JACKSON, Tenn. – Dec. 2, 2005 – Ten years ago, as David Dockery walked into a room at the Old English Inn for an interview with Union University’s presidential search committee, a thought struck him.
“I’ve been a part of Southern Baptist life in a pretty visible, active way for 15 years, and I think I know a lot of people across this convention,” Dockery thought to himself. “And I don’t know anybody in this room.”
Dockery wasn’t a Union graduate and he wasn’t from West Tennessee. So in that sense, he was an outsider and figured his chances at becoming Union’s president weren’t good.
But that weekend Dockery enjoyed a warm and stimulating meeting with Union trustees, specifically Elzie Danley and John Drinnon.
“I had a sense from God that I had connected with them and they had connected with me,” Dockery said.
The feeling was mutual, as Union trustees soon elected Dockery as the university’s president. Now a decade later, Union trustees honored Dockery and his wife Lanese during a banquet Dec. 1. The next day, during their board meeting, Union trustees heard a report from Dockery comparing Union University in 1995 to what it is today.
Drinnon, who was chairman of the search committee and still serves on Union’s board, praised Dockery for his “visionary” leadership and expressed appreciation to him on behalf of the board of trustees.
“Union University is no longer only a regional school,” Drinnon told those at the banquet. “It is now known nationally.”
Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and Dockery’s best friend, was the keynote speaker for the banquet.
“He is the most Christ-like person I have ever known,” George said about Dockery.
Trustees presented Dockery with a 1620 edition of Augustine’s “City of God,” the second English edition ever to be printed.
Dockery is one of 23 percent of current college presidents who have served for 10 years at one school. He lists three achievements in particular for which he is the most grateful:
“The serious efforts at scholarship are heartening for me and I think encouraging for most of the faculty,” Dockery said.
Dockery’s impact on Union University has been monumental. When he was elected as president in 1995, Union’s enrollment was 1,972. This semester enrollment reached a record-high of 2,981. The school’s budget has increased from $20.4 million to $45.1 million during that time, and the number of donors has increased from 2,249 to 4,008.
The annual impact Union has on the Madison County economy was $39 million in 1995. This year, according to results of a recent study, Union’s economic impact was $108 million.
But Dockery readily credits others for his successes at Union and for the length of his tenure.
At the top of his list is his family – his wife Lanese, and his sons Jon, Ben and Tim – who have also become an integral part of Union.
“It has been our lives,” Lanese said about the Dockerys’ time at Union. “I have loved the students and the wonderful community of faculty and staff, as well as the tremendous learning experiences from the faculty and speakers who have come to be with us. The travel opportunities, getting to know great alums and seeing students thrive once they leave this place really give me joy.”
Dockery also acknowledged the support of Union’s board of trustees, the Union faculty and staff and other loyal people who come to work each day hoping to make a difference in Union University.
Finally, Dockery cited the support from local churches and the community, and the large number of people who pray for the university on a regular basis.
“Clearly it has been a time in God’s good providence when he has chosen to smile on Union University, and I am indeed grateful for the privilege we have been given to serve in this place,” Dockery said.