Johnson is the former president of UT. Hart is president of Friends of the Smokies and former general manager of WBIR.
NORRIS, Tenn. – The Museum of Appalachia celebrated Dr. Joe Johnson and James M. Hart at its “Heroes of Southern Appalachia” awards ceremony on October 1 in its Heritage Hall.
Johnson is retired president of the University of Tennessee and Hart is president of Friends of the Smokies and former general manager of WBIR-TV.
The museum said its criteria for selecting recipients included honoring a person from the southern Appalachian region who exemplifies the characteristics of perseverance, courage, self-reliance and service.
Johnson, a beloved part of UT’s history and past administrations, and Hart, a strong supporter of conservation and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are two such people, the museum said.
“It was a special night,” said University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd, who also served as one of the evening’s presenters.
Boyd paid tribute to Johnson, who was president in the 1990s and interim president for a few years in the early 2000s, and Gary Wade and Stephen W. Dean paid tribute to Hart, who has been part of the Friends of the Smokies for more than 20 years.
“Both Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hart have dedicated their lives to this region and its people,” said Museum President Elaine Irwin Meyer. “They really embody the spirit of southern Appalachia.”
Johnson, of Vernon, Alabama, spent more than 6 decades at the University of Tennessee, according to a statement.
The museum said Johnson ushered in a tremendous period of growth and expansion for the university, uniting multiple state campuses into a single system and expanding the boundaries of the Knoxville campus, allowing for student population growth. from 10,000 to 30,000.
He led several record-breaking fundraising campaigns and facilitated the creation of UT-Battelle, a company that operates the nation’s largest multi-program science and technology lab, ORNL, according to a statement.
Boyd described Johnson as nothing less than a “UT legend”.
Hart also received his fair share of praise at Saturday’s event. Hart was general manager of WBIR for 13 years and one of the creators of “Straight from the Heart.”
He grew up in Knoxville, was a Boy Scout and spent over 30 years in broadcasting. His father, John, served as WBIR’s first general manager.
“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” said retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade.
His community involvement has included the Home Federal Bank, Friends of Young Williams Animal Sanctuary, and the East Tennessee Historical Society.