By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JEFFERSON CITY — Randall O’Brien, president of Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City since 2008, has announced his plans to retire, effective Dec. 31, 2018.
O’Brien celebrated his 10th anniversary as Carson-Newman’s 22nd president on July 8.
O’Brien was elected by the university’s trustees in July of 2008 and began transitioning to the position in August of that year. He didn’t officially join the college until Jan. 1, 2009. A native of McComb, Miss., O’Brien was executive vice president and provost at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, at the time of his election.
In a letter sent to university trustees and others on July 15, O’Brien expression appreciation for his 10 years with Carson-Newman, but noted “a new appointed time now arises, a time to enter into a new season of life.” He cited plans to spend more time with his children and young grandchildren.
In the letter, O’Brien thanked the university’s trustees, administrative leadership, faculty, staff and students for their support. He also mentioned a number of other groups including university alumni and friends, Tennessee Baptists and convention affiliation, and other constituencies.
O’Brien also cited the contributions of his wife Kay as “first lady” of the university. “Now is the time for you to give another blessed couple the privilege of serving with you at Carson-Newman. God will surely bring the right teammates to you. Their gifts will help you take our beloved school of providence and prayer to the next level of excellence.”
He closed his letter to the trustees by noting he is enthusiastically looking forward to the upcoming fall semester. “The future is bright for Carson-Newman. Let’s make this school year the best ever.”
Harry Brooks, chairman of the Carson-Newman board of trustees and a member of Union Baptist Church (Washington Pike) in Knoxville, said O’Brien has done “a phenomenal job” as president during the last several years of his presidency.
“He has been a delight to work with,” Brooks observed. “He has had the strong support of the staff, professors and students at Carson-Newman.”
Brooks said there currently is no timetable to find a successor. “We will begin the process of the search and selection of a new president soon,” he said.
C-N board member Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown, and a former president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, credits several qualities to O’Brien’s success.
“He has always been an incredible communicator, an incredible builder and incredible encourager,” said Haun. “And I think when you mix those three ingredients together in his position as a university president, it’s quite powerful. The attendance records set at Carson-Newman are a great result of his leadership and what he has been able to accomplish.”
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, noted that O’Brien “has served Carson Newman with great distinction. He, along with a strong board of trustees, has led the university to a much stronger position financially than where the university was a decade ago.”
Davis cited O’Brien’s “extensive resume, from educational preparation to military service” and the contributions of his wife Kay who “has been a wonderful first lady at Carson Newman. They’ve made a great team.”
The TBMB leader recalled that just last summer under O’Brien‘s leadership and with the support of the board of trustees, “Carson Newman took the unprecedented action of adding the Baptist Faith and Message to its governing documents. [Because of that action], the bonds between the Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches and its educational institution in East Tennessee were made stronger,” Davis affirmed.
“We wish Randall and Kay well as God continues to use them in these retirement years,” he added.
— Article includes reporting by Charles Key of Carson-Newman University.