Skip to main content

From the Air Force to UT, Andy White has followed in the footsteps of his dad, UT alumnus and retired airman Dempsey “Whitey” White.

“My father is a Volunteer through and through,” said White, who had a twenty-year career as an Air Force officer before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2007 and returning to UT, his alma mater, where he is now director of the Aerospace and Defense Business Institute in the Haslam College of Business.

“Through their chosen professions, my parents taught me what a great privilege it is to serve this country and to serve my neighbors. By serving in the Air Force myself and now shifting to public higher education, I get to honor their legacy and carry on a nice family tradition.”

White said his father—now eighty-seven and enjoying retirement with his wife in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee, near Crossville—came from humble beginnings but worked hard to make a good life for himself and his family.

Dempsey White was born in 1929 and grew up in an Appalachian coal mining family that worked the Wilder coal mines near Clark Range, Tennessee.

“He was the youngest of eight children. As he was growing up, there was just enough food on the table that he got to stay in school and earn his high school diploma,” White said. Upon graduation, Dempsey White enlisted in the Air Force and went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

He served as an airman working in finance in Washington, DC, before returning to Tennessee to support the construction of what would become Arnold Air Force Base, near Tullahoma.

“That turned out to be a pretty good assignment,” White said. “Dad soon met a pretty Tullahoma native that ultimately became his bride and, subsequently, my mom, Kathy White.”

Besides working in finance at the base, Dempsey White served as a member of the honor guard and was there when President Harry S. Truman came to town to dedicate the base in the name of the late general and father of the Air Force, General Henry “Hap” Arnold.

“Dad eventually left Arnold and went on to serve in Japan during the Cold War. He later left active duty service and transitioned to the Air Force Reserves to go to college using the GI Bill. With Mom working full-time to put food on the table, Dad came to school at UT and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.”

After graduating, Dempsey White returned to Arnold Air Force Base as a test engineer for a defense contractor. He was commissioned an officer in the Air Force Reserves and would eventually complete more than twenty years of combined active duty and reserve service and retire as an Air Force captain.

“For two decades, he and his teammates at Arnold helped the Air Force develop advanced military aircraft engines. These same engines have helped America maintain air superiority against every military foe from the Vietnam War to the present.”

Andy White and his sister, Angie, were adopted by Dempsey and Kathy White. They grew up in more privileged surroundings than either of their parents had, knowing their futures held great promise.

“Knowing how military service and higher education had changed his life and that of so many others in his generation, my parents began saving to send their kids to college even before we were adopted,” White said. “Naturally, when the time came, Angie and I knew where we were going to college.”

Andy White earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at UT and a commission as a second lieutenant from UT’s Air Force ROTC program. He went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California.

“Dad was not only a volunteer in serving his country in uniform and in civilian life, he and Mom are also both Tennessee Volunteers. They remain so today,” White said. “My parents have both blessed me and my sister and so many others in countless ways.”