I was selfishly saddened by the news that UT-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver would be leaving his post to lead the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled for Carver and his family, but I know what a big vacancy he is going to leave at UTM.
Having covered Martin, Weakley County, and UTM on and off over these past 39 years, I’ve worked with and covered so many dynamic figures. Certainly, Carver qualifies as being a dynamic character.
I remember my first meeting with him at the WRJB studios in Camden. I was told he was coming to record an interview for our Saturday morning show. When I entered the studio that day, I was quickly introduced to him. One of the first things he said to me was, “man, I love your social media presence.”
Then it dawned on me who this guy was. I remember seeing a follow request on my Twitter account. Given what I do in media, I get several follow requests on all my social media platforms so I generally accept them without really taking a look at who the people are. That’s when the bell rang in my head. Carver had followed me on Twitter.
Everything fell into place and we engaged in a great 30-minute conversation about the mutual dirt we’d both chewed at UTM. Then he came over to my studio, where I was doing my show, and joined me for a picture and a word or two. Then he was off to Nashville for some big UT-system meeting. But I have to say, having met him that day was special.
It was special because you knew he was a different kind of dude. Nothing against any administrators I’ve known at the various colleges I’ve covered through the years, Carver seemingly was ubiquitous. He wasn’t cloistered in his office. No, he mixed it up with the students and the staff and faculty.
Carver often could be seen offering students donuts on their way to class in the mornings. If the weather was icy or snowy, Carver would load students up in his 4X4 and give them rides to class. I’ve never seen that before, even when I was in school.
I liked how he embraced the Greek community, celebrating the individual organization’s founders’ days, or his Skyhawk interviews, where he would talk to students about their experience at UTM. He also would hit the road to various schools and welcome kids who planned to come to UTM during the next school year.
During the COVID crisis, Carver got in his full graduation regalia (cap, gown, tassel, scarves, or whatever they call those things), drove 25 miles to McKenzie, and performed a personal graduation ceremony with a kid on her front porch.
Who else does that?
One thing I’ll always remember is that Carver was accessible, returned texts and phone calls, and was more than generous with his time. He was a guest on my radio show a few times and, when I had to do a story about the tornado damage in Weakley County, he was right there, offering me information on UT-Martin’s role during the crisis. I remember how thrilled he seemed to be when I told him I was going to be doing more stuff in Weakley County.
I’m happy for him, I’m happy for his family, but I’m a bit melancholy about his departure from UTM. As a colleague said over the weekend, “I’m surprised we were able to keep him as long as we did.”
Very true. I always believed Carver was on the express lane to the UT presidency at some point.
As for his successor, he’ll have big shoes to fill.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday on 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.