Former chancellor Dr. Charles Smith speaks.

Former chancellor discusses ‘Fast Track Life’

MARTIN, Tenn. – Dr. Charles Smith, fifth chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin, returned to campus Sept. 13 to discuss his newly published memoir “Journal of a Fast Track Life and Lessons Learned Along the Way.”

His book focuses on lessons learned from a number of high-level mentors and professional guides, including former governor Ned Ray McWherter and John J. Hooker.

“Trust, respect and communication – If there’s one lesson out of the whole book it would be, if you’re going to be a leader, you’d better be able to have those three attributes. It’s not a pick and choose; you’ve got to have all three, in my judgement. You have to earn trust and build respect and be willing to communicate openly without favor,” said Smith. He also stresses the importance of building professional experience and finding mentors you can learn from along the way, especially as a young adult.

“To me, (your 20s are) one of the most important periods of anyone’s life. That’s the time in

your life when you really should put aside trying to make a lot of money quick and use that time getting an experience base – that’s very important – and developing mentors that will help you the rest of your life and then learning from whatever experiences that you’ve had,” he said. “By the time I was 29, I’d had three bosses who were hard as nails. They demanded a lot. I got chewed out more in those 10 years than I guess in the rest of my life. They pushed me hard. … I didn’t appreciate it then, but it really helped pave the way for what came later.”

Smith held positions as assistant news editor for the Nashville Tennessean, news bureau director and public relations director for the University of Tennessee System, chancellor of the University of Tennessee Nashville campus and editor of the Nashville Banner before accepting a post as UT Martin chancellor in 1980.

“I came down here (to interview at UT Martin) and spent two days, … and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the good people I met on this campus,” he said. After initially declining the post in favor of the Nashville Banner, Smith returned the next year to accept. “I came here and spent the best six years of my life,” he added.

He served UT Martin for five years before leaving the campus to become vice president of the University of Tennessee System in 1986. After that he became commissioner of education for the state of Tennessee and later served in President George W. Bush’s administration as executive director of the Nation’s Report Card.

Smith’s book is available in the UT Martin Barnes & Noble Bookstore as well as on



PHOTO ID: Dr. Charles Smith (foreground), former chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin, discusses his new memoir Sept. 13 at the Paul Meek Library. The event was facilitated by David Murphy, longtime Martin resident and personal friend of Smith’s.

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