Dr. Paul Blaylock wanted to leave a legacy for his alma mater that inspires current and future generations of students, so he accomplished his goal in a notable way. The South Fulton, Tennessee, native, physician and attorney was honored Oct. 20 with the dedication of the Blaylock Inspiration Oracle located near the Boling University Center at the University of Tennessee at Martin. The structure was made possible by Blaylock’s $2.4 million gift to the university. Friends and family, including his 100-year-old father, Paul, and past and current Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity brothers attended the event.
Ground was broken for the structure in October 2021 during homecoming weekend. Some work on the structure remains, including permanent place of the fountain, a key feature of the structure. The fountain was placed temporarily for the ceremony.
Blaylock is a 1968 UT Martin graduate who has worked for more than four decades as both a trauma physician and a trial attorney in the Portland, Oregon, area. He is a 1972 UT Health Science Center graduate where he graduated at the top of his medical school class.
The oracle faces west and is designed as an open-air Greek Parthenon. Dr. Charley Deal, vice chancellor for university advancement, welcomed attendees and introduced guests. Deal has worked with the project from its inception and described the campus as “a place that is home to Paul and a place he considered as the foundation of his life’s achievements and successes.”
UT Martin Chancellor Yancy Freeman thanked Blaylock for the gift and sees the oracle serving as a location for reflection and inspiration, an outdoor classroom, and an important gathering point for students and alumni. He referenced American essayist, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s view about perception as Freeman spoke of Blaylock’s gift.
“Perception is the only reality. The fact that you tell is of no consequence but only the impression you make in the mind of others really matters,” Freeman said in paraphrasing Thoreau. He added, “This is certainly an impression on the campus. Thank you, Dr. Blaylock, for your contribution. Thank you for your love of UTM. Thank you for this legacy gift. Go, Skyhawks!” Blaylock noted later in his remarks that he considers Thoreau a mentor and has quoted him in lectures throughout his career.
Blaylock credited several individuals for inspiring him to make a legacy gift to UT Martin, including Dr. Joe Johnson, the late UT president emeritus. He remembered Johnson telling him, “Whatever you do at UT Martin, do something that will inspire others.” Blaylock not only envisioned the new structure but also the messages inside that visitors will see.
“The core reason for this gift is not the building, not the fountain, not the plaza,” he said. “The core of this gift is the plaques, the inspirational plaques.” He said that students who enter the oracle will have access to “a museum of knowledge” created by the plaques.
Blaylock described his UTM years as “the greatest of my life at the time.” His college years saw him join a fraternity, be elected Student Government Association president and earn valedictorian honors for his academic success.
“I never dreamed that I would be so inspired by so many wonderful professors and make so many wonderful lifetime friends, including fraternity brothers,” he said. “I just never knew that I would be so inspired here that it would change my life.”
Blaylock said that his greatest joy was not the day’s dedication event but will be when the project is completed.
“So, the name of the building says it all: Blaylock Inspiration Oracle,” he said. “I’ve been to Delphi where the Greek Oracle is. … It’s a place you go to draw wisdom, reflection, inspiration and peace. … The day of joy will be when we complete this project as intended and as designed.”
Blaylock praised the university and his educational experience for transforming his life.
“I left this university a totally different person than when I arrived,” he added. “It prepared me for a blessed life that I had never dreamed of as a very young student. Thank you, UTM, for saving my life and changing it forever.”
Blaylock thanked his wife, Gaynelle, a university scholarship donor, for her support during the project’s five years from concept to construction. He also acknowledged his parents and thanked his father who sat proudly on the front row to watch this special gift dedicated to future generations of students.
He closed by presenting Chancellor Freeman with the SGA gavel Blaylock used as student body president. The gavel will serve as a reminder of the Student Government Association’s importance to the university.