Jim Keesling. Times-News file photo.
KINGSPORT — Former Kingsport Police Chief Jim Keesling had a reputation for being tough as nails, commanding respect from within the department and throughout the community.
On Saturday, Keesling, 80, passed away at Holston Valley Medical Center following a brief illness.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said Keesling proved himself to be one the finest police chiefs to ever serve the city of Kingsport.
“Chief Keesling came to Kingsport when we had a tremendous amount of turmoil within the police department, when Kingsport needed a chief in the worst way,” Phillips said. “He was very big on discipline within the ranks, he commanded respect and he wanted respect first and wanted you to like him second.
“He was a great man and he will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.”
Born in 1933 in Smyth County, Va., Keesling was a graduate of East Tennessee State University and the FBI National Academy. Keesling worked as an assistant director at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation prior to becoming Kingsport's Police Chief in the mid-1980s. Upon his retirement in 1999, Keesling continued to serve the community, most notably as the chairman of the Emergency 911 Board.
Current Police Chief David Quillin said Keesling brought a tremendous amount of professionalism to the Kingsport Police Department.
“I had the honor of serving under Chief Keesling for about 14 years. He had a reputation as being tough as nails, and he was, and he certainly commanded respect throughout the department and throughout the community,” Quillin said. “But he had a softer side too. He was never too busy to ask how we were doing personally and always took time to ask about our families.”
Quillin said Keesling led the police department through its first accreditation process and focused on developing a better detective division, given Keesling's strong background in investigations with the TBI.
“The city of Kingsport and the entire law enforcement community has lost a true friend and ally,” Quillin said. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with his wife, Bernice, and the rest of his family.”
The family will receive friends from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mafair United Methodist Church in Kingsport with funeral services following at 7 p.m. The eulogy will be given by former Kingsport Police Chief Mark Addington.
Entombment services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Forest Hills Memory Gardens in Abingdon, Va. with the Kingsport Police Department Honor Guard in charge.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Mafair UMC, 1409 East Center St., Kingsport, TN 37660.
For more on this story read Tuesday's print edition of the Times-News.