category: Campus News

Carson-Newman loses presidential legend

Dr. J. Cordell Maddox was installed as Carson-Newman’s 20th president in 1977. He served 22 years before retiring in 2000.

The Carson-Newman community mourns today the passing of its longest-serving president. Dr. J. Cordell Maddox passed away Sunday at the age of 86.

Current Carson-Newman University president, Dr. J. Randall O’Brien, reflected on the news: “Dr. Maddox was a dear friend of mine and was dearly loved by the Carson-Newman family. From the day Kay and I arrived on campus, he supported us and encouraged us. He was a good, good man. Our campus flag will fly at half-staff in honor of our legend and friend.”

“The number of years he served this institution speaks volumes to his and his wife Brona’s love for this special place,” said O’Brien. “That length of time of presidential service may never be broken. Our prayers and sympathies are with his family.”

Maddox was installed as Carson-Newman’s 20th president in 1977. He served 22 years before retiring in 2000. He came to Jefferson City with his wife Brona from South Carolina’s Anderson College, where he was president for seven years.

During his tenure at Carson-Newman Maddox helped oversee the Strategic Plan in 1987 that led the school to be recognized by U.S. News & World Report several times over and by Money magazine as one of its Top 100 buys. His tenure also saw the development of the institution’s graduate program and an increase in enrollment.

Financial contributions to the University were a hallmark of the Maddox years. A fundraising effort called “Vision ’80” enabled the construction of the University’s current Tarr Music Center.

An “Of Minds and Miracles” campaign led to the building of C-N’s student center in 1993. In a surprise announcement, the facility was named the Maddox Student Activities Center following a retirement event honoring the beloved leader in 1999. In an interview months later, Maddox shared his feelings about the naming. “The shock has yet to wear off,” he said. “I still don’t quite believe it even when I see the name up there.”

Jeanette Blazier, former mayor of Kingsport and past chair of C-N’s Board of Trustees during Maddox’s tenure, recalled the event. “Dr. Maddox was a warm, caring, relational, team building leader,” shared Blazier. “It was such a pleasure to preside at his retirement dinner and surprise him with the announcement that the Board of Trustees had approved the naming of the new student activities building in his honor.”

The building continues to serve as a hub for campus activity and stands as a testament to Maddox’s philosophy “that an institution will and should be known by how it treats its students.”

Maddox’s ability to connect with the campus community will long be remembered.

“I remember with thanksgiving the personal energy and affable nature that Dr. Maddox brought to our campus community,” said Dr. Don Garner, professor of religion. “He was open to my input around our common concern for the future of the school. The historical record of his significant accomplishments during his tenure as our President will speak for itself. But I will always remember the personal relationships he maintained across campus, and beyond, that were at the center of his success.”

The University’s national reputation in athletics boomed during the Maddox years. Carson-Newman became a perennial contender in the South Atlantic Conference. In football alone, the Eagles captured four NAIA national titles and competed in multiple national championships at the NCAA Division II level during his time as president.

For all his contributions, it was how he conducted himself as a leader that impacted many who worked closely with him. Campbellsville University president, Dr. Michael Carter, fondly remembers serving as C-N provost and vice president under Maddox.

He was a joy to be around. His wisdom was just pretty remarkable,” said Carter, who championed the former president’s ability to “operate off a core of kindness.”

“He was a great colleague and certainly gave me a chance as a young faculty member and administrator to have some leadership opportunities. I’m eternally grateful for his belief in me,” he shared. “There’s not a day that passes in me making a decision as a president that I don’t think back to a situation that I saw how Dr. Maddox handled something. That is the kind of impact it had on me.”

Though a native of LaGrange, Georgia, Maddox and Brona, who passed away in March of this year, chose to stay in Jefferson City following his retirement. Together the couple had four children, Jesse Cordell Maddox Jr. (Donna), Michael Gary Maddox (Julie), William Brian Maddox (Erika), and Brona Gayle Beaudet (Bob). They were grandparents to twelve grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren (Ian, Jess, Whit, Chris, Brett, Caitlyn, Matt, Hunter, Will, Garland, Alec, Molly, Jackson and Henry).

To make a donation to C-N’s Maddox Memorials, click here.

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