Gene Elsea of Spring City Passes Away

State Senator Gene Elsea
Former State Sen. Gene Elsea was presented in 2013 with a resolution passed by the General Assembly honoring his years of service. The proclamation was presented to Elsea as his wife Gayla looked on. Pictured above from left to right are Gayla Elsea, Gene Elsea, State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (Photo taken by Dean Wilson)

Elsea served in both the House of Representatives and State Senate

Foster “Gene” Elsea, a Spring City resident and former Tennessee State Senator, passed away Monday, April 18, 2016 at his home after a lengthy illness. Born September 24, 1933 to Vance and Lillie Mae Sims Elsea, Gene was the oldest of five children. He was a 1952 graduate of Sale Creek High School, a veteran of the United States Air Force, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

State Senator Gene Elsea
Gene Elsea in 2015  (Photo taken by Dean Wilson)

Gene founded and co-operated with his first wife, Claudette Henley Elsea, the K.T.C. Manufacturing Plant in Spring City in 1978. It was named for their three children Kim, Terry, and Chris. K.T.C. was once the largest employer in Spring City. At one point in the company’s 21 year history, it employed 102 people.

Gene was a member of the Spring City First Baptist Church, the Alhambra Shrine Temple in Chattanooga, and a fifty-year member of the Rhea Springs #310 F&AM.

Gene began his political career in 1996 when he was elected to serve in the state House of Representatives. He then spent 12 years in the state Senate, serving the 13th district, where he was one of the leading Republicans in the Senate. He served for several years as the Republican caucus chairman, the second-most powerful GOP seat in the Senate. He served as Minority Caucus Chairman, and served on the following committees Commerce, Labor and Agriculture, Education, Finance, Ways and Means, Joint Select Committee on Business Tax and Select Oversight Committee on Education.

Some of Gene’s accomplishments while serving the State of Tennessee were securing funding to build two bridges across the Tennessee River and the widening of US Highway 27 between Interstate 24 in Chattanooga and Interstate 40 in Harriman. He also helped to secure state funds to extend water utilities to most of Rhea County.

Gene was also instrumental in the construction of Lands Way, the new entrance into Bryan College, off of Highway 27. He was also proud of his ability to secure funding for the construction of a new health department for Rhea County. In recognition of his efforts, County officials decided to name the new health department building in Evensville in his honor.

The day came when Gene decided it was time for him to retire. In July of 2010, after 14 years public service, State Senator Gene Elsea formally announced that he would not seek re-election.

Gene was preceded in death by a brother Harold Dean Elsea, his parents Vance and Lillie Mae Elsea, first wife Claudette Henley Elsea, brother-in-law Dusty Wilson, and a grandchild Caleb Latshaw. Survivors include his wife Gayla Edington Elsea of Spring City, children Kim Elsea and Terry (Stephanie) Elsea both of Spring City. Chris (Jimmy) Barnes of Dayton, stepchildren Rick (Denise) Latshaw and Heath (Kristy) Latshaw both of Spring City, brother Charles (Freddie) Elsea of Graysville, sisters Velma (Mike) Barger of Dayton and Kay Wilson of Red Bank, Tennessee, grandchildren Jameson (Sara) Barnes, Chelsea Barnes, Alex Elsea, Chandler Elsea, Chesney Elsea, and Logan Alnutt, great-grandchildren Olivia Barnes and Riley Finley.

Rhea County Executive George Thacker stated that it is a sad day for Rhea County. Not only have we lost a great public servant, but we lost a truly great citizen. When one looked at Gene Elsea, they saw the model of what a great citizen should be like. Rhea County owes a debt of gratitude to Gene Elsea for his hard work and determination in securing funds to widen Highway 27 from a two to a four lane, and the construction of our two bridges across the river. These projects laid the foundation for Rhea County’s future growth.

New Bridge across Tennessee River
Gene Elsea felt that his greatest accomplishment while in office was securing funding for the two new bridges across the Tennessee River and the widening of Hwy 27 from I-24 in Chattanooga to I-40 in Harriman. (Photo by Dean Wilson)

“This is a great loss for me personally. Today, I lost a friend and a mentor. I will never forget the influence and positive guidance that I have received from Gene Elsea”, stated Thacker.

On behalf of the State of Tennessee, Senator Ken Yager R-Harriman stated that “Gene Elsea was very well thought of in the Senate. Whether you saw Gene of the floor of the Senate or on the street corner, he was always his friendly and humble self. He was an extraordinary individual that was successful in both business and politics.” Yager continued by stating that “in 2008, when he first ran for the office of Senator, he first talked to Gene who gave him sound advice, and continued to be a mentor to him. He leaves behind a lasting legacy. I offer my sincere condolences to his family during this painful time of loss”.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, April 21, 2016 at 2 pm EDT at the Spring City First Baptist Church. Gene will be laid to rest at the Spring City Cemetery with full military honors. The family will receive friends on Thursday from 12 until 2 pm EDT at the church. In lieu of flowers, memorial may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memorials and Honors Program in Memphis, TN or to the Spring City First Baptist Church.


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Dean is a Contributing Editor with Rhea Review. Dean has developed an interest in local history and has published a historical website relating to our history.


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