Skip to main content

Tom Winston, who completed his law degree last week, is not your typical UT graduate.

He’s 73 years old. He’s been the associate dean of the medical school and the director of the hospital and clinics at the University of California–Davis. He’s been CEO of Erlanger Medical Center, Life Care Centers of America, and the Chattanooga Heart Institute.

More than 4,000 students, including 3,038 undergraduates, 805 graduate, 96 in law, and 82 in veterinary medicine students, participated in UT commencement ceremonies last week. For more information, see the Spring Commencement 2017 website.

“I decided to go to law school because I was bored with retirement,” he said. “I tried to retire at 59, 61, and 63 and failed miserably each time. I don’t believe that Type A personalities retire easily, and I feel strongly that life should have purpose; I was not realizing that purpose in retirement.”

Winston was the first member of his family to receive a college degree. And he now has three: his law degree, a bachelor’s degree from Memphis State University, and a Master’s of Health Administration from Washington University in St. Louis.

It was not always easy being a student again.

“The biggest challenge in returning to school is the normal aging process,” he said. “I simply do not memorize things as well at 73 as I did at 23 or even 50, but I think that condition is very normal.

“Fortunately, the UT School of Law has a number of superb if not exceptional teachers who make learning fun and understand that the practice of law is far more than just learning the theories of the law.”

Winston also got some on-the-job training.

He worked at Legal Aid of East Tennessee between his first and second years and with Elder Law of East Tennessee during his final year.

Winston also said he enjoyed his younger classmates.

“I have made many friends with whom I hope to maintain contact for as long as I am vertical, and I plan to follow their careers with great interest.

“This class—my class—has a lot of very bright, very personable, and very committed young people who will make splendid lawyers and, considering my disappointment with lawyers in my past lives, that is quite a statement.”

Winston plans to practice law in Chattanooga with a longtime friend. He will specialize in elder law, with particular emphasis on nursing home abuse; healthcare law, with an emphasis on hospital-doctor contracts and compliance; family law, including bullying, divorce, and paternity actions; employment law with an emphasis on workplace harassment and discrimination; and mediation, both civil and family.

Related: At Age 73, University of Tennessee Law Student Finds Calling, New Career

Winston said he is excited about what lies ahead and how, in his seventh decade of life, he can continue to make a difference.

“Seniors bring a tremendous amount of knowledge, experiences, maturity, and commitment to the table,” he said. “I hope our society will soon recognize that assigning an age, whether 50, 60, 65, or 67, as the end of our usefulness is really quite foolish.”

Winston’s wife of 52 years, Sue, along with their three children and five grandchildren will watch him walk across the stage to pick up his diploma.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,