Johnson will bring faith in people to UT

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
August 24, 2003

In November 1981, a friend and I were invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a family we met at church. As freshmen college students, away from home for the first time, I suppose we stood out a bit at the 8:30 Sunday morning services. (No one around us could tell we usually hadn't slept before putting on our jackets and ties.)

When Hicks Neal and I joined Joe, Pat, Kent and Kelly Johnson for Thanksgiving dinner, neither of us had any idea he would later become the only two-time (as opposed to two-timing) president at the University of Tennessee. But we knew they were a genuine family. Real people. They had a dog in the house, a basketball goal in the driveway and a kitchen seemingly designed for a family, not a caterer. They had opinions, problems, and advice - and they were always willing to share all three.

Hicks and I spent several Thanksgiving days at the Johnson's house. Dr. Johnson would occasionally invite me for a visit in his office - sometimes just for a chat, sometimes for an encouraging discussion about my grades. (He once threatened to call my grandmother if I didn't straighten up. I did.)

For years, my ego let me think that the executive vice president (and future president) of my alma mater had taken a special interest in me. Perhaps he saw the seed of greatness dozing in that church pew a few rows in front of him and he wanted to cultivate it.

How arrogant of me. And na've.

Joe Johnson did see a seed of greatness in me. But he also saw it in the pew next to me. And on campus every time he met a student. And in his friends. His colleagues. His employees. Joe and Pat Johnson have a way of helping people more clearly see the good in themselves and others.

This is a skill my university needs right now.

I later discovered that I was one of a long list of UT students Joe Johnson managed to bring into his circle of influence ' a circle I initially assumed was fairly small. But the circle wasn't small at all. That circle extends across race, gender, geography, student activities and academic programs. And it extends across decades of students.

The University of Tennessee obviously has some problems. But the goodness and the value of the institution is healthy, if someone is willing to see it.

At its core, an institution is merely a collection of people. And a person's potential is limitless if they singularly focus on a goal.

A native of Vernon, Alabama, Joe Johnson once wanted to work for the Alabama Highway Patrol. Instead, he spent 40 years focused on helping the people within the UT system see and achieve a higher potential. I'm glad we get that for another year or so.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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