville, where he worked as a recruiter for the Navy. While there, he did postgraduate work at Vanderbilt University, with an eye toward attending medical school.
“He always enjoyed teasing his Vanderbilt friends about going to Vanderbilt to get his grades up so he would be admitted to UT medical school,” the obituary said.
Caldwell was admitted to UT medical school in 1956 and graduated in 1959. Following graduation, he was stationed at the naval hospitals in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Portsmouth, Virginia, and he completed his internship at Boston Naval Hospital. He spent 1963-66 at the naval hospital in Millington, Tennessee, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.
The family moved to Oak Ridge in 1966, and Caldwell worked at the Children’s Clinic until he retired in 1994.
Caldwell and his wife Bobbie always shared an active interest in politics and the Democratic Party in particular, the obituary said. Caldwell successfully ran for the 33rd District Tennessee House seat in 1996, and he served until 2002. Bobbie died in 2004.
“Gene was always involved in community affairs,” the obituary said. He served on the UT Board of Governors and was also an active volunteer in several political campaigns. He was a member of the Breakfast Rotary Club and was named a Paul Harris Fellow. He also belonged to the East Tennessee Economic Council.
Among his many honors were receiving ETEC’s Muddy Boot Award for inspirational leadership, and the Home Federal Hometown Hero Award. In 1966, he was named one of the Outstanding Young Men of America by the National Jaycees organization. In 1992, he was awarded the Eugene Joyce Achievement Award, and in 1995 he received a prestigious Chapter Achievement Award created in his honor by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In 2012, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam for his dedication and compassionate work on behalf of children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Several days prior to his death, longtime friend state Senator Randy McNally delivered a proclamation from the governor for his outstanding service to the state of Tennessee, the obituary said.
Caldwell enjoyed reading, walking the Emory Valley Trail, and attending Oak Ridge High School basketball games. He also loved following the UT Lady Vols and nearly always attended their championship games. After his retirement, he visited 36 different countries, trekking through noted gardens in many of them. He enjoyed going to the Oak Ridge Playhouse, and in later years, he developed a strong interest in attending musical performances.
Gene was preceded in death just one week earlier by his sister Carol. He is survived by three daughters, Debbie Bader and her husband, Curt, of Virginia; Amanda Caldwell and her husband, Jimmy Long, of Oak Ridge; and Jennifer Weaver and her husband, Chris, of Knoxville; and by a son, Randy Caldwell of Munich, Germany. His daughter Sarah Caldwell died in 1983.
He is also survived by eight grandchildren, Nathan and Jeremy Birdwhistell, Ian Caldwell, Cameron and Bailey Weaver, and Sean, Sarah, and Adam Spaid; by three step-grandchildren, Hannah, Emily, and Jacob Long; and by five great-grandchildren, Jason and Katie Birdwhistell, and Hailey, Kelsey, and Harper Birdwhistell.
The body was to be cremated.