The wrestling world lost a breadth of knowledge, and I lost an occasional pen pal – and mentor – with the passing of Jerry Jarrett.
I last communicated with Jerry in August 2022 about his mother, Christine “Teeny” Jarrett, being recognized as the Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC) 2022 posthumous honoree. I was assigned to write her bio for the annual awards program and chatted with Jerry about Teeny, which we had done many times before.
“Looking forward to seeing you,” Jerry emailed after I shared I had completed the Teeny CAC bio, which would be distributed at the awards banquet in Vegas.
I reluctantly informed him making the trip to Vegas was iffy at best, but hopefully, we could meet up in the future as I am now spending more time in Tennessee.
“Okay, let me know if your plans change,” Jarrett replied.
Unfortunately, my plans did not change. I was too ashamed to admit I could not afford the trip to Vegas because contrary to popular belief, being a university faculty member does not necessarily equate to making a large amount of money. I kicked myself then for not being able to make the trip, and I am now kicking myself even harder for missing the opportunity to honor his family’s legacy – and what a legacy.
My first conversation with Jerry occurred almost exactly 20 years earlier after the NWA-TNA PPV held at the Nashville Fairgrounds on August 14, 2002. I was a young, naïve undergraduate majoring in journalism with a tape recorder and ambition. Upon searching through my personal archives for the interview, I realize I was simply at the right place at the right time. Jerry was the consummate professional when talking about forming the new company with his son, Jeff Jarrett.
“Jeff came to me about this idea of direct to pay-per-view approach,” Jerry explained. “He said, ‘Dad, you don’t have to do things you don’t like, which is be on the road all the time. We’ll produce our show one night a week, bring in our talent and it will be fun again.’ And it really has been.”
Considering the rocky start of TNA, Jerry was more open with me than I originally understood at the time.
“We still have an exposure problem,” Jerry stated. “A lot of people don’t know we’re out there. But every week more people hear about us, our marketing becomes more effective and we literally get emails, faxes and letters from England, Germany and Australia. You know, the word is spreading about us, and the fan base is growing. Everybody seems really excited about the X-Division. Overall, we’ve got some great positive feedback.”
The Jarretts became embroiled in a lawsuit alleging former PPV programming executive Jay Hassman of fraud and breach of contract.
According to a July 30, 2002, press release from J. Sports & Entertainment (JSE): Specifically, the complaint alleges that Hassman failed to disclose his affiliation with Team Services, a company which markets the competing World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) pay-per-view programming. The suit further contends that Hassman conspired to defraud JSE by providing false information about the extent of marketing of the NWA-TNA pay-per-view programs, the availability of the NWA-TNA pay-per-view programs, and about the actual number of pay-per-view buys for NWA-TNA.
Considering this lawsuit had been filed just two weeks prior, I decided to ask about Hassman’s connection with WWE.
“Well, I don’t know the motive of Jay Hassman, and I don’t want to speculate,” Jarrett stated to a 20-year-old me. “I can’t imagine that Vince [McMahon] would be concerned about us. The WWE is a great organization. They’re very successful, and I can’t comprehend that [WWE being behind Hassman’s actions]. Of course, that’s what the investigation and the lawsuit will reveal: is what was Jay Hassman’s motive?”
The second-generation promoter was a reliable source whenever I was tasked with writing about the Tennessee territory or some topic (or person) he had a connection with. For example, he was a valuable source when discussing Thelma Cornette, the mother of Jim Cornette, or eulogizing Tennessee mainstay Sara Lee.
Jerry was one of the last highly knowledgeable direct links to the Gulas-Welch Enterprises professional wrestling era. In 1946, Christine Jarrett started selling tickets for Nick Gulas and Roy Welch as another source of income while raising two young children as a single parent. Jerry always enjoyed sharing memories of his mother who passed away on November 19, 1998.
“My mother and father divorced in 1945. I was three years old, and my sister was about six months old. My mother, Teeny, was already working at Woolworth’s 5&10 in downtown Nashville,” recalled Jerry in 2006. “We were living with my grandparents because my father was in the Army. Prior to the divorce, my father was sending money home. While it was a meager standard of living, we were surviving. After the divorce, my father never sent one dollar. So in desperation, Teeny had to find another job. She went to work selling tickets for the Gulas-Welch wrestling matches held at the Hippodrome in Nashville.”
Perhaps, Jerry and I shared a common bond because we were both from Tennessee and were raised by single-parent mothers. Jerry mentioned his concerns about being viewed as an absentee father (like his father was to him) by his two oldest children, Jerry Jr. and Jeff, after his divorce from his first wife, Julie, when they were children. Being active in the lives of his two other children, Jennifer and Jason, from his second marriage to Deborah was also a priority.
