Gentry Crowell

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Gentry Crowell (December 10, 1932 – December 20, 1989) was a Tennessee Secretary of State whose office was a target of investigation in Operation Rocky Top and committed suicide during the investigation.[1]

Crowell was born December 10, 1932, in Chestnut Mound, Smith County, Tennessee. A Democrat, he served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 (86th to 89th Tennessee General Assemblies), serving at various times as chairman of the General Welfare Committee, Rules Committee, and the House Democratic Caucus.[1][2] He was first elected Secretary of State by the state legislature in 1977, took office that year, and continued in that position until his death, having been re-elected by the legislature in 1981, 1985, and 1989.[1]

In January 1979, while serving as Secretary of State, Crowell witnessed Governor Ray Blanton's signature on the pardons and commutations of prison sentences that Blanton notoriously issued shortly before leaving office. While signing the documents, Blanton stated, "this takes guts," to which Crowell responded, "some people have more guts than they've got brains."[3]

In 1989, the Secretary of State's office was a target of investigation for Operation Rocky Top, due to staff involvement in a public corruption scandal involving fund-raising irregularities and fraudulent charity bingo operations. Crowell's administrative assistant was indicted for embezzlement of thousands of dollars from the Democratic Caucus campaign fund, of which Crowell was treasurer. Crowell was called to testify before the federal grand jury in the Rocky Top investigation, but was not indicted in the investigation. He died at age 57 on December 20, 1989, after shooting himself in the mouth with a .38-caliber pistol on December 12.[1][2][4] He is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Lebanon, Tennessee.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Birth and biography of Gentry Crowell, Southern History website
  2. ^ a b Ronald Smothers, Tennessee Republicans See an Election Weapon in State's Bingo Scandal, The New York Times, January 28, 1990.
  3. ^ Going Free In Tennessee, Time, January 29, 1979
  4. ^ Gentry Crowell, 57; Top Tennessee Aide, The New York Times, December 22, 1989
Political offices
Preceded by
Joe C. Carr
Secretary of State of Tennessee
Succeeded by
Milton P. Rice