Sometimes You Meet the Nicest People

Throughout my career, my line of work–in one setting or another–has steadily called for writing professionally. Often, the storytelling variety, which is my favorite writing to do.

If you don’t know what it’s like to have writing be part of your job, I’ll let you in on a secret: It’s a great way to meet all kinds of interesting people you otherwise wouldn’t.

The best part? You can meet the nicest people and, sometimes, just how nice they are can come as a great surprise.

Enter: Gary and Kathleen Rollins.

He’s a 1967 alumnus of UT Chattanooga. She is his wife.

Mr. Rollins is a UTC business grad, in fact, and earlier this year, he decided to make a gift of $40 million dollars to his alma mater.

Forty. Million. Dollars.

Not only is that a lot of money, it’s the most money ever in a single gift to  UTC. A history-making amount. A game changer.

To commemorate the gift, UTC leadership sought to formally name the College of Business the Gary W. Rollins College of Business. Once that was approved by the UT Board of Trustees in June, the wheels got in motion for a day of major celebrations–three, in fact, all in sequence.

Sitting in on about two months of weekly planning sessions was a great opportunity to get better-acquainted with my UTC colleagues after beginning a new job in June. From a campus-wide celebration–complete with marching band, cheerleaders, hot dogs and speeches–to an evening reception to a formal dinner, you couldn’t count all the moving parts. Those of us planning and managing some of those parts were rightfully serious about making sure everything was buttoned up.

After all, Mr. Rollins is vice chairman and CEO of Rollins, Inc., a New York Stock Exchange corporation with many holdings including Orkin, the world’s largest pest control company. He moves in some elite circles. I followed the lead of my new colleagues in the College of Business and the Office of Development (fundraising), because they had done the work that brought us to this unprecedented moment. My job was to see that the word got out.

The Rollinses would have a jam-packed schedule of celebrations on what came to be known as “Rollins Day” on campus–Sept. 13–yet they agreed to add to their schedule an interview with me. I would ask questions off-camera, and our crack videographers and still photographer would get the visuals; then I would produce content for the news media, our website and our alumni magazine.

From talking to Mr. Rollins, I learned that he was born in Chattanooga, graduated from high school in Delaware and chose UTC for college, in part, because of close proximity to family in Chattanooga and North Georgia. He also said with a laugh, “I could get in.”

From meeting him and his wife, Kathleen, I learned they are unassuming, friendly and gracious.

That’s me you can’t see here, sitting across the table from Kathleen and Gary Rollins.

He was self-deprecating in his remarks. She wanted the moment to be about him.

After virtually the entire 15-minute interview had been spent asking Mr. Rollins questions that he answered, I asked Mrs. Rollins if there was anything she’d like to say or add.

“No, thank you,” she said, smiling and patting him on the shoulder. “This is his day.”

Kathleen and Gary Rollins at UTC’s public celebration of their unprecedented gift of $40 million.

I wrote a press release distributed that day and a magazine feature that publishes later this month. My colleagues who shot the photos (all of those above are by Angela Foster) and who shot the video and edited it (Mike Andrews and Jacob Cagle) perfectly captured the anticipation and excitement on campus for the celebrations, and the warmth and approachability of the Rollinses. I encourage you to check that out for yourself in the video below.

It’s three minutes that I bet you can’t watch without a smile on your face by the end.

Because, I discovered, they really are just the nicest people.

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