By Diane Ballard
Tearing through the halls of Gatlinburg’s Mountain View Hotel, 10-year-old Ford Little relished the freedom afforded him by the UT Alumni Association.
His mother, Becky, was in an association meeting. Her son and other children, similarly liberated while their parents attended the UTAA meeting, had a great time and developed a favorable early impression of the university.
Little (Knoxville ’86) laughingly says his attachment to the Alumni Association got off to such a pleasant start he simply never got over it. Even earning his law degree at Vanderbilt, the Knoxville native never wavered. This summer he becomes president of the UT Alumni Association, following in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, Joe Little (Knoxville ’39) of Sparta, Tennessee, who led the organization in 1960.
Ford Little is an attorney who lives in Knoxville with his wife, Malinda, son, James, and daughter, Carlen. The time demands of the association presidency might cut into his legal work, but he says his law firm, Woolf, McClane, Bright, Allen & Carpenter, takes a positive view of community involvement.
“Woolf McClane has a strong tradition of encouraging its attorneys to be involved in public service,” Little says. Balancing community and philanthropic activities with work is not uncommon—and it doesn’t hurt that there are a lot of “huge UT fans” in the firm too.
Little specializes in construction law, representing contractors and others. The public-speaking skills he uses daily in his work will come in handy as he travels throughout the country attending UT events and meeting fellow alumni.
Little has worked his way up the ladder of UT alumni involvement, beginning during his undergraduate days when he was president of the Student Alumni Associates. He held every office in the Knox County UT alumni chapter and subsequently served on the Alumni Association Board of Governors and its executive committee. He’s spent the past year as UTAA president-elect. At the end of June, he will assume the presidency from Debbie Ingram of Ooltewah, Tennessee.
Little comes to UT’s top alumni position at a time when the Alumni Association is updating its programming and becoming more entrepreneurial.
“In addition to our alumni chapter meetings and events, we have to help alumni who share common interests find ways to interact in order to allow them to develop friendships both socially and professionally,” Little says. “We also need to explore providing benefits to alumni, such as discounts with businesses that would like to partner with the alumni association. As long as we’re serving the needs of alumni in a responsible way, I believe we have to look for these opportunities.”
Being part of a family that’s been involved with the alumni association over a three-generation span, he sees the need to nurture younger alumni to foster their involvement.
“I believe the alumni association does an incredible job of ‘friend raising’ and promoting the university. We have a wonderful staff and a good core group of volunteers,” Little says. “I hope we can develop a younger group to carry on and build on that foundation.”
He places a high priority on developing a strategic plan for the association to support the university’s strategic plan. A committee chaired by UTAA past president Debbie Diddle will tackle this task. Little also will spend time on the long-established alumni association priorities of fostering involvement, helping recruit students, and encouraging gifts to the university. He hopes to help devise a systematic way for UT alumni chapters to get word of alumni who move to their area so they can welcome and involve the new arrivals.
As a student, Little was involved in a number of campus organizations, which led to his receiving the Chancellor’s Citation for Extraordinary Campus Leadership and Service. He says one of the most enjoyable organizations in which he participated at UT was Vol Corps (now known as the UT Ambassador Scholars). As a Vol Corps member, he had the pleasure of giving weekly tours to prospective high-school and transfer students. In addition, Little received several academic scholarships, including the Andrew D. Holt Scholarship awarded by the UTAA. The former accounting major lists Keith Stanga and Harold Roth among his favorite professors, along with Penny Tschantz and Patsy Hammontree in the English department.
Besides his grandfather—the former Alumni Association president—Little counts other UT graduates on his family tree. His mother, Becky (Knoxville ’62), is a former treasurer of the association and also served on the alumni staff.
“Her work helped me appreciate how devoted the staff members are to serving the University of Tennessee and its alumni association,” says Little. “They work long hours traveling to various chapters and supporting the many alumni events.” Joe Little Jr., the new president’s dad, holds two engineering degrees from UT Knoxville (’63, ’65). Ford Little’s siblings, Dr. John Little (Health Science Center ’92) and Mary Helen Little Story (Knoxville ’96) complete the all-UT family roster.
There’s a lot of UT in Ford Little’s life. But there’s about to be even more, and he’s anxious to get started.