Determination, diligence bring payoff for Fishers
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Determination, diligence bring payoff for Fishers

Belmont University President Bob Fisher joined an elite group of Tennesseans, including former Vice President Al Gore, entertainer and philanthropist Dolly Parton and Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, when he was named the 2008 Tennessean of the Year.

Fisher, who is in his ninth year as president, and his wife Judy, an active member of the Belmont and Nashville communities, agreed to sit down for an interview with the Belmont Vision to talk about the award and their vision for the university.

Vision: First off, congratulations on being Tennessean of the Year.

Dr. Fisher: Congratulations to you and to all of us. It is our award … and I really mean it when I say that it’s Belmont’s award.  There might have been a stage in my life or career that I would have misunderstood it.  It’s just clear that this is a recognition certainly for the debate but for the transformation that’s happened here in the last few years and a recognition that Belmont has emerged really as an institution that the whole community’s proud of.

Vision: Mrs. Fisher, what was your reaction after finding out that Dr. Fisher was named Tennessean of the Year?

Judy Fisher: I’m extremely proud of everything he has done.  I’m not surprised. And again, he’ll be the first to say it’s not him, it’s Belmont.

Dr. Fisher: And Judy will be the second to say that.

Vision: For you, Dr. Fisher, how did it feel to be nominated by the Tennessean and then to win?

Dr. Fisher: The nomination just came by surprise. In fact, I didn’t even pick up the paper.  I walked into my Bible study group Sunday morning and they said, “Way to go, Fisher!” And I said, “what?” They said, “You’ve been nominated for Tennessean of the Year!”

Judy Fisher: And they said, “Didn’t you read the paper this morning?”

Dr. Fisher: I get up too late on Sundays to read the paper.

Judy Fisher: I think it was very nice too to read in the paper that the people that voted …

Dr. Fisher: The best part.

Judy Fisher: The best part.  They’re Belmont students or alum or the parent of a student.

Vision: Could you elaborate a little bit more on what this means for the university?

Dr. Fisher: Well, it is simply a recognition. Recognitions encourage people that they’re on the right track, that the community values what we’re doing.

Vision: Could you elaborate a little more on your activities outside of Belmont?

Dr. Fisher: I’m chairman of the board of the Pencil Foundation. I’ve been on a variety of boards since I’ve been here … at one point, I was on about nine nonprofit boards. But there was a reason for that – to get to know the leaders of the community.  As I’ve rolled off of those boards as my terms have expired, I’ve decided now that my board and community contribution – I want to focus it and focus it on public education to see if I can be a small part of that solution.

Judy Fisher: You’ve also directed your senior leaders – everyone – to get out and be on boards, to get involved in the community.

Vision: Mrs. Fisher, are you involved in the community and on any boards?

Dr. Fisher: We’re partners.

Judy Fisher: Currently, Alive Hospice, the Opera and Bootstraps Foundation.

Dr. Fisher: Which is a scholarship foundation.

Judy Fisher: For kids that pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Dr. Fisher: There’s some amazing stories there.

Judy Fisher: They’ll break your heart.

Dr. Fisher: Kids that should never succeed.

Judy Fisher: And they do it in spite of their situation.  We currently have two students at Belmont who are Bootstraps recipients.

Dr. Fisher: And the Aquinas Club, where Judy is now the president.

Judy Fisher: It goes on.

Dr. Fisher: Yeah, I’m glad we decided to do this. I get to see Judy today!

Vision: So do you plan on incorporating these community service initiatives into the student body at Belmont?

Judy Fisher: A lot of them already are. And because we’re on all these different boards, the community really looks for ways to involve Belmont.

Dr. Fisher: But the thing I think our involvement does and that of our senior leaders and others says to the community that we care. We care outside. We care what happens across the street. We want to be a part of the solution to community issues and that communicates to our students that that’s what we expect of them … That’s a piece that we want Belmont to be known for.  We think we can be the best in the world at that and that’s where we’re headed – the intersection of our students’ talents and gifts and abilities and the world’s needs.

Vision: This is your ninth year. Do you see yourself being here long-term and bringing these things?

Dr. Fisher: I hope to spend my career here, whatever’s left of it. I don’t want to speculate how long that is.

Vision: What are your goals for the university now? The presidential debate has been here – what comes after that?

Judy Fisher: Well, there’s another presidential debate.

Dr. Fisher: We’ve got other academic programs coming. We’ve got a lot of building stuff to get done – people may not believe it, but maybe we’re halfway there.  We’re essentially almost rebuilding this campus. We’re holding on to the really great past … but there are some other things that we’re going to keep improving. We’re going to be, over the next several years, figuring out how big can this place be and still be Belmont? I taught strategic management in MBA programs for much of my career and I never did like the model where you have to tell somebody what you’re going to be 10 years from now. I think it’s almost silly. For the next 2-3 years I think it’s going to be business as usual for Belmont, which is not usual for anyone else.

Vision: To end today, one thing I found interesting about the article (in the Tennessean) was about your personal life.  I didn’t know you had children, didn’t know you had grandchildren. I don’t feel like a lot of Belmont students know much about you outside of what we see. Is there anything in particular you think Belmont students would find interesting about your personal life?

Dr. Fisher: I’m just really proud of my children. I have a son who runs an environmental consulting company in Little Rock. Our oldest daughter is married with four boys. She’s a partner with Deloitte & Touche in Virginia. We have a daughter Kelly who was married two years ago and she’s a vice president with American Express in New York.

Judy Fisher: Hobbies?

Vision: Do you have time for hobbies?

Dr. Fisher: I used to go canoeing and do all these outdoor things.

Judy Fisher: Played tennis.

Dr. Fisher: My hobby is thinking about Belmont. If I sought help, it would probably mean I wouldn’t be good president because they would say think about something other than Belmont. And I don’t want to – I love it. It’s just  – and Judy knows this – my eyes are closed in a dark room and we’re still talking about Belmont as I drift away to sleep.

Judy Fisher: Fun thing to do on the weekend is drive around campus and notice things that need attention.

Dr. Fisher: The vice presidents hate that.

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