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In Memory: Jimmy Carnes

It is my sad duty to report to you that the Special Olympics movement lost one of its most loyal and dedicated volunteers this week, Jimmy Carnes.  Jimmy died on Saturday March 5 after a long battle with cancer.  His wonderful wife, Nanette, and many of his 14 children, grandchildren, step grandchildren and great grandchildren were at his side.  He was 76 years young.

A Remembrance

Jimmy Carnes, longtime member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.

Jimmy Carnes was a great man. I was so fortunate to have known him. A kindred spirit in his love and knowledge of track but he went so far beyond that.  He was passionate about Special Olympics and some of the great moments for me were those working with him, Stacy, Lee and Asa on trips to Nagano,Reno,Sarajevo,Cleveland, Athens and so many more. He was a great ambassador for the movement with a Southern presence and grace that brought power to his words. I believe that his contribution to Special Olympics was often underestimated.

--Ossie Kelkenny, International Entrepreneur and member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors

A Contribution that Cannot be Calculated

It is impossible to capture Jimmy’s contributions to our movement.  He was nominated twice to serve on the International Board of Directors and completed 12  years of service in his first stint (before term limits!), and nine years of service from 1997-2008.  He brought a rich knowledge of the sport of track and field, long experience in site selection for major events, a love of the power of sport to shape a fulfilling life, and most importantly, a deep belief in the importance of Special Olympics to make a difference around the world.  At various points in his career, he was the Head Track Coach of the University of Florida, the National Chairman of AAU Men’s Track and Field, the founder of the Sunshine State Games, and the head coach of the 1980 US Olympic track and field team. 

An Uplifting Presence

Jimmy was a native of Eatonton, Georgia but he was at home all over the world where he carried the message of Special Olympics as Chair of the Sports Committee of the International Board.  In that capacity, he led our efforts to globalize our world and regional games travelling to China, Morocco, Bosnia, Greece, Japan and more.  He was a tough negotiator but a compassionate friend—always encouraging cities and nations to join our movement, but equally insisting on the highest standards of excellence for our athletes.  He was a friend to so many of us but in a special way to his colleagues in site selection who were his global team.  We travelled with him, laughed with him, worked with him, and ultimately admired him deeply.  His smile was as infectious as his Southern warmth.  He lifted us all.


I spoke this morning to Nanette, his wife of 55 years.  Her message was simple:  Jimmy was so grateful for the opportunity to serve the athletes of Special Olympics.  I wasn’t surprised by these words of humility but they were a powerful reminder of how lucky we all were to have had such a man among us for so many years.

I know you all join me in sending our prayers and sympathy to Nanette and all the Carnes family. 

All my best,

Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics International