PHOTO: Bruce Hunt was always willing to help out neighbors and strangers alike. He died Monday at the age of 83. // Photo courtesy of Tony Scarlati
By JOHN McBRYDE
It’s called “flowering up,” and that’s precisely what the village of Leiper’s Fork is planning to do Friday to pay tribute to the person considered the creative architect of this quaint yet thriving community nestled in the western portion of Williamson County.
Bruce Hunt, called a man of all talents and a Renaissance man by those who knew him, died Monday of natural causes at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville after an extended illness. He was 83, and leaves behind his wife of 43 years, Marty Hunt, as well as a sister, Carolyn Russell of Jackson, several nieces and nephews, and an “extended family” of countless friends.
“If people loved Leiper’s Fork, they loved Bruce Hunt,” said Aubrey Preston, one of the Hunts’ closest friends and a visionary who worked with Hunt to transform Leiper’s Fork into its place as a popular tourist destination that has maintained its charm and authenticity. “He was the creative architect that really got us going.”
There was no funeral service planned, but business owners and others in Leiper’s Fork knew that Hunt’s passing couldn’t go without some kind of recognition. So to show their love and appreciation toward Bruce and Marty, the whole town will be adorned with flowers on Friday, and merchants will find their individual ways to show their respect.
“Everybody wanted to know what to do,” said Lisa Fox, owner of Leiper’s Creek Gallery and longtime friend of the Hunts. “Bruce was so huge and so loved that I knew there was going to be an influx of people just wanting to do something.
“Marty would often say, it’s time to flower up. That’s how much she loves flowers. So that’s what we’re trying to do, is flower-up town where, when she’s ready, she can come into town and see that. It’ll do her heart good.
“Bruce is the one with the creative mind behind Leiper’s Fork. It is what it is because of Bruce. So it’s going to be sweet to see the entire town honoring him.”
Bruce Hunt was born Dec. 28, 1935, in Jackson, Tennessee. He lived in Nashville and worked for more than 40 years in the advertising industry as an executive and creative director, handling popular and iconic brands such as Goo Goo Clusters, Clifty Farms country hams, John Deere and Dollar General, among many others. He also started the custom fishing rods department at Gun City USA in Nashville.
Bruce and Marty married in 1976, and in that same year moved to Leiper’s Fork. By the mid-1990s, Hunt and Preston began to map out a way they could rebuild a near-dilapidated town and turn it into something more livable.
“A lot of people don’t realize that in 1995 Leiper’s Fork was just kind of filled with a bunch of closed buildings,” Preston said. “A lot of them were pretty unsightly. So one by one, I worked with Bruce building by building. We kind of built the new economy that we have today that’s sustainable.
“After Marty, Leiper’s Fork village was Bruce’s first love,” Preston added. “He just lived to strengthen that village because that was the way to help most people and do something that would last beyond his lifetime, which was very important to him.”
Hunt not only had a creative mind and vision, whether it was an advertising campaign or the design of a village, he was also talented with his hands.
“Master carpenters were just in awe of the things he could do down at his shop,” Preston said. “If you had a chance to work with him at some point in your life, he became a permanent spot in your head as a mentor. If there was ever really a Renaissance man, this was the guy. He could do it all.”
Hunt was also Mr. Handyman, and one who would gladly help neighbors and strangers alike in so many ways. Rick Warwick, Williamson County historian and longtime friend of Hunt, said Bruce and Marty both epitomized the friendly neighbor who turned down no one seeking assistance.
“They helped more people than anyone,” Warwick said. “If there was any hardship in the neighborhood, people would go to Bruce and Marty and they would organize a relief. They did it with an open heart and were just as generous as they could be. If somebody had a problem or needing plumbing or electrical work, whatever, Bruce was there helping. He was a man who could do anything. He was just a treasure to the community.”
Fox got to know the Hunts when she opened her gallery in September 2001, and she echoed what others have said about Hunt’s generosity.
“He’s just one of the most memorable men of my whole life,” she said. “There won’t be another Bruce Hunt. With his whimsy and his laughter, he was just so kind and sweet. He was a rock, and he was like the father of our town. He was the kindest, sweetest soul you would ever want to meet.”
Marty Hunt has asked that those wanting to donate in memory of Bruce, please do so to the Kids on Stage Foundation, 1973 New Highway 96, Franklin, TN, 37064.