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Exclusive: Family most important to Dee Haslam

9:00 AM, Dec 7, 2012   |    comments
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the Haslam household, you might think football is first. In reality, it's family.

"Family is the most important thing. We're very close to our parents. We're very close to my immediate family, Jimmy and the kids, and my adorable grandchildren," said Dee Haslam, in an exclusive interview with Channel 3's Sara Shookman.

See Part II: Exclusive: Dee Haslam calls Cleveland 'a great surprise'

See Part I: Exclusive: Hometown tour with Dee Haslam 

Dee Bagwell met Jimmy Haslam at Knoxville's Webb School nearly forty years ago.

"Tenth grade. Jimmy says he remembers the first time he saw me, I'm not so sure I remember that," said Dee. "Jimmy, of course, was a complete all-star in high school, obviously."

Jimmy tells it differently.

"Everybody says, 'did you date?' And I say, 'unfortunately, no.' Dee was way too good looking and way too cool to date me. So we did not date, although I always admired her from afar," he said.

They grew closer in college at the University of Tennessee, getting married right after they finished their degrees in 1976. They knew they were a perfect match.

"I think a lot of marriage is about chemistry. We just get along well, and we just, it was the right fit," she said.

Their family grew quickly, with three children -- Jim, Whitney and Cynthia.

"She's really an unbelievable mom, and she's also a great daughter," said Jimmy.

For the Haslams, family is business, too. Both Dee Haslam's RIVR Media Interactive and Jimmy's Pilot Flying J built out of the family businesses.

Their work-in-progress now is four grandchildren and a fifth on the way.

"It's just outstanding, it really is. And I think you want to show them you love them first and I think you want to spend time with them, and set a good example, just like you do with your kids. And we're just as tough on them, as we were on our kids because you gotta be that way," said Jimmy.

"We're having a great time, just playing with them. And I think we make time, specific when we're with them, to put everything else aside and focus on them," said Dee.

They also make time for their communities, inheriting appreciation for hard work and philanthropy. They love to engage with the next generation.

Every day in Knoxville, Dee Haslam is out in the community. She says in Cleveland, you can expect the same effort.

She's taking her time seeking out opportunities in Northeast Ohio while continuing her work in Knoxville. She's chair-elect for East Tennessee's Children's Hospital.

"Involvement with Children's Hospital's really important to us because it's so important to have a great children's hospital in this region, and we do! We have a tremendous hospital and I want to continue to stay focused on that," she said.

"I think I have time. I think I can make it work," she said.
Dee's secret is knowing what to delegate.

"Having parents and grandchildren, and children, and business, and being involved in the community, you're not going to be great at any of that if you don't have the right people in place," said Dee. "You've got to have great people in order to get anything done."

While they hope to add those people to the Cleveland Browns, family will always be their favorite. "I just think we're really blessed."

WKYC-TV

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