Jimmy Naifeh

UT Knoxville, ’61


Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.

Over nearly four decades of public service, Jimmy Naifeh has left enduring footprints from one end of Tennessee to the other.

After graduating from UT Knoxville in 1961, then serving on active duty as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s infantry, Naifeh was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives from District 81—Covington—in 1974.

As member, majority floor leader, majority leader and then as longest-serving Tennessee House speaker in history at 18 years, his legislative leadership and accomplishments were nothing short of phenomenal.

From balancing state budgets to funding roads and infrastructure; from supporting education (K-12 through college) to local community colleges and technology centers; from state parks and recreational areas to protecting wildlife and natural resource conservation; from supporting local law enforcement, fire departments and first responders to the arts; from TennCare to the UT Health Science Center and serving on the board of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; from recruiting industry and job creation in Tennessee to equal access to justice; from serving as vice chair of the State Building Commission to supporting all the campuses of his beloved University of Tennessee—this son of immigrants and West Tennessee native worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for all Tennesseans as “Rep. Naifeh” and as “Mr. Speaker.”

The list of Tennessee organizations that have recognized Naifeh’s legislative skill and achievements is both prestigious and lengthy and includes numerous “Legislator of the Year” accolades. In 2009, the year Naifeh retired his gavel and from office, the Tennessee House of Representatives elected him “speaker emeritus.”