Cover photo for Dr. John "Mark" Fly's Obituary
Dr. John "Mark" Fly Profile Photo
1950 Dr. John "Mark" 2022

Dr. John "Mark" Fly

October 10, 1950 — May 31, 2022

View Video Tribute View Funeral Webcast Dr. John “Mark” Fly passed away suddenly May 31, 2022, in Zion National Park. He was the son of the late Jasper Eugene Fly and Mary Ruth Fite Fly. He was preceded in death by infant sister Patti Ruth, and brothers Claude Eugene and Frank Morris Fly. He is survived by his two sons, John Bryce Fly and William Austin (Manal) Fly, brother Joe L. Fly, nieces Tiffany Fly Moore and Sarah Fly, nephews Pat, Nicholas, Nathan, and the late Randy Fly, special companion Clarita Buffaloe, and dear friends Dr. Robert (Bobby) Jones and Joe Goodman. Mark was born on October 10, 1950, in Columbia, TN. He was a lifelong member of Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church. He graduated Columbia Central High in 1968. Mark prided himself on being a life-long learner, and in fostering that passion in others. He made a career out of teaching and learning, focusing on people’s connections with nature and the importance of activity to overall well-being. Mark received a BS and MA in psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and began his teaching career at Young-Harris College in north Georgia. While at Young-Harris he coached the women’s tennis team, taking them to the Nationals in Odessa, Texas, in 1977, where they placed 5th. He left Young-Harris to further his education at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, receiving a Master’s, and then a Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology in 1986. He taught at the University of Wisconsin from 1988-1992 and then returned to his home state as a Professor of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee. His career at the University of Tennessee spanned 3 decades, during which he taught wildland recreation and the human dimensions of natural resources management to all of the department’s majors. Early in his time at UT, Mark founded the Human Dimensions Research Laboratory. The lab was an extension of Mark’s desire to learn about and better understand people’s connections to nature and the benefits they gain through recreation. The lab conducted social survey research, gathering data through mail-in, on-site, and telephone surveys for organizations including the U.S. Forest Service (e.g., the long-term National Visitor Use Monitoring Survey), National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association, Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee State Parks, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, among many others. The data the Human Dimensions Lab collected helped those organizations better plan and manage natural resources and recreational amenities, and gave a barometer of the importance of those resources to the public, helping many justify continued and increased funding for the services they provide. The lab was self-sustaining, funded through grants and cooperative agreements that Mark was instrumental in collecting. He served as director of the lab until his death. As a major advisor for the wildland recreation concentration in the Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries department, Mark developed a comprehensive guide for the major: “Wildland Recreation Advising Guide: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Major and More.” He served on many graduate student committees and was a strong force in the lives of those he advised and mentored. He was always available to his students as a sounding board and supporter, maintaining strong relationships with many long after their graduations. Over time, the students he worked with came from farther and farther outside the FWF department. He petitioned the university to include his introductory wildland recreation class on the list of required “writing-intensive” courses on the UT curriculum, drawing students from across campus. He also developed and taught many semesters of a 1st year Studies Class titled, “The Physics, Biomechanics, Psychology, Statistics and Geometry of Basketball Shooting”. He would instruct his freshman students that if they applied 3 principles - Hard Work, Persistence, and Attention to Detail - they would be successful at UT and in their careers. He was featured several times on UTIA’s broadcast and WBIR-Channel 10 during basketball tournament time. He researched and advocated for experiential learning in childhood through nature. One grant he received in this vein allowed 3 Master of Landscape Architecture students to develop a “Master Plan for a School Farm” at the Hampshire K-12 Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee. This project set the stage for another grant from USDA to Hampshire School to “Increase Teacher Capacity to Implement Project-Based Instruction in Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences.” In Knoxville, he was instrumental in creating the “Every Child Outdoors Youth Garden”, which was built and managed at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens with grants from the Tennessee Department of Health. The garden continues to serve the needs of children through educational programs. When Mark wasn’t teaching, he spent as much time as possible outside. His Subaru parked in the faculty parking lot usually had 2 kayaks strapped to the top and bikes on the back. He returned to Columbia every chance he got to work on his family’s Maury County farm, float the Duck River, and be at one with nature on the land where he grew up. He would proudly tell you that the Duck River is the most biologically diverse river in the United States. He loved to travel and visit both state and national parks. He was an avid photographer and excelled at nature photography. At the time of his death, he was serving as a visiting scientist at Zion National Park. He was poised to retire from UT in the fall and spend as much time as possible visiting the nation’s wildlands in his RV with Clarita by his side. Mark was a loving son, father, brother, uncle, friend, and teacher, who lived an exemplary life of kindness, learning, and action. He wrote, lived by, and freely shared his “Principles for Life”. It is fitting to end by sharing them here: “I will . . . seek nature in every walk of life. Pursue personal growth and development. Communicate openly and freely explore ideas. Practice a life of simplicity and sustainability. Seek new experiences, new knowledge, and new skills. Choose a life of healthy living in body, mind, and spirit. Value experiences, relationships, and spirituality over materialism. Choose activity over passivity. Exhibit caring and affection. Practice the art of touch. Forgive and be forgiven. Refuse to grow old. Sing and dance. Be thankful. Volunteer. Laugh. Play. And Love.” Donations in memory of Mark may be made to Mt. Nebo Cemetery Fund, c/o Carol Baker, P.O. Box 324 Williamsport, TN 38487, Swan Conservation Trust, P.O. Box 162 Summertown, TN 38483, Legacy Parks Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), 777 6th Street N.W. Suite 700 Washington, DC 20001-3723, or to the conservation organization of your choice. A memorial service will be conducted Saturday, June 25, 2022 at 1:00 P.M. CDT at Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church with Reverend Christine Penner officiating. Inurnment will follow in Mt. Nebo Cemetery. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements and condolences may be extended online at

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church

, Columbia, TN 38401

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