Gene Crawford Koonce departed this life on January 25, 2022, leaving behind a devoted family and many friends. Gene was born in McMinnville, Tennessee, on January 6, 1932, to
Euta and Belle Durham Koonce. He met his future wife, Bettye Lester Dillon, when she was in sixth grade and he was in eighth. They have been together ever since. “Bettye-and-Gene” was considered one word, because where one was, the other was also.
Gene graduated from McMinnville Central High School, where he played football, as well as trumpet in the school band. In later years, he became a football spectator, but he continued his love for music, humming and whistling his way through life. He completed his education at the University of Tennessee, belonging to Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and earning a degree in engineering.
Gene served his country as a captain in the Air Force from 1955 until 1958 in the Strategic Air Command, where he flew a KB-29 “superfortress” refueling tanker, which replenished fuel in jet planes while in the air. He and Bettye were stationed in Austin, Texas, but the refueling took place in the air space over Alaska.
After being discharged, he began his career in the energy field, serving on the Knoxville Utility Board, first as superintendent of the Bureau of Gas, then the Bureau of Power. He was also president of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers, as well as vice president of the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce. He instilled a love of hiking and camping in his son Buddy while on the board of the Knoxville chapter of the Boy Scouts of America. He and Bettye were formidable tennis partners at the Knoxville Racquet Club, where he served as president.
In 1978, he accepted the position of president of United Cities Gas Company, and he and Bettye moved to Nashville, where he continued his service to the community and to his profession, as chairman of the Southern Gas Association, president of the Tennessee Gas Association, director of both the Southeastern and American Gas Associations, as well as director of the Institute of Gas Technology. He was involved in the community as chairman of the Boys Club, chairman of the O’More School of Design, a director of First American Corporation, and a member of the board of advisors to St. Thomas Hospital, while maintaining memberships in both Richland and Cherokee Country Clubs.
In 1997, United Cities Gas merged with Atmos Energy, and in retirement, Gene became a director of the Atmos Board.
As involved as he was in his profession, Gene’s family always came first in his life. Affectionately known as “Geno,” he is survived by Bettye, his wife of 68 years; his three children: Buddy Koonce (Ellen), Leslie Baugues, and Paul Dillon Koonce (Tammy); five grandchildren: John (Jay) Paul Baugues III (Stacy), Hannah Koonce McBride (Will), Paul Dillon Koonce, Jr. (Melinda), Adele Wiedemann (Ross), Alice Koonce; two great-grandchildren: Ella Gray Baugues and Adeline Rose Baugues.
Visitation will be at 10:00 Tuesday, February 1, at Hillsboro Church of Christ, followed by a service at 11:00, with Randell Purdue officiating. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the church of your choice or to Friends of The Smokies, PO Box 1660, Kodak, TN 37764-7660.