Theodore Thelmer Colley, better known as “T.T.,” passed away just before noon on Wednesday, April 15 at Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) at age 88.
Colley was born on Aug. 21, 1926 in Esco, Ky. After graduating from Virgie High School, he joined the Navy at age 18 and was stationed at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla. Following his military stint, he attended Eastern Kentucky University but dropped out after two years to work in the coal business.
Colley’s mother, the late Elizabeth Branham Colley Baker, guided him in personal and business matters. With her influence, he decided to finish college and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Transylvania University in 1955. He was proud of his connection to the university and was a donor and supporter throughout his lifetime.
Upon receiving his degree, he returned to Pike County and immediately began a teaching career. He taught economics and history at Virgie High School in 1955 and Pikeville High School in 1956.
He once again started working in the coal business while teaching, putting in many long days. He once described that time as “very tough.” After purchasing the coal company for which he worked from Tom Lucas, Colley ended his teaching career. He went on to own and operate several coal companies throughout his career.
In 1957, he established Colley Block Company, a business he operated for 35 years. He coined the advertising slogan “Colley Blocks are Best.” Hand-painted signs and buildings displaying signs for Colley Blocks could be found on roadsides throughout the area.
He built and operated the Colley Motel for many years and owned interest in hotels in Daytona Beach, Fla. He developed Colley Hills Subdivision, just south of Pikeville, in addition to other land projects. He also invested in radio stations, including WPKE in 1964.
In addition to being an educator, a coal operator and a business leader, Colley was a political force in the area. An active member of the Democratic Party, he spent two terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives (1959-1963) for the 93rd District. He was Pike County Property Valuation Administrator (PVA) from 1970-1986.
He followed local, state and national elections and supported numerous political candidates. He helped Martha Layne Collins become the first female governor of Kentucky and was a supporter and longtime friend of Gov./Senator Wendell Ford. Other friends in the political world included Carl D. Perkins and Governors Happy Chandler, Bert T. Combs and Wallace Wilkinson.
Colley brought his knowledge and business skills to different Boards and agencies. He served on the Pike County Housing Authority for seven years. Understanding the importance of tourism, he served on the Board of the Breaks Interstate Park for six years. He continued his commitment to higher education by serving on the Board of Trustees of Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn.
He served 25 years on the Board of Directors of Pikeville Medical Center, bringing his expertise to the Buildings and Grounds Committee. A loyal supporter of the hospital, he actively solicited gifts for the organization. He came to his last Board meeting on March 17, even though his health was failing. The Board gave him a standing ovation for his commitment and dedication.
Colley was also a loyal and longtime member of the Pikeville United Methodist Church.
“T.T. Colley was well known throughout our region,” said PMC President/CEO Walter E. May. “He was raised and worked in Pike County, a place he loved dearly. T.T. and I were friends for many years. T.T. passed during one of his favorite events – Hillbilly Days. He loved the festival and made a point to always attend the festivities. When he was no longer able to walk through the downtown area, he made sure he had a golf cart to take him through the town so he could see old friends. T. T. was truly one of a kind and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
Colley is survived by two children: Teddy Colley and Cam Colley of Pikeville; four grandchildren: Rachel (Matt) Dotson of Pikeville, Colley Stevens of Orlando, Fla., Elizabeth Stevens of Washington, D.C., and Mitchell Colley of Lexington, Ky.; and one great-grandchild: Huxley Scott Dotson of Pikeville. Also special to Colley was his godchild, Maria Musgrave; personal assistant Roger Dale Caudill; caregivers Buffie S. Johnson, Jean Adkins, Cheryl Hall and Diane Thacker; and secretary of 34 years Diana Lenox.