View from Rocky Top
By Maria Lameiras
Photo by Jed DeKalb/State of Tennessee
While Bill Haslam 80C was a history major at Emory College in the late 1970s, he took “a fair number” of political science courses, but the new governor of Tennessee never would have envisioned himself where he is now.
“If you had asked me when I was at Emory if I would get into politics, I would have told you there was no way I would ever do that. And if you’d asked our friends which one of us was more likely to be elected, every one of them would have bet on Crissy and not me,” Haslam says of his wife, Cristen “Crissy” Garrett Haslam 80B.
Nonetheless, Bill Haslam was inaugurated Tennesee’s forty-ninth governor on January 15. For the previous eight years, he’d served two terms as mayor of his hometown of Knoxville.
“Before the mayoral election in Knoxville in 2003, I had a lot of people coming to me to ask if I would think about running for office,” says Haslam, who was well-known in the community. He was a prominent business leader who had helped lead Pilot Corporation, the Knoxville-based company founded by his father, Jim Haslam II. “At first I had no interest; I just laughed and told them I liked being in business, but then I started thinking about it.”
After some reflection, he decided to run and was elected. He was reelected easily in 2007. After six years of running the city of two hundred thousand, Haslam announced in January 2009 that he would seek the governor’s office, and he was elected by a large margin in November 2010.
As governor, Haslam enjoys building the right teams to meet the state’s challenges.
“With forty-five thousand employees there is no way, on a day-to-day basis, to run every department. Like any successful leader, I have to hire great people. I like that part, I like finding people who are willing to help make a difference,” Haslam says. “The ability to change things and make a difference is far greater than I thought.”
Winning the highest office in the state at a time when governments at the local, state, and federal levels face major economic challenges is a great responsibility, Haslam says.
“Most state and local governments rely on federal money, and as that money dries up it is a whole different challenge for local and state governments to find the revenue to keep programs running,” he says. “We are going to see a lot of states redefining how they run their governments, and we are in the middle of that.”
Haslam says his time at Emory was pivotal in his life for two major reasons. The first is meeting Crissy, who Haslam says has been an incredible partner and asset in life, on the campaign trail, and while serving in public office. The second is the experience he had at Emory.
“Meeting and associating with a very diverse group of people who were intelligent and thoughtful about what they wanted to do, those associations were significant to me. The first person who comes to mind is [former Emory administrator] Bill Fox. I can think of very few people who modeled relational living like Bill does. He was always asking students over to dinner or seeking to help in different ways. He spent an extraordinary amount of time invested not just in me, but in so many people,” Haslam says.
In January, a group of more than thirty Emory alumni and fraternity brothers of Haslam’s from Sigma Chi traveled to Nashville for the inauguration and a mini-reunion.
Atlanta physician Bruce Walker 81C 85M 90MR was part of the group. “It was a lot of fun to go to the inauguration. We had a gathering for the group the night before the event, and Bill and Crissy came by late that night after another function to greet all of us and spent more than an hour visiting with us. It was a private, special time to spend with them before the inauguration,” Walker says. “Bill and Crissy are wonderful people, and Tennesee is so fortunate to have people like them who want to serve in public office.”