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Clayton family members, friend aboard helicopter that went down in Fort Loudoun Lake

Authorities say Jim Clayton, grandson Flynt Griffin and Jay McBride swam to safety. Clayton's brother Joe died in the crash.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Millionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Jim Clayton, his brother and business partner Joe Clayton, a Clayton grandson and a family friend were aboard the helicopter that crashed Monday night into Fort Loudoun Lake.

Authorities say Jim Clayton, who also was a pilot, grandson Flynt Griffin along with developer and arts supporter Jay McBride were able to swim to help after the Eurocopter EC-130 chopper went down about 7:40 p.m. Monday night.

Clayton's brother and longtime business partner Joe Clayton died in the crash. The survivors didn't require medical attention.

Authorities haven't said who was flying the helicopter, registered to CFA Holdings Inc. at a Knoxville address that has ties to Clayton interests. Clayton had a helipad along the lake near his hillside Lake View Drive home that he used for easy access.

Credit: Clayton Homes
Brothers Joe Clayton and Jim Clayton

“I am devastated and completely heartbroken by the loss of my wonderful brother, Joe,” Jim Clayton said in a statement released Tuesday. “Joe and I were as close as two brothers can be, and, as only siblings, we have supported each other since growing up together on a farm in West Tennessee and as business partners for decades. My thoughts and concerns are totally for Joe’s family right now.”

Credit: WBIR
Jim Clayton

Clayton, 86, has been a supporter of the arts in East Tennessee for decades. He and his family foundation also are planning a $100 million science museum that will be built east of downtown Knoxville on the site of the current headquarters of the Knoxville Police Department.


Jim and Joe Clayton, younger by 21 months, grew up the sons of sharecroppers in McNairy County, Tenn. It was a hardscrabble life that served as a great motivator for the boys to do better, as Jim Clayton would write later in his book, "First A Dream".

Jim Clayton came to Knoxville in the 1950s to get an engineering degree from the University of Tennessee. He urged his younger brother to join him and go to business school, Joe Clayton would later recall in a 2012 interview with Hallerin Hill on "Anything Is Possible".

"We were always very close," Joe Clayton said.

Big brother was the more outgoing of the two, Joe Clayton said.

After Jim got into the car sales business in Knoxville, Joe joined him. Their lots were a familiar site to locals on Clinton Highway. Joe Clayton enjoyed the car business so much he didn't finish school.

“I liked selling cars, really enjoyed it. Still do,” Joe Clayton told Hill.

An amateur musician as well as an entrepreneur, Jim Clayton advertised the car lots on Knoxville area television while strumming a guitar. 

Joe Clayton eventually took over the car dealership business. It gained a folksy, family-friendly reputation.

Credit: Clayton Homes
Brothers Joe Clayton, left, and Jim Clayton, right, as boys

"We take pride in going the extra mile for our customers. Since we know that shopping for a used car can be frustrating, we try to make it as easy as possible. Give us a try and find out," a statement attributed to Joe Clayton reads on the Clayton Used Cars website.

From cars, the brothers expanded in the mid 1960s into mobile homes, what today is referred to as manufactured housing.

By the early 1980s, the brothers split their interests, with Joe focusing on cars and Jim focusing on Clayton Homes.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without his (Jim’s) assistance. Hope he feels the same way," Joe Clayton said.


Manufactured housing made millions for Jim Clayton and his family. He later went into banking.

Credit: WBIR

Clayton Homes is run today by his son, Kevin Clayton. In the early 2000s, billionaire investor Warren Buffett folded the company into his family of holdings under the Berkshire Hathaway name. Its headquarters are in Maryville.

Through the decades, Jim Clayton has given generously to support the arts. He was a major benefactor in construction of the Knoxville Music of Art on World's Fair Park.

He's a supporter of the Knoxville Symphony.

Credit: Cynthia Moxley/The Blue Streak
Jim Clayton with Michell Witt and Jay and Marga McBride at a past fundraiser.

He's also a longtime pilot, having flown fixed wing aircraft for many decades as well as helicopters.

One of Jim Clayton's latest projects is a Clayton Family science museum, which has a planned budget of $100 million as well as a $50 million endowment.

Credit: WBIR

Clayton told WBIR in 2018 he'd traveled the globe looking at established museums to get inspiration for his project. He envisioned it as a place that families from across the region could attend. He wants the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to play a part, lending their expertise.

Flynt Griffin, 40, is involved in family interests, including the Clayton Family Foundation, for which he's listed as a director, records show. He has a Knoxville home, records show.

Jay McBride, 65, has been a developer and is an active arts supporter in Knoxville.

Credit: Cynthia Moxley/The Blue Streak
Jay and Marga McBride

He's served on the board of the art museum and is vice president for development on the Knoxville Symphony's board of directors. He's married to artist Marga McBride and they live in West Knoxville.

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