Thursday, July 26, 2012
Mike Lynn leaves entertainment legacy
By SUE WATSON
A champion of tourism in Holly Springs and former general manager of the Minnesota Vikings died Saturday, July 21.
Mike Lynn III, 76, passed away at Baptist Memorial Hospital North Mississippi in Oxford, following an extended illness at home.
Lynn was known best for his tenure as general manager of the Vikings, an NFL team he served for 17 years.
He was born in Scranton, Penn., served in the United States Army, then went into the entertainment business, where he spent his entire career, according to his wife, Jorja.
“He started out as a protégé of Walter Reade, the renowned theater impresario in New Jersey,” said Jorja Lynn. “Upon Mr. Reade’s untimely death, Mike moved to Memphis, Tenn., in 1961 to work for Malco Theaters.”
It was while serving as manager for Dixiemart in Memphis, that he met his wife.
Lynn was asked by the late Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb to help bring a professional NFL team to Memphis and the result was Mid-South Sports Action Inc., a group of Memphians interested in getting an NFL franchise in the city. Football was his passion.
He promoted preseason exhibition pro-football games in Memphis. He worked tirelessly to attract an NFL franchise in Memphis. It was through the connections he made in Memphis working for the franchise that Lynn was hired as assistant to the Vikings’ president in 1974.
A year later after an ownership change at the Vikings, Lynn moved up to general manager and ultimately to a managing partner. While with the Vikings he ran a tight ship and made tough decisions – some considered by football fans as wise and successful and some that apparently fizzled. The team had much success during his tenure. Lynn said he never regretted any decisions he made while serving with the Vikings.
The Lynns purchased Walter Place in Holly Springs in 1983 and made the city their home after Lynn’s retirement from the Vikings. The Lynns later acquired adjacent property and then built the dream of the former property owner Oscar Johnson – a park showpiece for the city.
The Lynns renovated Walter Place and added Featherston Place and Polk Place and a walking park with water features and botanical gardens on the property.
Included in the scenic walk through the woods along stone-lined brooks with falling, sparkling and murmuring water, are a meditation chapel, a treehouse, a large picnic pavilion and a long and wide boardwalk.
The first three phases of the park were completed, but the fourth phase, which was intended to include a waterfall, was not completed, according to Lois Swaney Shipp, Lynn’s mother-in-law.
“It was to be the grandest part of all,” she said of the waterfall feature.
Lynn also played a key role in the development of the tourism industry in Holly Springs, according to Jimmy Thomas, former executive director of tourism.
“When I was at tourism, he was chairman of the board and invested his own time and money into promoting the City of Holly Springs,” Thomas said. “He hosted events for officials coming to talk about tourism and he and Jorja put a lot of their time and money in that. He helped establish the Van Dorn Trail markers in the city. And we never had a place open daily for tours until he came. The Lynns made Walter Place available seven days a week.”
Martha Thomas, a close friend of the Lynns, and Jimmy’s wife, noted the Walter Place properties will be named the Mike Lynn Memorial Gardens. She said the Lynns have resurrected the history of Oscar Johnson and Johnson Park and extended the history of the historic properties to another level.
“Had the Lynns not revived the history and built Oscar Johnson’s dream park, it would have just died,” Martha Thomas said.
Kathy Elgin, member of the Holly Springs Garden Club, said the development of Walter Place Gardens and Estates by the Lynns has been very good for the city’s annual Pilgrimage.
She said attendance and participation at the Pilgrimage has always been good when Walter Place is on the tour.
“We appreciate the Lynns and Mike will certainly be missed,” she said. “We commend the Lynns for getting the properties back together – an attraction unique to Holly Springs and the world.”
Stephanie McKinney, current executive director of tourism, expanded on the role Mike Lynn played in helping shape the organization.
“I interviewed for the director’s position and don’t remember him talking much during the interview,” McKinney said. “But I do remember the phone call I received from him before I even made it home saying, ‘you’re our girl.’
“Mike was a champion for tourism and a voice of reason even after his time on the board ended. He will be missed dearly and his hard work and determination will live on in Holly Springs.”
Lynn created the Oxford University Club – a venture that attracts sports fans to the city of Oxford and the campus, particularly Rebel fans and Ole Miss alumni.
Rusty Cooper, manager of the Oxford University Club, said Lynn built the private club when there were no other venues for gatherings and events associated with the university and for the gathering of alumni.
“With the opening of the Oxford University Club, he was able to fulfill a dream not only he had, but that residents had longed for – a private club – they had not had that since the closing of the country club,” Cooper said. “It also became a leading venue for special events such as weddings and rehearsal dinners. From the very start, the club was affiliated with the University and many University events and banquets and alumni functions are held here.
“Now we are the center of activity associated with Ole Miss football.
“So many members converge on the club to meet with friends and alumni and enjoy company and reunions and things like that.”
Lynn leaves a legacy of entertainment everywhere he lived -- whether with football or tourism -- and his touch has changed the face of Holly Springs.
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