Yes, Jerry and I discussed pro wrestling, but we also discussed other unrelated topics, as seen in the following 2006 email:
Ryan, we got rain last night, so all my construction sites are closed today. This leaves me sitting in my office and trying to wind up some paperwork. My years in the wrestling business kind of exhausted me on office work. I much prefer being on the heavy equipment on the job site. I found that my life’s path was helped along in ways that I was totally unaware at the time they were unfolding. Various experiences you pick up now, I’m sure will be valuable in whatever your future holds. I’d like to suggest you get a copy of The Celestine Prophecy. This book was invaluable to my understanding much about my life and the directions it has and is taking. I think you will find it at least interesting.
Jerry was well-read, which some may be unaware of, especially due to Southern stereotypes. This misnomer is both a blessing and a curse. Just because people from the South may talk slowly does not mean we think slowly.
Jerry also often offered sage advice.
“As I look back over my life, my biggest regrets are the great ideas I had and the evil procrastination caused them to get buried under daily chores, which at the time seemed important,” Jerry explained. “Let me pass along a tip that may be very helpful to you. People with fruitful minds seem to have almost a constant flow of ideas. Some are brilliant, some are fanciful. I’ve found that when I had a great idea and put off getting started for a few weeks, they never got started. However, when I had an idea and began even a fraction of the effort to bring the idea to life, it became reality. It is like the first bit of effort breathes life into the project, and it has a chance to become a reality.”
Jerry also detailed his relationship with both Vince McMahon Sr. and Vince McMahon Jr.
“I really got to know Vince Jr. because of his father,” Jarrett recalled. “Vince Sr. and I were promoters and associates during the old territory days. I was the new kid, and Vince Sr. was the senior statesman of us promoters. Somehow, Vince Sr. took a liking to a young Southern boy, and we became very good friends.
“When Vince Sr. became very sick, he called me to ask a very personal question,” Jarrett continued. “He said that he really liked me and had done me a few favors over the years. (He had done some huge favors.) This was really strange because Vince Sr. was a quality person, who would never do something and then throw it up. I knew something was really up at this point in the conversation. Vince Sr. then says that he wants me to promise him that I’ll return the favors to his son, should Vince Jr. ever need me. Anyway, now you know why I picked up and moved to Stamford to help Vince Jr. for a couple of years when Vince Jr. was in trouble with the government over the steroid distribution case.”
Jarrett details the experience in Chapter 22 of his book The Best of Times, which was also written with historian Mark James, for those wanting Jarrett’s point of view about being brought up to help run the then World Wrestling Federation.
He also explained his simple formula for success: hire the best people for the job and allow them to do their best. Being a wrestling promoter means you are not going to be universally liked; however, Jarrett’s success and impact should be universally acknowledged and studied. Completing dismissing the old guard, along with the successes of promoters and bookers from previous eras, is a recipe for disaster.
Individuals like Jim Cornette (who Christine Jarrett broke into the business), Dutch Mantel, and now Jeff Jarrett are a few of the remaining talent turned promoters who have sat under the learning tree of a bygone era. They are now the old guard, but is the new guard listening?
More importantly, Jerry Jarrett was a father, grandfather, husband, brother, uncle, friend, and mentor to those who are mourning his loss.
Thank you, Jerry, for always helping me with a story and sharing some words of wisdom. Mr. Jarrett gets the last word from a February 22, 2006 exchange:
Yes Ryan, I spent a long time wondering where my path in life was leading. Now that I’ve traveled so far, I can tell you without a single reservation that it is the journey and not the destination that is important. Enjoy every step along your path and if you’re not having fun, and if you don’t feel fulfilled, take the next fork in the road. Don’t be afraid to travel down the road less traveled (just another way to say do not fear doing something others don’t understand).
I thought I had reached the end of my journey last year and the experience gave me a new insight into a soul’s journey through life. When the end comes, you will not measure your life by your money or material possession, and I can say that having accumulated great wealth. You will not judge your journey by the status of position you have obtained, and I can say that because I’ve had some pretty good accomplishments in both the wrestling and construction business. No, you will judge your life by the content of your character. My relationship with my wife, my children and my friends are the thoughts that gave me comfort during these trying times. I felt ready to leave this plain because I felt I had been a good dad and a good husband.
TOP PHOTO: Jerry Jarrett and his mother Christine “Teeny” Jarrett. Photo courtesy Teeny: Professional Wrestling’s Grand Dame by Brennon Martin
- Feb. 14, 2023: Jerry Jarrett dead at 80
- Feb. 14, 2023: Wrestling world mourns the loss of pioneer Jerry Jarrett
- Slam Wrestling’s Jarrett Family story archive