Knoxville — Former state Sen. Ben Atchley of Knoxville has died. He was 88.

Funeral services were held on Sunday, Nov. 18.

Tributes poured in Thursday as word spread of Atchley's death the night before.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge posted a message on Facebook, praising the South Knoxvillian as "the very definition of a statesman":

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"Ben Atchley was the very definition of a statesman. He always did what was right and never sought credit for his accomplishments — which were many. He never shied away from hard decisions and his integrity was unquestioned.

As Senate Republican Leader for 16 years, his work ensured Republicans had a seat at the table in the minority and laid the groundwork for our eventual majority. Both he and Sue provided the Senate and the Republican Party with so much and yet asked little in return.

You can trace the lineage of all our success as a party and as a state back to the leadership he provided. He was a great man and a great senator. My heart goes out to Sue and the entire Atchley family in this time of mourning. Tennessee’s gentle giant has passed. I will miss him."

For decades the Republican Atchley was known as "Gentle Ben" because of his kind, diplomatic leadership style. He led Senate Republicans for more than a decade in the General Assembly.

The Ben Atchley Tennessee State Veterans Home in West Knox County is named in his honor. The post office on Young High Pike in South Knoxville also is named in his honor.

Ben Atchley in 2013
Former state lawmaker Ben Atchley is shown in 2013 at the ribbon-cutting for the Ben Atchley Veterans Success Center.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee recalled his old friend.

"Ben Atchley was a strong, steady and gentle Senate leader who played a major role in creating better schools and better roads for the Tennesseans he so ably served. He was a good friend. Honey and I send our respect for his life to Sue and to the entire Atchley family.”

Gov. Bill Haslam fondly recalled Atchley in a tweet Thursday.

Congressman-elect Tim Burchett posted a memorial to Atchley on Twitter.

Atchley served in the state House and the state Senate in an era when the Legislature was controlled by Democrats.

One of his former Republican legislative colleagues was Victor Ashe, former U.S. ambassador to Poland and former Knoxville mayor.

"Ben Atchley was a true public servant who always tried to honor his word and do what was right. He made a huge difference for Knox County with his years in the state Senate," Ashe said in a statement Thursday.

"It was an honor to be his colleague for several years."

Ben Atchley with Tim Burchett

State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey tweeted: "Tennessee has lost a great statesman and public servant. My prayers go out to Sue and the family."

Atchley served in the state House from 1972-76 and in the state Senate from 1977-2004.

Survivors include his wife, Sue, son Jerry Atchley and daughter Cindy Atchley.

Family and friends of Atchley will meet on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. for a graveside service at New Prospect Presbyterian Church Cemetery. A Celebration of Life service will follow at 4 p.m. at Graystone Presbyterian Church.

The family said memorials may be made to Graystone Presbyterian Church or the charity of your choice. Condolences may be offered at Berry Funeral Home.