Cover photo for Jimmie Cantrell's Obituary
Jimmie Cantrell Profile Photo
1934 Jimmie 2024

Jimmie Cantrell

February 7, 1934 — July 8, 2024

Jimmie Ray Cantrell departed this life on July 8, 2024, after a long battle with leukemia. While widely known as a brilliant businessman, he was first and foremost a man dedicated to his family, Christian faith, and many friends. He was a remarkable man who led a remarkable life.

A Celebration of Jimmie’s life will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, July 13 at First Baptist Church of Abilene, 1333 N. 3rd. Services are under the direction of The Hamil Family Funeral Home.

Jimmie was born on a tenant farm near Roscoe, Texas, on February 7, 1934. By age fifteen he was driving an eighteen-wheeler coast to coast during the summers, earning money to help his family. Though he stood only 5’6”, he starred in football and track at Roscoe High School. Fiercely competitive, it irked him that he finished second at the state Class-A track meet, even though his loss was to future NFL Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Don Maynard.

After high school, Jimmie parlayed hard work and a gift for saving money into a series of successful investments and prospered despite his family’s modest circumstances and his father's early death, when Jimmie was only nineteen. He borrowed the money to buy a gas station in Roscoe, then sold it to go to work as the second employee in a two-person Chevrolet dealership. A born salesman, at age 21 Jimmie managed to persuade a Shreveport banker to loan him the money to buy an unprofitable small-town dealership in Cooper, Texas, northeast of Dallas, and he became the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the United States. 

Meanwhile, he had courted and won the hand of prettiest and smartest girl in Roscoe, Mary Lynn Wiman, and they married in 1955. Two children followed, Diana in 1956, and Gregg in 1958. Jimmie loved Mary Lynn deeply, and upon her death in 2023 declared that “sixty-eight years with her wasn’t long enough.” 

The Cantrells prospered in Cooper, but in 1967, ready for new challenges, he purchased a Volkswagen dealership in Roswell, New Mexico. The family lived in Roswell for four years, spending many weekends at their cabin in Ruidoso. But Jimmie was always a Texan at heart, and in 1971 he bought the Cadillac dealership in Abilene. This was another successful venture, ending in 1976 when he sold the business. Two years later, in partnership with his best friend Ed Melson, he bought United Distributors, a regional oil and parts distributorship, and after turning that business around, sold out in 1979. Jimmie had always dabbled in real estate, and he built six houses in the new Fairway Oaks subdivision, including one for his own family.

In the 1980s, freed from the responsibility of business ownership, Jimmie and Mary Lynn left Abilene, moving to Lake LBJ, then Austin, then back to the lake, and finally to Tyler. They traveled extensively, driving a travel trailer to most of the 50 states. But Jimmie could never get West Texas out of his system, however, and in 1992 he and Mary Lynn returned to Abilene to stay. His lifelong dream of being a landowning farmer finally came true when Jimmie acquired Mary Lynn’s father’s land, and Jimmie’s favorite activity in these years was overseeing the Roscoe cotton farm. 

In 2012 they moved to their final house, in the close-knit Kings Cross subdivision, where they acquired a whole new set of friends, who soon made Jimmie president of the homeowners’ association. When Mary Lynn’s health began to fail in 2022, the Cantrells moved to Wesley Court, where they again made new friends and were reunited with many old ones. And of course, Jimmie was soon prevailed upon to serve on the residents’ council.

Many adjectives have been applied to Jimmie: “Larger than life,” “one-of-a-kind,” “a force of nature.” He was keenly interested in everyone he met, to the point where his children joked about total strangers being subjected to the “Jimmie interview.” He would have been a master politician, because he could walk into a crowded room and in thirty minutes know everyone’s name and some interesting facts about their lives. 

Jimmie was a longtime member of the First Baptist Church and a devoted member of Ron Smith’s Sunday school class. He served on the Hardin-Simmons Board of Trustees and was an avid supporter of the women’s basketball team. He was proud to be a lifelong Democrat. He was preceded in death his wife Mary Lynn; parents Herbert and Mamie Cantrell; brother Charles James “Jack” Cantrell; sisters Irene Barrett (O.B.), Eva Mae Tankersley (Claude), and Geneva Chandler (Aubrey); and daughter Diana Cantrell Connor. He is survived by his son Gregg (Stephanie), son-in-law Mike Connor, grandsons Calvin (Emma-Rae) and Nolan Cantrell, niece Doris Sneed, nephew Charles Cox, and many other cousins, nephews, and nieces—some by marriage but all important to Jimmie. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Alliance for Texas History (https://alliancefortexashistory.wildapricot.org/donate/), the City Light Ministries at the First Baptist Church (https://fbcabilene.org/missions/community), or the charity of your choice.

Memories may be shared and condolences submitted online at www.HamilFamilyFuneralHome.com.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Jimmie Cantrell, please visit our flower store.

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Saturday, July 13, 2024

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