KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee lost the senior member of its board of trustees with the death of West Tennessee attorney Tom Elam, but no one will take his place.
Elam, 88, was appointed to the UT board in 1956 by Gov. Frank Clement and reappointed several times until 1996 when his term was scheduled to expire.
That year the Tennessee General Assembly extended Elam’s term on the board until 2020 with a provision that should the position become vacant, it would not be refilled.
UT President Joe Johnson said the legislature’s action expressed the General Assembly’s unique appreciation for Elam’s dedication and commitment to the university.
“The legislature gave a special seat on the board to a very special person,” Johnson said. “Tom Elam always had the best interests of UT and the people UT served at heart.
“We will miss his keen mind and sharp wit,” Johnson said. “To his wife, Kathleen, we express our deepest sympathy. The entire university community shares in her loss.”
Elam, whose name on the skyboxes over Neyland Stadium here reflected his life-long support for Volunteer athletics, was also a farmer and businessman.
Elam and his wife announced in 1992 a $1.7 million gift to UT, including funds for UT-Martin, UT-Memphis, UT-Chattanooga and UT-Knoxville. The Elams had no children.
As an undergraduate at UT, Elam majored in history and, later, earned a law degree, also at UT.
Elam was modest about his contributions to the university.
“The only thing I can say is that I have done the best I could,” Elam told one interviewer. “It’s a teamwork deal and I’m happy to be a part of the team.”
After his $1.7 million gift to UT, Elam said, “There is nothing I could do monetarily which would, in any way, compensate for the benefits I have received from my long association with the University of Tennessee.”
A member of the UT Athletics Board five years longer than he was a trustee, Elam interviewed Doug Dickey, now UT athletics director, when he was a candidate 30 years ago for head football coach.
Dickey said his department lost a close friend and supporter when Elam died.
“Tom Elam supported this athletics program through all its growth and change,” Dickey said. “When you explained what you wanted to do, and if it was reasonable, you could count on his support.”
Elam, whose friends often called him “Colonel Tom,” retired a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a life member of the Judicial Conference, 6th District.
Elam was hospitalized March 4 after family members said he fell at home.
Contact: Dr. Joe Johnson (423-974-2241), Doug Dickey (423-974-1224)