By Elizabeth A. Davis
“Working at UT has never felt like a job for me.”“Whirlwind” is the way Joe DiPietro often describes his life as UT’s president. Constant travel and meetings and phone calls pull at him from every direction. It’s hard to be in two places at once, so he has someone who can travel on his behalf or stay in when he needs to go on the road.
Keith Carver is executive assistant to the president, a position similar to one in the Holt, Boling, and Johnson presidencies. There are many reasons Carver (Knoxville ’95, ’09) was chosen for the job, but it is clear few people would have been as prepared to juggle work and family as Carver.
“Working at UT has never felt like a job for me. I love the people and the campuses, the alumni and the donors,” Carver says. But it can be a big challenge, at least logistically.
Even though Carver chose to attend a non–UT school for his undergraduate degree, he’s always been a UT guy. He grew up in Crockett County, listening to John Ward on the radio and aspiring to be just like Condredge Holloway. As an undergrad, Carver realized higher education was his calling in life. He came to UT Knoxville to earn his master’s degree and eventually his doctorate. Meanwhile, he worked in student activities, left briefly to work at Marietta College in Ohio, and then returned to Knoxville. For seven years, he worked in development for the College of Law. Then a new assignment called to him—assistant vice chancellor for development at UT Martin, which gave Carver and his wife, Hollianne (Knoxville ’00), a chance to return to their West Tennessee roots.
Then the university called, and life got much more hectic for the Carvers. The UT Health Science Center asked Carver to serve as interim vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs and commute weekly from Martin. Hollianne, daughter Carson, and sons Jack Thomas and Britton saw Carver for occasional ball games or church during the week and then spent more time with him on the weekends. If Carver left something at home in Martin, they would sometimes meet him in Jackson to deliver the needed item and share some family time over dinner. A movie could be made about how one time he left his keys at home in Martin but didn’t realize it until he was in Memphis and had to drive back to retrieve them.
The job for executive assistant to the president was posted after -DiPietro was elected president in October 2010. “To me it sounded like the most interesting and educational job anyone could ever have,” Carver says.
Two days before Christmas, Carver found out he had gotten the job and needed to relocate to Knoxville to start work Jan. 3. Already one move ahead of his family, Carver was now even farther away and in a different time zone. In an added twist, the university allowed him to rent a vacant apartment in an undergraduate residence hall.
“When I drove over on Jan. 2 and moved into Laurel Hall, I had a family in Martin, an apartment in Memphis, and a residence hall room in Knoxville. For 30 days, until I could get the things from Martin here and close up shop in Memphis, it was just crazy,” he says, recalling a time when answering the phone was a test in determining which of three office positions he had held over the past year was being addressed.
“On March 31, my family moved to Knoxville. That marked a year and a week since we had all been under the same roof. That was a sweet homecoming for us,” he says. “Even though the demands of this job are sometimes crazy, because of the 12 months we were apart, it all seems so manageable.”