Max Huff, the student athlete, Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) Agent, coach and country lawyer, never expected to find himself in the predicament of a life time; however unknowingly it was during these times that he was being prepared for a life-changing moment.
Most people who have been living in Scott County very long has had an encounter with Max Huff, and most know him as an attorney, friend, coach, or all three. Many have had lengthy conversations with Huff, but very few could elaborate on the events in his life that prepared him for the day he found himself lying in a hospital bed at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center with complete paralysis on his left side. A scary moment for anyone indeed, but for this tough man it was humbling. The days spent recovering gave him time to think about his life. The months spent recovering allowed him time to realize he was ready for what just happened.
Maxwell Ernest Huff, named after his father, the late Dr. Max Huff, was born and raised in Oneida, TN. The eldest of five siblings, Huff recalls his childhood to have been a great one. The family spent a lot of time traveling, which was uncommon for families in this time period, Huff enjoyed the trips and experienced a great part of the world as a result. His father was a “country doctor” accepting green beans and dozens of eggs for medical services.
“Back then people would bring in eggs and green beans as a form of payment for the treatment my father would provide,” Huff said. “I can remember shelling a lot of green beans in those days.”
Huff attended Oneida High School where he was known as a rebellious jokester. Active in a myriad of sports, Huff excelled athletically. Upon graduation, Huff was turned loose from the financial care of his father. Attending East Tennessee State University in the Fall of 1975, Huff worked summers and nights to pay his way through college.
During his early years in school he was uncertain as to what he wanted to do with his life, and joined a fraternity to play sports. He developed good friendships along the way. Four years and a lot of hard work later Huff graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business and returned to Scott County to become a Retail Manager at the former Scott Foods. For over a year Huff valued his company, and enjoyed his work, but soon a move would bring him to a job he was born to do.
“I loved my job as a retail manager at Scott Foods,” Huff said. “After interviewing with TBI Director Arzo Carson in 1983, I was subsequently hired as a TBI agent in April of 1984.”
Becoming a TBI agent would be one of the most memorable times of Huff’s life. He was part of what was called “the most expansive agent class in history of TBI” following a separation performed by former TBI Director Arzo Carson. Three months of determination pulled Huff through his TBI training, and he became an agent. In the beginning of his career he did a lot of indoctrination work such as a running errands and learning from observation, also working at night with agents that he got to know very well.
“The recent separation of the Department of Safety from the TBI by Director Arzo Carson in 1980 left TBI with a mixture of former Tennessee highway patrol personnel and younger college graduates, “Huff said. “I was part of the new TBI. I soon learned that these agents were motivated and dedicated to carry out the mission set forth by Director Carson.”
With less than a year of training beneath him, Huff found out what it was like to really be an agent during a prison break out in Nashville, TN. Receiving a call in the midnight hours, Huff was required to go to the Maximum Security Prison. He was told to assist in the apprehension and investigation of inmates who had escaped. The mission was now of great importance to the TBI because the Former Governor, Lamar Alexandar, mandated that these men be caught for the protection of citizens.
Prior to that incident other breakouts had occurred with one citizen dead as a result. The scene during that night was picturesque and stuck in Huff’s mind forever.
“After arriving to report, I met a couple of other young agents and we went into the woods searching for these escapees. It was at this point that it got real for me, real fast,” Huff said. “There were helicopters whirling with search lights above me, guns were drawn, search dogs were barking, and the fog from the Cumberland River created a surreal scene. It was then as I progressed through the woods that I realized how serious this was and how serious this job was.”
A man was apprehended that night, burrowed under a tree, Huff interrogated him. After little sleep he was again called back out. It was imperative that the TBI exhaust all efforts to catch these men. After spending four to six months of long hours working on escape cases, Huff and several other agents began a different type of investigation, healthcare fraud. Now retired TBI agent, Beverly Collins, worked in the department with Huff. This department and Medicaid fraud investigation was new to the TBI, but according to Collins Huff led the way.
“Max Huff was tenacious,” Collins said. “He was interested in going after providers who had committed these crimes. It wasn’t just a job for him. He made it his whole world, always innovative.”
Huff wasn’t only a leader in his department, he was also a trainer. Former TBI Agent now Murfeesboro Police Detective, Ray Daniel, entered the Medicaid Fraud Department in 1985. Thirty years of law enforcement experience under his belt, Daniel remembers his years in the TBI and his training days with Huff describing him as thorough and unique.
“He is the most thorough individual I’ve ever known, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” Daniel said. “He was so thorough he developed a good relationship with the prosecution and was always prepared anticipating what they needed. He taught me well, and made it fun.”
In 1987 Huff was hungry for more and debated applying to law school. After careful thought and consideration he applied to The University of Tennessee and Memphis State University, although he doubted he would be accepted to either. His mediocre college grade point average was unheard of for acceptance to a prestigious law school, however another factor for acceptance would come into play; his Law School Admissions Test. Huff sailed through the exam with no preparation and expected the worst, but was pleasantly surprised that he had done shockingly well. Subsequently he was admitted to Memphis State University in 1987.
