Tennessee State University Remembers Francis Guess, Alumnus, Civil Rights and Business Leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University graduate, civil rights champion and Nashville business leader Francis Guess has died. He was 69.

Guess, a Vietnam veteran who blazed the trails for justice and equal rights, served on the National Civil Rights Commission and as the first African-American commissioner for the Tennessee Departments of Labor and General Services under then-Gov. Lamar Alexander.

“Mr. Francis Guess was an outstanding graduate of Tennessee State University, and a leader in his community and country, who dedicated his life to fighting for equal opportunity,” TSU President Glenda Glover said. “The TSU family is deeply saddened to hear of his passing. To the family, we send our most heartfelt sympathies for your loss. Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.”

Francis Guess earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Tennessee State University. (Courtesy Photo)

A Nashville native, Guess earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from TSU, and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. He later completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard University.

In a 45-year career as a civil rights advocate, humanitarian and a business leader, Guess served as vice president of The Danner Company, which operated Shoney’s restaurants, as well as owner and operator of Helicopter Corporation of America. He also served on numerous non-profit boards including the Nashville Convention Center Authority, the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission; Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee; Nashville Minority Business Development Fund; and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Board of Officers and Directors.

Guess received numerous awards during his lifetime for his public and civic service. In 2013, he received the Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

He is survived by his daughter, Maria Guess; his mother, Kathryn Driver; and three brothers and three sisters.

Department of Media Relations

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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 45 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.