By Chandra Harris McCray
Even as a toddler, Kim Cross was all about the University of Tennessee.
She cheered the Vols in Neyland Stadium, clad in an oversized Condredge Holloway number 7 jersey. Her parents were UT graduates, and when it came time for college, Knoxville wasn’t just at the top of her list—it was the list. She met her husband there. Their daughter enrolls this fall, and their son, though just thirteen, already plans to channel Peyton Manning by driving an orange ragtop jeep around campus while studying to become a lawyer.
So it’s not surprising that lifelong Tennessee devotee Cross is giving the next year of her life to the university by serving as president of the UT Alumni Association. There’s another reason the Marietta, Georgia, resident may be predisposed to UT alumni leadership: her dad, Hunter Wright, was UTAA president in 1998.
But the decision to follow in his footsteps was her own—hers and her family’s.
Cross says it was during a family beach vacation in Florida that “we decided I would say yes” to taking the helm of the 300,000-member alumni association as the 2011–12 president. Husband, Bart (Knoxville ’83), daughter, Hunter, and son, Cooper, agreed the UT job was too good to pass up. As former chair of the UTAA Women’s Council and president of the Atlanta UT alumni chapter, Cross came up through the ranks of the association, but never imagined she would be president like her father.
“She is not walking in our shadows; she never has,” Wright (Knoxville ’61) says. Cross’s mom, Sylvia (Knoxville ’61), herself a former chair of the UTAA Women’s Council, says her daughter earned the association’s top spot on her own merit.
“She was born a leader, and we are so proud of her for that.”
Not much was outside the realm of possibility for Cross, who studied finance at UT Knoxville and watched her father, a retired civil engineer and five-time mayor of her hometown of Kingsport, and her mother, a retired teacher, give their all to their careers and their communities.
“My parents always gave their time to the university,” Cross says. “I can remember running around Gatlinburg hotels with other kids while my dad was part of Board of Governors and alumni association meetings. It was a natural part of our upbringing that has never left me.”
Cross is a former teacher who enjoys tutoring students in math at her son’s school. Beginning in July, though, she’ll be busy as the face and voice of the alumni association at events throughout the country and at alumni board meetings. “If it means that I can play a part in making my alma mater a better place for my daughter and students like her, then I’m in,” she says.
She has already played an active role in shaping the association’s five-year strategic plan that promises to alter its strategies for funding, communications, and programming. “For example, the structure of the Board of Governors will be changing from a seventy-eight–member board to a thirty-two–member working board. It’s exciting to be part of these changes and become a worker bee for the university to make some things happen.
“It’s time to reimagine the university. We—Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin, and the Health Science Center—are all working together to benefit the whole university.”
Cross says striving to advance the relationship between the university and all its alumni and friends is more than just volunteer work on her part. “This is a love. It is a labor of love that inspires lifelong loyalty and pride.”