Maj. Gen. Fred Forster, retired CEO and president of the Blount Partnership and Blount County Chamber of Commerce and former commander of the 134th Air Refueling Wing at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, died Thursday evening following a long battle with cancer.
Forster, 64, retired from the Chamber this year and had just finished treatment for a second bout with cancer earlier this fall.
He was initially diagnosed with cancer in May of 2007 and underwent a rigorous regimen before he was pronounced cancer-free. In March of this year, doctors again discovered cancer, and he underwent another round of treatments that he completed in early fall.
Forster died Thursday evening surrounded by his family at Blount Memorial Hospital.
Sen. Lamar Alexander praised the retired general and community leader. “Fred Forster was a patriot, a strong community leader, a good family man and a good friend. Blount County and I will miss him greatly.”
U.S. Rep. John J Duncan, Jr., said Forster was a patriot. “Fred was one of the finest men I have ever known. He was a very patriotic American who dedicated his life to serving his country,” Duncan said.
Maryville City councilman and former mayor Joe Swann praised Forster. “The courage, grace and perseverance that Fred demonstrated every day since his battle began should be an example to us all who too often quaver at the little things life throws in our path,” Swann said. “His steadfastness in the face of such adversity makes him the soldier we point to and say, ‘I had the great privilege of knowing that remarkable man.’”
State Sen. Doug Overbey said he remembered introducing Forster at a Kiwanis program as a true American hero. “That’s the way I’ve always thought about Fred Forster, as a true hero and an airman and a statesman,” Overbey said. “I think it leaves a hole in our community. Fred touched many lives and has been a role model for a lot of people as it relates to service to country, service to the community and service to God.”
Bryan Daniels, interim president and CEO of the Blount Partnership said Friday was a difficult day emotionally for the staff at the Chamber. He recalled Forster’s friendship and his example. “Fred has been a mentor as a person, as a man and in my career. He was always clear of his expectations, and I tried to never disappoint him in any way,” Daniels said.
Daniels said Forster was always thinking of the community first in every situation in which he was involved. “Military leaders give their lives for service to country. Fred did that on a community basis, too, as president of the Partnership,” he said. “It was an honor and privilege to work with him. He enriched the lives of everyone he touched.”
Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Raymond Burnett said Forster was an honorable man. “I think words that describe him would be dignity, respect, honor, faith, love, commitment. Those words really describe Fred. He met Jesus, and he had a personal relationship with the Lord, and it affected his whole life. He believed in prayer, and he accepted the will of God without complaint. He was a remarkable man and always gracious and always looking for the good and positive in any situation.”
Julia Kyle, executive vice president of the Blount Chamber, echoed how much the community will miss Forster’s leadership.
“While working with Fred for 12 years at the Blount Partnership, it was remarkable to watch him as the quintessential cheerleader … at the partnership, in the community and how he encouraged his friends and family. Fred genuinely loved people, and people felt that and responded to it.”
Doug Horn, chair of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, said he had the pleasure of working with Fred the last few years through his association with the Chamber. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see his ability to lead this community in so many different areas - from the Chamber, as well as through his personal involvement in the community in a number of non-profits,” Horn said.
Horn said Forster’s leadership is certainly going to be missed. “It leaves an incredible void that will be difficult to fill. It was disappointing to see his retirement, and now to have lost him will be that much greater of a void,” Horn said. “He always had a smile on and was never concerned about his troubles but always in how he could make a difference for someone else.”
Bryan Cable, chair of the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Forster was a wonderful Christian man and inspiration. “He was a great leader of the Blount Partnership,” Cable said. “He loved Blount County and worked hard to make it a better place to live and visit. I’ll miss him and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Matt Murray, chair of the Industrial Development Board, said Forster was a tremendous man who had a tremendous impact on the community. “He was very impressive in terms of his character, particularly in his resilience in dealing with terrible health problems the past few years,” Murray said. “He represents a model in terms of his ability to take on challenges and remain positive and remain constructive. He was a wonderful man and a model citizen for people to look to.”
Sharon Hannum, chair of the Blount Chamber Foundation, said Forster epitomized service and leadership. “It was difficult sometimes. He could have taken an autocratic tone being from the military, but one of the things about Fred’s personality was he loved people more than things,” she said. “He had a spirit that never gave up. During his illness, he never gave up, he never quit. You always saw him with a positive attitude and outlook, and he was such an encouragement to me in that time.”
Hannum said Forster cared so much about the community. “There are people who have no idea how much he truly cared about this place and the love for his family,” she said. “We should all take as an example from the pages of Fred’s life about what love of family is.”
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said he always thought of Fred Forster as being the kind of man that every young boy wants to grow up and be like. “He went through life doing what was the right thing. He loved Blount County and Blount County loved him,” the mayor said.
Mitchell said he first met Fred in the early 1990s while Mitchell was at the fire department. “We were having bean dinners to raise money for different organizations, and it became impossible to cook enough beans for everybody who attended,” he said. “Fred opened the kitchen at the base and had his staff prepare 150 pounds of beans for the fundraisers.”
Mitchell said that was just one of the many examples of how Forster stepped up to help Blount County. “I always admired and appreciated what he stood for,” he said.
Mitchell said had the opportunity a month ago to spend a long lunch with Forster. “We talked one-on-one for an hour and a half. The insight he had was remarkable. He knew so much and was willing to share so much of what he knew, and it was always in a positive way that would help make you better at what you did,” Mitchell said.