“I was shocked,” Huff said. “It was unheard of to get accepted to a major university with my grade point average, where over 1000 applicants apply every year and few are selected.”
Huff began law school in the fall of 1987 where he continued to pay his way. He had accumulated so many hours with the TBI that he received a pay check for the entire first year of school. Dedicated to his studies and becoming a good student, he attended summer classes where he graduated earlier than his classmates in 1990. After returning to his hometown to set up practice, Huff was offered a senior position with the TBI. He declined the position because he was happy being a “country lawyer.”
“I was extremely dedicated to the TBI,” Huff said. “Although it was a pleasure to serve the state of Tennessee I set out to be a country lawyer and that’s what I was.”
Learning the lawyer ropes in a small-town Huff feels very fortunate to have had considerate and erudite judges to have helped him along the way. Now a seasoned attorney of 20-plus years, Huff represents a poor population working for little or no money at times. He stands ready both locally and out of town to represent the indigent. Despite no financial means, he relates to each client represented, giving both sides of the litigation process due respect, while making vast attempts to go above and beyond the call of duty. In his many years, Huff has learned that being a lawyer in a small town is sometimes more like being a social worker, but he loves it.
“I’m very lucky to have had Judge Billy Joe White, Conrad Troutman, James Cotton, and Lee Asbury who were kind to young lawyers and very knowledgeable of the learning curve for them,” Huff stated. “It’s important in a small town especially to give both sides of the litigation process equal amounts of respect because they could be your cashier at the next store you walk into. I empathize with my clients. If they are in jail, I make calls for them as needed, and even bring them treats.”
A country lawyer isn’t all Huff desired to be, he wanted to make a difference in the lives of children through athletics. Becoming active in the community with little league and junior pro, Huff was the first non- faculty coach at Oneida High School. From 1993 until 2003, he kept stat books for the late Jim May and subsequent coaches. During the basketball season, Huff found himself giving kids rides home, bandaging ankles, mopping floors, and running drills. Working with former coaches; Bill Hall, Gary Barnes, and Mark Eldridge, Oneida had four state appearances and six sub-state appearances. Again, Huff made lifelong lasting relationships.
“Teams were very successful in those years, but the focus was the kids. I never wanted to be in the spotlight,” Huff stated. “I enjoyed the game nights, ball was as much a part of my life as being an attorney.”
Life flashed in front of Huff’s face on February 7, 2017. All the memories of cases, friends and family, and teams as he lay in his hospital bed wondering if he would ever walk again. A man never afraid of anything, stared fear straight in the face. The outpouring from the community and prior events in his life gave him the strength to pull through the next few weeks.
“I was admitted to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center with suspicion of a stroke.” Huff said. “I really didn’t know what a stroke was about, but the next morning I found out. For the first time in my life I experienced fear. As a TBI agent, maybe I was too young to have been afraid. I really couldn’t remember fear, but that night I was afraid. I had a severe stroke and was numb from my left jawbone to my toes. I received an outpouring of cards visitors, calls, and messages which humbled me.”
Huff was later admitted to Patricia Neal Rehabiliton Facility and was in a wheelchair. He exceeded the expectations of the staff continually by using the same determination he had used many years ago to become an attorney and a TBI agent. Refusing a handicap parking pass, Huff fought to become the man he once was.
“I was in a wheelchair at Patricia Neal,” Huff said. “They ordered me a walker and told me I would use it for three months. I used it three weeks. I refused the handicap parking pass, because I felt that was for people who really needed it. I didn’t like a cane, so I chucked that tool.”
No stroke will hold Huff down. He continues to exceed the expectations of physicians when it comes to his recovery. Working out daily, pushing himself physically and eating healthy are the key ingredients to his success. Walking now without assistance and running for miles, he is in better health than before. The will to heal completely from his stroke comes from inside.
“As I laid at Patricia Neal for over three weeks I reflected on so much of my life,” Huff said. “I was thankful I grew up in a small town and had a wonderful education and childhood friends. I was thankful my mom pushed me to attend church when the doors were open at First Baptist in Oneida. I was thankful I attended ETSU and had lifelong relationships. I was thankful and lucky to have been a TBI agent at a time when less than 100 dedicated Special Agents worked tirelessly to accomplishthe mission of TBI. I was thankful and lucky I got into Memphis State Law School with the grade point average that I had. Lastly, I was thankful for growing up with hard-nosed mentors from coaches; Joe Blackburn, Jim Stewart, Randy Shelton, and Jeff Slagle to TBI Director Arzo Carson and Deputy Director Steve Watson, and Joe Carney. Unknowingly, they had been training and preparing me for my biggest battle and challenge of my life.”