TWC grants Honorary Doctorate to Burkett Witt

Posted on: May 6, 2014

TWC celebrated the college's granting of an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service to longtime friend of the college Burkett Witt.

At a special dinner celebration on Tuesday, April 29, Tennessee Wesleyan College celebrated the college’s granting of an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service to longtime friend of the college Burkett Witt. Witt’s Honorary Doctorate was then granted at the college’s Commencement service the following Saturday on May 3.

With laughter and tears, more than 200 people filled the room to capacity in TWC’s Sherman Dining Hall for Tuesday’s dinner celebration. The celebration included a State of Tennessee proclamation from the Tennessee State Legislature honoring Burkett by Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. John Forgety. This was followed by a joint proclamation by McMinn County Mayor John Gentry and Athens Mayor Hal Buttram who noted that Burkett's name and picture adorn the city council room to remind them how business should be done.

Witt’s public service includes a rich history with Tennessee Wesleyan and the Athens community overall. Witt started his relationship with Tennessee Wesleyan students in 1949 when he ran Bo and Pete’s Southern Soda Shop, affectionately called the “Slop Shop” by the students. In 1956, he began his 16-year career on TWC’s campus serving students and being a trusted confidant for the generations of students who would go on to be leaders in the Athens community and beyond.

Following his career at the college, Witt continued his service to the region and went on to serve as the Mayor of Athens. Witt's term as Mayor made him the first black Mayor in Tenn., and his 30 plus years elected to city council were a large part of the public service that has earned him a TWC Honorary Doctorate of Public Service.

During the week’s festivities celebrating Witt’s legacy and accomplishments, speeches were given by many of Witt’s friends who detailed their deep appreciation to Witt’s service to the community, and his lasting friendship to his beloved friends.

Among those speakers were Witt’s friends Dr. Clyde Kyle ’57, Barbara Pickel Deal ’57, Paul Watkins ’54, Dr. Dick Pelley ’69, Dwain Ealy ’61 and Basil Turbyfill. Witt’s grandson and new TWC graduate Joshua Bragg shared his feelings on the legacy that Witt has provided him.

“I am honored to stand as the first recipient of the Burkett and Mildred Witt Endowed Scholarship but more importantly as the oldest great-grand of Burkett L. Witt,” said Bragg. “Papaw Burkett has been my friend, my role model, my supporter, my wallet, and he has been here every step of the way. I am more than honored to share my graduation day with him as he receives this monumental recognition.”

Also speaking at Tuesday’s dinner celebration, Witt’s longtime friend and TWC Alumnus Watkins shared his belief that Witt is a legend and in many ways a “work of art.”

“A work of art is unique, it is a ‘one-of-a-kind’ in the world, not another like it anywhere, judged through the ages and engaging us each time we come in contact with it,” said Watkins.

“Burkett is unique, a one of a kind in our world, not another like him anywhere. He engages us each time we see and talk to him. Each time, he tells us something we didn’t know or didn’t remember about ourselves and others. He is truly a masterpiece.”

TWC is collecting congratulatory cards and letters to Witt that will be assembled into a scrapbook commemorating this special occasion. In addition, alumni and friends of Witt are invited to make a gift to the college to honor him through the naming of a room in the new TWC Campus Center.

TWC is actively fundraising for the campus center project and is projecting to begin construction in the summer of 2016. All gifts received in Witt’s honor will be used to create a fitting display that celebrates his legacy at Tennessee Wesleyan for generations to come. Cards and honor gifts may be sent to TWC Advancement, 204 E. College St., Athens, TN 37303.