Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An inadequate tribute


Over the past eight years in my job at Union University, I’ve written hundreds of news and feature stories for the university. None of them were more difficult to write than the one I just posted, the one that began with these words: “David S. Dockery will transition from president of Union University to the role of university chancellor no later than July 2014 …”

A little more than eight years ago, I felt stuck in my career. Some of the jobs I had didn’t work out the way I had hoped. Some of them were positions with limited upside. So at age 27, I was floundering. Though I had no serious plans to leave the job I was in, or to move away from where we were living, I still had this nagging feeling that there was something that the Lord wanted me to do. But I couldn’t seem to figure out what that was.

Then I got a call one afternoon that changed my life. It was from Kathie Chute at Union University, asking me if I had any interest in returning to my alma mater to work.

“Can I just say no, without hearing any more details?” I asked Kathie. My wife and I, and our 1-year-old son, were happy where we were. Sure, my job wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, but it was paying the bills. We had friends and a good living situation. We didn’t really want to leave.

“Yes, you can do that,” Kathie said.

I remember standing there as silence fell on our conversation. My mind raced. I took a deep breath.

“Tell me what the job is,” I told her.

That was the beginning of the path that ended with me working at Union. I came to Jackson a few days later to interview with Dr. Dockery, who I found out was closely involved with my recruitment. I had been acquainted with Dr. Dockery a little bit over the previous years, but didn’t know him well. We had a good interview, and I could sense that Union University was where the Lord was leading.

So here I am more than eight years after Dr. Dockery brought me to Union, posting a news release about his transition out of the presidency. I knew this day was coming, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t be this soon. I’ve written thousands of words about him and about all that he has accomplished here. And over the next several months, I’ll undoubtedly write thousands more. But they hardly seem sufficient to describe exactly who Dr. Dockery is and what he means to me.

I have seen Dr. Dockery in all kinds of circumstances since coming to Union. I’ve marveled at the grace and kindness he consistently shows to others. I’ve been moved by listening to his prayers — prayers that demonstrated a deep and abiding trust in the Lord. I’ve laughed with him, as his keen sense of humor surfaced regularly in meetings and conversations. And I’ve cried with him, especially after a tornado ripped through the heart of Union’s campus.

I’ll never forget the night of Feb. 5, 2008, that I spent with Dr. Dockery and Gene Fant at the Jackson police station as we did our best to figure out the details of the disaster and communicate them to a national audience. I remember the pain we felt when we got word that a couple of our students hadn’t survived, and the relief we felt when we discovered that report was wrong.

In the days that followed, I watched with amazement as Dr. Dockery exhibited such calm, determined and godly leadership in the midst of a major crisis. We didn’t know if Union University could survive as an institution in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. But a few days later, DSD vowed that God would bring renewal from the rubble that was strewn across the campus. And now, almost five years later, the university is indeed stronger than ever.

I’m thankful for the team he has assembled at Union, a team of people with whom it is a pleasure to work. These are people who are more than just coworkers to me. Many of them are also close friends.

I am exceedingly grateful to the man for allowing me to provide for my family. I’ve now lived in Jackson longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, and it has become home to me. My family is part of a church that is a tremendous blessing, and we have dear friends there who are incredibly precious to us.

I also appreciate his willingness to allow me to pursue professional opportunities outside of my main job with the university. Some of the most interesting things I’ve done — covering three Olympics, reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, writing a book about Albert Pujols, etc. — would not have been possible without his encouragement and support.

Though I know the Lord is ultimately responsible for these good gifts and deserves the praise for them, I also know that he used Dr. Dockery to give them to me. Dr. Dockery has been a hero in the Ellsworth home and to the Ellsworth children (Noah used to ask if we could go to “Docky Docky’s house”), and we have regularly prayed for him during our family devotion time. All of my efforts to communicate and express my deepest gratitude to him are woefully inadequate.

I’m grateful that Dr. Dockery’s days at Union are not at an end. He will remain president through July 2014, at which time he will move into the position of chancellor. While I’m thrilled about that, and optimistic about the future of the university under a new president, I’m also saddened that my working relationship with Dr. Dockery won’t be the same. Being a part of his team at Union has been one of the greatest honors and most rewarding experiences of my life.

God bless David S. Dockery. He has truly been one of God’s greatest gifts to me, and I thank the Lord for him.


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  1. Ron Boud says:

    You said so well what is on the hearts of many of us. Thanks for verbalizing it. For those of us non-writers, any comment could be only a cliché, but just as heartfelt nonetheless.

    Ron Boud

  2. Tim,
    Great post. I’ve watched from a long distance how our alma mater has grown and changed since ’92. I remember when he was hired and have enjoyed reading many of your words about her progress under his godly leadership. Union is blessed to have had him as President these years and blessed to keep him as Chancellor. I know this must be a bittersweet time for you and your family as you think about these changes.
    Your friend,

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