As news of his death Thursday night moved through Blount County by word of mouth and cyberspace well into Friday, retired Maj. Gen. Frederick Harwood "Fred" Forster was remembered not just for his service to country, but to his God, his family and his community.
"Fred was one of the finest men I have ever known," U.S. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. said. "He was a very patriotic American who dedicated his life to serving his country."
Duncan thought enough of Forster and his service to salute him in the Congressional Record on May 13, 2003, upon his retirement as assistant adjutant general for the Tennessee Air National Guard.
"Fred Forster was a patriot, a strong community leader, a good family man and a good friend," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is a native of Maryville. "Blount County and I will miss him greatly."
Forster, 64, died Thursday night at Blount Memorial Hospital, surrounded by his family, after more than three years of fighting cancer. The longtime community and military leader had battled the disease for some time, but believed he had successfully beaten it back by the time he announced his retirement as president and CEO of the Blount Partnership. During an interview with The Daily Times at the time of that announcement in March, Forster called the battle a "rough road" that he was determined to successfully traverse, but which he also saw as a wake-up call.
"Anytime you have a health issue, it gets your attention," Forster said. "It reminds you that we're all mortal and our day is coming, one way or another. We'll all have to face health issues down the road," he said. "I've been very fortunate."
Among the fortunes Forster counted in life was his wife, Carolyn. "She was invaluable. Couldn't ask for a better supporter and a partner and a helper and sustainer," he said.
Forster himself was considered a community treasure by many Blount Countians, one of whom was Sharon Hannum, whose memory of a person she calls the community's "biggest 'cheerleader'" fairly well typifies the comments received at The Daily Times:
"I met Fred Forester years ago, while he was still the Base Commander and during that time, I was so impressed by his compassionate attitude toward people," said Hannum, chair of the Blount Chamber Foundation. "While he certainly was in a position to be 'autocratic,' he chose to live a life of servanthood.
"When Gen. Forster chose to retire from his military duties, he did not retire from service," she said. "Upon his appointment to the position of CEO/president of the Chamber, I was truly elated and looked forward to his serving in that capacity, which he did with zeal, enthusiasm and excellence.
"When his health began to fail, his spirit did not," she said. "I have met no stronger, dedicated and compassionate leader than in the person of Fred Forster.
"We became great friends over the years and I will miss him greatly. He has fought the 'good fight' and has finished his fight. ... we, though, are left as friends, colleagues and the community at large, to finish ours without our biggest 'cheerleader.' Gen. Fred Forster epitomizes the term 'servant leader" and that is how I will always remember him."
Forster's pastor at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, the Rev. Raymond W. Burnett, said Blount County has lost a "great man and friend to this community."
"Fred Forster was an honorable man who believed deeply in his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," Burnett said. "He believed in prayer and accepted the will of God without complaint. Dignity, respect, honor, faith, love, commitment; these are the words that describe Fred."
Forster was a graduate of West High School, Knoxville, and entered the Air Force in the midst of the Vietnam War in September 1968, having received his commission as a second lieutenant on June 4, 1968, through ROTC at University of the South at Sewanee where he was president of his fraternity and a member of The Order of Gownsmen. It was there that he received a bachelor's degree in English literature.
In 1972, he received a master's degree in education from Troy State University in Alabama. From that point on, Forster's continuing military education included the Squadron Officers School, Air Command and Staff College, Army Command and General Staff College, Air War College, and the U.S. Department of State's Senior Seminar.
The career military leader's many assignments took him around the world, from his earliest pilot training at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, in 1968, to serving as an operations plans officer at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air force Base, Thailand, as well as commanding a position at the 1713 Air Refueling Wing (Provisional) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which supported combat missions during the liberation of Kuwait.
Forster served as commander of the 134th Air Refueling Group, Tennessee Air National Guard, from 1991-93; commandeer of the 134th Air Refueling Wing, 1994-98; and chief of staff of the Tennessee Air National Guard, 1998-2002. In 2002, he was named assistant adjutant general of the Tennessee Air National Guard, from which he retired in May 2003. In his nearly 35 years of service, Forster received dozens of awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal and the Meritorious Service medal. he logged more than 4,500 flight hours on aircraft ranging from the training aircraft, such as the T-37 and T-42, to KC-135A and KC-135E refuelers.
While retired from military duty, Forster continued to serve: as chief executive officer of the Blount Partnership -- Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Industrial Development Board, Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau and Blount Chamber Foundation -- from January 1999 until his retirement on June 30.
In addition to the Blount Partnership work, Forster served in dozens of civic public and private organizations, including: Technology 2020, Nine Counties One Vision, East Tennessee Economic Development Agency, Maryville College National Advisory Committee, Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, Tremont Board of Directors, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executives Board of Directors, Blount Memorial Hospital Foundation, Goodwill Industries of Knoxville, Maryville-Alcoa Blount County Recreation & Parks Commission, Dogwood Arts Festival of Knoxville, Blount County Chamber Foundation, ALCOA Scholarship Selection Committee, Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Bank of East Tennessee Regional Board of Directors, Youth Service U.S.A. of Knoxville, First Tennessee Bank Region Board of Directors, University of Tennessee Chancellor's Associates, Blount County Education Foundation Board of Directors and United Way of Blount County (Board of Directors and Campaign Chairman), and Relay for Life.
Other organizational work included National Guard Association of Tennessee, Air Force Association, VFW (Life Member), Kiwanis Club of Alcoa, Knoxville Civitan Club, Alpha Tau Omega, Omicron Delta Kappa, and Blue Key.
Among his many civic honors: Boy Scouts of America, Great Smoky Mountains Council, Citizen of the Year, 1992, and Silver Beaver Award, 2007; Public Relations Society of America, Volunteer Chapter, Community Service Award, 2000.
Forster was a 1990 graduate of Leadership Knoxville and a 1996 graduate of Leadership Blount County.
He was preceded in death by his father, M.G. Forster, and brother, John C. Forster.
Survivors include his wife, said to be his "best friend," Carolyn DeLozier Forster; daughters, Joy Forster 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, of Meridian, Miss.; aunt, Anne C. Speake of Huntsville, Ala.; and several nieces and nephews.
Funeral service will be held 3 p.m. Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Knoxville. Inurnment with full military honors will take place 2 p.m. Monday at Mount. Lebanon Baptist Church Cemetery, Maryville, with visitation to follow from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the church's Activities Center.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made 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 Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, 3508 Wildwood Road, Maryville, TN 37804.
Smith Funeral & Cremation Service, Maryville, is in charge of arrangements.
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