Alcoa Mayor Don Mull said Forster was made a lasting mark at the Chamber. “He did such a great job as commander of the base and with the Chamber. I think he really set an example,” Mull said. “He was energetic and always wanting to improve and see the Chamber move ahead. I think his hard work and dedication put the Chamber in the good position they are in now.”
Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said Forster would be missed. “Fred brought a unique background. He had the discipline of his military life and the vision he had gotten in civilian life, and it made things fit together well in his position in the Chamber,” he said. “He was a man of such integrity. I think we probably underestimate the impact he has had and won’t see it until we’ve not had him for a while.”
Taylor said Forster was a sensitive and congenial person who really cared about what happened in Blount County. “He served the entire county well. While we join his family and friends in their grief, we also want to celebrate a life well-lived and a job well done,” Taylor said.
Steve West, former mayor of Maryville, said Forster was a good friend, a good Christian and a good leader. “Fred gave his all every time he had a chance to help in the community,” he said.
Bill Crisp, former Blount County executive, said he worked with Forster for quite a while when he was in office and Forster was the head of the Chamber. “He was a friend, and this is a great loss to the county,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words.”
Col. Tim Dearing, commander of McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, said the military members of McGhee Tyson are deeply saddened by the loss of one of the greatest commanders in the history of the 134th Air Refueling Wing.
“Gen. Forster’s impact on the military was not only felt at McGhee Tyson but throughout the Air National Guard and the Air Force as he deployed the unit in response to Desert Shield/Desert Storm,” Dearing said. “He served as the Chair of the Air National Guard Wing Commander’s Council, affecting policy and plans for all of the Air National Guard.”
Dearing said that Forster had such a passion for the Guard that he stayed engaged with the unit after his retirement, and he supported their efforts to grow and bring new recruits to the wing.
“Gen. Forster was a trusted confidant of mine, offering advice and guidance, but most of all encouragement,” he said. “If I was ever in doubt about a path to take the Wing or to understand the dynamics of the community and the base, Gen Forster was the man I could trust to listen and offer advice.”
Community volunteer Joy Bishop said she valued the friendship she shared with Forster. “We both loved our Air Force careers and enjoyed reminiscing about those times,” she said. “Knowing Fred was a gift to me, but his greatest gift was to his family and our community. His passing leaves a big hole in all our hearts.”
Blount Today publisher Sherri Gardner Howell said Fred and Carolyn Forster were two of the first people she met when she came to Blount County to introduce Blount Today. “I remember the extreme pride in Fred’s voice as he talked to me about the good things in this community. He was unfailing in his commitment to moving us forward with studied and sound ideas,” she said. “Fred was a visionary, and one of the finest men I have ever known. He willingly offered a helping hand, a gentle push or a shoulder to cry on, whatever the situation needed. I am going to miss him on so many levels - as a community leader, as a business sounding board, but most of all, as a true friend.”
Fred Forster’s funeral service was held at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Knoxville at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 21. Inurnment with full military honors will take place today, Monday, at 2 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church Cemetery, Maryville, with visitation to follow from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the church’s Activities Center.
Forster’s arrangements were through Smith Mortuary and his obituary is as follows:
“Frederick Harwood Forster, 64, died Thursday, November 18, at Blount Memorial Hospital, surrounded by his family following a lengthy battle with cancer. His faith inspires us. His wisdom empowers us. His smile uplifts us. He was a graduate of West High School, Knoxville, and The University of the South at Sewanee where he was president of his fraternity and a member of The Order of Gownsmen. Fred affectionately considered himself a ‘Baptipalian,’ with involvement in both Baptist and Episcopal congregations throughout his life.
“Upon graduation, he was commissioned through ROTC into the U.S. Air Force and served the military with distinction for 35 years. At the rank of Colonel, he commanded the 134th Air Refueling Wing in Knoxville for 11 years, during which he lead over 1,500 airmen in the joint forces of the 1713th Air Refueling Wing in Dubai, UAE, during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“He was later named Assistant Adjutant General for Air for the State of Tennessee, retiring with the highest rank for a Guardsman, Major General. Following his service in the military, he was asked to serve as president and CEO of the Blount County Chamber Partnership, a career he loved as much as his first.
“Fred also was proud to be a part of many great non-profit boards and local causes, including United Way, Tremont, Metropolitan Airport Authority, National Advisory Council at Maryville College, Kiwanis, Nine Counties. One Vision, Boy Scouts, and Relay for Life.
“Fred’s love for his community was reflected in everything he did. He was preceded in death by his father, M.G. Forster and brother, John C. Forster.
“Survivors include his wife and best friend, Carolyn DeLozier Forster; daughters, Joy Forster Carver and her husband William J. Carver of Maryville, Rebecca Forster of Washington, D.C., and Katherine Forster Watson of Knoxville; grandchildren, Drew and Caroline Carver; mother, Harriet Canterberry Forster of Maryville; sister, Jane Forster Wacaster and her husband, Dr. C. Thompson Wacaster of Meridian, Miss.; aunt, Anne C. Speake of Huntsville, Ala; several nieces and nephews. Fred especially enjoyed the bonds of friendship with his longtime hunting buddies and his Monday morning Prayer Group.”
In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to The Fred Forster Memorial Fund supporting the Clayton Center for the Arts, 502 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville, TN 37804; or the building fund for Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, 3508 Wildwood Road, Maryville, TN 37804.