Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

New OrleansIf you search the Knoxville News Sentinel’s obituary archives from September 16, 2001, you will find the name of Cecil Edgar Wells, 76. It lists facts about Mr. Wells’ life, his survivors and plans for graveside services at Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.

What this obituary does not reveal, however, are details of how Mr. Wells got to the cemetery. And therein lies a story that has taken on legendary status among family members. 

“Everybody agrees he would have gotten a big laugh out of it,” is how one daughter-in law, Holly D. Wells, puts it. 

 A Knoxville native, Cecil Wells worked in the insurance business. He had moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, in the 1980s. In early September 2001, he suffered a massive stroke. It would take his life on September 12. 

As you surely remember, this was one day after one of the most tragic events in U.S. history. 

“My brothers-in-law drove to Louisiana as soon as we heard about the stroke,” explained Holly. “The rest of us decided to wait and see how he was doing, then go ourselves.” 

Alas, all travel plans went out the window when hijacked jetliners turned New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, into war zones. 

“They had a funeral for him in Lafayette,” Holly recalled, “but he had always wanted to be buried in Knoxville. Any other time, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But after 9/11, all the planes were grounded.” 

The boys checked into having Mr. Wells’ casket shipped via a commercial trucking company. It was too costly and would take too much time. So they did what any resourceful East Tennesseans would do. 

“They rented a regular-sized U-Haul trailer, hooked it to the pickup and brought him here themselves,” said Holly. “Soon as the funeral was over, they loaded him up and came to Tennessee.” 

This took a bit of planning, she remembers. First, permits had to be obtained to transport the body across state lines. While that was being done Holly, still in Knoxville, contacted Rose Mortuary so the casket could be taken directly there. 

“They drove almost nonstop,” she said. “Just pulled in long enough to get gas and go to the restroom. They got here the same night, and we had his graveside services the next day.” 

Nobody in the clan makes merry of either Cecil Wells’ death or the tragedy of 9/11. Still, the irony isn’t lost on them. 

“Everybody keeps saying how much of a kick he would’ve gotten out of this,” Holly noted. “We all said he would agree his funeral wouldn’t be typical. I guess if your casket arrives in a U-Haul trailer, it’s a pretty redneck event.”

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at