By David Knox
Frank Thomas Bobo, longtime Master Distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery, died Wednesday, Jan. 15, at the age of 90.
The passing of the Lynchburg native, who held the title of the Fifth Master Distiller from 1967 until his retirement in 1989, affected many in the community. His funeral was held Friday.
“All of us at Jack Daniel’s are saddened by the passing of Frank Bobo and we send our deepest sympathies to the Bobo and Fletcher family,” said Larry Combs, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Jack Daniel Distillery.
According to a 1960s-era ad, Mr. Bobo was the first Master Distiller to not be related to the Motlow family.
“To say that Frank Bobo was instrumental in the growth of Jack Daniel’s when our Tennessee Whiskey was in short supply would be an understatement,” Combs said. “Frank and his team worked tirelessly to meet the world’s demand for our Tennessee Whiskey, and Jack Daniel’s would not be what it is today without his many contributions. There will never be another one quite like Mr. Frank Bobo. As Master Distiller, he set the standard for Jack Daniel’s and represented the hard work, dedication and attention to our founding principles that we all strive to meet today.
“But more than anything, Frank was our friend. He was a good man – a family man – and someone we always looked up to and will always remember fondly. We know he will be missed, but we also know his legacy lives on in his family, in his work and in his service to Lynchburg and our country.”
According to an article in February 2017 by June Pugh, Mr. Bobo’s Moore County roots ran deep. Relatives at least as far back as his paternal and maternal great-grandparents lived in this county. His great-grandfather Parks was a lawyer who worked hard to get county schools established. His grandfather Bobo brought mail by horse and buggy from Tullahoma to Lynchburg.
His mother was Marie Hobbs Bobo. Her father, Wiley Oliver J. Hobbs, was Moore County Sheriff, 1928-1932. When he died while in office, his wife Pearl completed his term. She was, reportedly, the first female sheriff in the United States. Both of Mr. Bobo’s grandmothers worked for the county for many years. Mary Evans Bobo, of Boarding House fame, was Frank’s great-aunt. She was married to Frank’s grandfather’s brother, Jack.
His dad owned a grocery store named Roy H. Bobo and Sons where Mr. Bobo was employed as a teenager. After graduating as Salutatorian from Moore County High School, attending MTSU and playing football for awhile, he realized he missed the grocery business. “It was in my blood,” he recalled.
Mr. Bobo said in the article that fate walked in the door of his dad’s grocery store on January 1, 1957, when Reagor Motlow stopped in for his usual lunch-time cheese and crackers. He approached Frank with a surprising offer. “Frank,” Reagor said, “you know Lem Tolley is going to be retiring in five or six years and we are looking for someone who would be a candidate to take his place. We are wondering if you would like to come to work.”
After being assured that his dad approved, his answer was simple, “It sounds good to me.” Reagor instructed Frank to “go on up there and tell Lem I sent you.” Thus, he took off his apron and with a handshake; Frank Bobo began to be groomed to write an important piece of the Jack Daniel story.
In Jack Daniel’s Distillery’s now 151 year history, there have been only seven Master Distillers: #1 Jack Daniel-1866 to 1911; #2 Jess Motlow-1911 to 1941; #3 Lem Tolley -1941 to 1964; #4 Jess Gamble-1964 to 1966; #5 Frank Bobo-1966 to 1988; #6 Jimmy Bedford-1988 to 2008; #7 Jeff Arnett–2008 to current.
Mr. Bobo explained that he spent time learning about every aspect of the company. When he was Master Distiller, he supervised the distilling process from the cave spring to the barrel. He was on site long hours almost every day. Over the years, the Distiller’s travel and public relations responsibilities have evolved as the brand has grown and become more in demand internationally. When he started work, the Distillery was processing 650 bushels of grain a day. When he left it had increased to 14,000 bushels.
Asked what he enjoyed most about his career, he had high praise for his employer. “I could not have hand-picked a better company to work for. I was always happy at work.”
June Pugh contributed to this report.