Arrangements will be announced by Grissom Funeral Home.
The Bradley County native was best known for his love of agriculture and his family’s life on the Triple Creek Farm, so named in recognition of the Black Fox, Candies and Dromgould creeks that ran through the property located adjacent to Bendabout Farm, where he worked early in life.
During his working years at Bendabout, the young man earned about $2 a day and this is also where he learned to play polo, a sport that eventually landed him in the Bradley County Old Timers Hall of Fame.
A multitalented community leader with diverse interests, Easterly was also a spirited civic servant as a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland. He served as Bradley County Clerk from 1958 to 1962 and gave his time as president of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce in 1963.
Following his service in the Bradley County Courthouse, Easterly went to work for the U.S. Postal Service and was named Cleveland postmaster in 1964. He retired in 1980 when the Cleveland Post Office was relocated from downtown to Keith Street.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland knew the likable Easterly well and called him a close personal friend.
“One thing I will always remember Bob for is he planted the tree when he served as postmaster that is now our Cleveland Community Christmas Tree downtown,” the mayor recollected. “It was just a little old shrub when he planted it. Now, we light it every year at Christmas.”
He added, “Bob often attended many of those lightings.”
The evergreen now towers in front of the Bradley County Courthouse Annex building that houses the downtown Post Office and Bradley County Election Commission.
“Bob Easterly was a good personal friend of mine and of the community,” Rowland said. “He was involved in so many things throughout his life.”
Rowland remembered Easterly as a “gentleman farmer” who loved his agrarian life. The mayor said the former postmaster always talked of his farm life and his vegetables, especially his prized tomatoes, which he frequently hand-delivered to friends in town.
“Bob Easterly left a big footprint in this community,” Rowland said. “He will be sorely missed.”
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis has some of the same memories of Easterly, including the original planting of the Community Christmas Tree.
Davis said most of his memories of Easterly revolve around his community service and his love of the people of Cleveland and Bradley County. Davis grew close to Easterly through their service with the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland.
“Bob’s service to our community will always be a fond memory,” Davis said. “He was our county clerk, postmaster, Kiwanian and in general a friend to this community.”
The long-time county mayor spoke of hearing the news of his friend’s passing.
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of my long-time friend,” Davis noted. “I had known Bob for many, many years. He was an important citizen of this community whose presence had a strong impact. He will be missed by so very many.”
Davis added, “Our hearts and prayers go out to the entire Easterly family and to all who knew Bob and called him friend.”
Different aspects of Easterly’s life were featured over the years in the Cleveland Daily Banner. One came in the Nov. 6, 2006, edition when he spoke of his farm life on property that had been owned by his family since 1898.
Also known for his wit, Easterly talked of how farmers got their exercise — by opening and closing gates.
“I’ve got a lot of gates,” he told Managing Editor David Davis five years ago. “You drive a tractor out there to open a gate, you’ve got to climb down and go open the gate. You’ve got to get back up in the tractor, drive through the gate, get down and shut the gate and get back up on the tractor again.”
In the same interview, Easterly joked about his secret to longevity. At the time, he was a spry 91.
“If there is a branch I think is going to hit me in the head, I cut it off,” he mused while speaking of the many trees on his farm and his yard. “I suspect that (not hitting my head on tree branches) might be part of my secret to living a long life.”
Easterly’s uncle — William — who first owned the family farm, founded Easterly Nursery, which later became Easterly-Varnell Nursery and has been known as Varnell Nursery for the past 35 years.
“In the ’30s, they moved it over to the highway where Varnell Nursery is now,” Easterly said in the 2006 newspaper interview.
In an article published Sept. 30, 2009, Easterly spoke of his love of family.
“The greatest thing for me is my wife and children,” Easterly said then.
At the time, he and his wife, Mildred, had been married almost 70 years. In that article, Easterly pointed with pride at having four children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Matt Ryerson, Kiwanis Club president, said this morning Easterly had served as a Kiwanian for more than 50 years.
“Bob was a huge community advocate and long-standing member of Kiwanis,” Ryerson, who serves as vice president of Community Investment Strategy for United Way of Bradley County, said. “Last summer the Kiwanis Club had our 95th anniversary party on the Easterly farm. It was a beautiful day and we had a picnic and hayride. I remember seeing Bob, this 95-year-old man, hop up on the tractor. He was 95 but he still had every ounce of life. He was always ready to go.”
Ryerson called Easterly a personal inspiration to him and to his many fellow Kiwanians.
“I’m proud to be a part of anything, especially Kiwanis, but I was always proud to be part of anything that Bob was a part of,” Ryerson said.
He added, “A lot of Kiwanis Club members are sad today, but we are all excited for Bob because we know where he is now.”
Another person who fondly remembers Easterly is Brenda Abel, president and chief executive officer of United Way. One of Easterly’s core values was his support of United Way and its many people programs and special services.
“Bob was such an interesting and nice person,” Abel said. “He had such love for this community and was a special friend of United Way.”
Easterly served as campaign chairman for the 1979 United Way campaign and was a supporter of the organization prior to and after his chairmanship. He would personally bring his pledge into the United Way office at the beginning of each campaign, Abel recalled.
Easterly always enjoyed attending United Way kickoffs. One in particular came in 2009 which was the 30-year anniversary of his service as campaign chairman. He brought the original campaign brochure from 30 years earlier with him to the luncheon. It was another special occasion for him because he had his photograph taken with the keynote speaker, UT Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt.
“It was a joy to know him,” Abel said. “He always had a smile and he loved the history of the community and always had a great story about the past. He will be missed by everyone.”