Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — Sammie Lynn Puett, longtime University of Tennessee administrator and two-time state commissioner, was struck by a car and killed Thursday in Texas.

Puett, who was 65, had retired at the end of 2000 after 40 years at UT. She was in Arlington, Texas, for a national meeting of her sorority, Delta Delta Delta.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

“Obviously it’s a shock to all of us,” said Acting UT President Eli Fly. “She was a person who served the university long and well. Our sympathy goes to the family.”

Puett started her UT career as a specialist with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service in 1960. She went on to become an associate professor in the School of Journalism and executive assistant to UT Knoxville Chancellor Jack Reese. In 1979, Puett left UT to serve in Gov. Lamar Alexander’s cabinet as Commissioner of the Department of General Services and then Commissioner of the Department of Human Services. Her success as commissioner helped make Tennessee’s Department of Human Services a model for other states.

Puett returned to UT in 1985 as associate vice president for university relations and in 1989 was named vice president for public service, continuing education, and university relations. Under her leadership, the Institute for Public Service expanded its programs in government training, technical assistance to cities and counties statewide, and outreach to small business owners. She had most recently served as chancellor of New College, an Internet-based initiative to provide UT courses online.

“Sammie Lynn Puett was an extraordinary woman who served the university and state of Tennessee in important leadership positions for the past 40 years,” Philip Scheurer, UT vice president for operations, said.

“She was a close and dear friend to my wife and me for 30 of those years.

“In all she did she brought a sense of style, determination and wit to bear on important decisions. She gave fully of her time and talents to the community through service on the boards of the United Way, Leadership Knoxville, Knoxville Opera Society and her church.

“For many of us she set a standard as a caregiver that could never be equaled. Rarely do we ever cross paths with someone as consistently positive and generous. She was one in a million.”