Mr. James B. Brinkley
Class of 1960
The story of James B. Brinkley and his late wife, Nellie, is centered on the life-shaping, life-long impact East Tennessee State University has had for their lives. Together with their generous, forward-looking philanthropic support to encourage and educate future generations of ETSU students from our region, Jim and Nellie's "ETSU story" offers insights for their deep commitment, stewardship, and philanthropic vision and service for our university.
Brinkley literally grew from boyhood to adulthood on the ETSU campus. He was an elementary and secondary student at the "Training School," now known as the University School. His parents owned and operated a small restaurant and hotel in Johnson City. They also had a farm, which Jim worked. Jim shares the story that he spotted his future wife, Nellie, one day while he was bringing a mule-drawn wagonload of pumpkins to town. He was instantly smitten. The couple married as teenagers, and Nellie worked in a local bank and Jim started his higher education at East Tennessee State College.
Brinkley's education at ETSC was interrupted by service in the United States Navy, where he was stationed in the Pacific. After serving the nation and being honorably discharged, he returned to ETSC to complete his education. Brinkley received his undergraduate degree in 1960.
After graduation, he worked for 25 years with the Social Security Administration in Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. During his tenure with Social Security, Jim and Nellie started a number of businesses "on the side." They built and sold "spec" homes. The profits from the sale of homes were invested in rental apartments, warehouses and land. After a few years, they started a mortgage company and were able to offer financing to the purchaser of their properties.
Although Jim and Nellie moved away from the ETSU community, they never forgot all that ETSU and the faculty had done to urge Jim to "stay the course" and eventually graduate. He explains that "ETSU opened doors for me that would have been otherwise closed, and Nellie was always there to support me. Next to marrying Nellie, getting my business degree at the university was my best decision."
Nellie became a certified real estate agent in Florida, and she also managed several commercial properties in the Jacksonville and Fort Pierce areas which they owned. Together, the couple also ran two car wash businesses for 19 years, which proved to be financially rewarding. In addition, they developed "Park Ridge," a manufactured home community in Orange Park, Florida, which also proved to be successful and is managed today by their son, Jim, Jr.
Brinkley is always quick to give credit to his wife for the couple's business successes. "I feel I have been blessed with a wife and son who helped me every step of the way. Nellie was an energetic and enthusiastic person who contributed so much to the success we enjoyed."
Sadly, Mrs. Brinkley passed away in March 2009 from complications of multiple myeloma. Yet her wonderful legacy will live on in a very special and generous way at ETSU through a gift to the ETSU Foundation. In their estate planning, both thought the perfect thing for them to do would be to encourage future ETSU students with scholarship opportunities. They particularly wanted to provide support for students who may have difficulty meeting the costs of college. "With my degree I was able to obtain a job that provided a standard of living for my family which we would probably not have otherwise," Brinkley states.
When the James and Nellie Brinkley Scholarship Endowment is fully funded with Brinkley's estate at the Diamond Society level, a new generation of ETSU students across the university known as "Brinkley Scholars" will grace the campus at ETSU. "I was the only one of my siblings to graduate from high school or college. My observation is that education is the key to a prosperous life, and by establishing a scholarship endowment with our estate, we hope to help other students who might not otherwise be able to go to ETSU."
Brinkley is passionate with respect to his encouragement of others to support "his university." He is serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the ETSU Foundation. Brinkley has been an annual, loyal supporter for the Challenge 2000 Scholarship Endowment. He is a familiar face in the crowd of ETSU fans who support the Buccaneer athletics when the teams visit the Jacksonville area. In 2010, he and Nellie were awarded the Tennessee Board of Regents' Award for Excellence in Philanthropy for their devotion for East Tennessee State University. 4/12