In a historic ceremony that blended the flavors of his Irish roots and his adopted home of Memphis, Peter Buckley, MD, was formally installed as the 11th chancellor of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Friday.
A first for UTHSC, the investiture ceremony was held at 10 a.m. at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Memphis. During the event, the authority and symbols of the office were officially conferred on Chancellor Buckley, who began his tenure at UTHSC in February.
Legislators, community leaders, clinical and academic partners, members of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the UTHSC Advisory Board, alumni, friends of the university, faculty, staff, and students were invited to the hour-long program that included not just remarks from the stage, but performances by musicians from Memphis’ Stax Music Academy and a lively trio playing Irish music.
“This is not about me,” Chancellor Buckley told the audience. “It’s really about our institution and our noble mission.” That mission reaches statewide, he said.
“Memphis is our proud home, but we are truly across the state,” he said. Chancellor Buckley and UT System President Randy Boyd spent Monday through Wednesday last week traveling the state on the “Everywhere You Look, UTHSC” tour to reinforce that message with partners, stakeholders, and media.
Opening the ceremony, Cindy Russell, PhD, vice chancellor for Academic, Faculty, and Student Affairs, said it marked the official transition of leadership. “It signifies a welcoming of a new chapter for our institution, an opportunity to celebrate as a community with our community,” she said. The investiture occurred one year and a day since he was interviewed as a candidate for the position, Chancellor Buckley said.
Jillian McCarthy, PhD, CCC-SLP, Faculty Senate president, said Chancellor Buckley, “brings to UTHSC impeccable credentials and has demonstrated the energy and optimism to lead us forward.”
From the student perspective, Elizabeth Evans, president of the Student Government Association Executive Council, said Chancellor Buckley has exhibited a genuine interest and desire to get to know students. “I have the utmost confidence that student voices will be included in the future of UTHSC,” she said.
Neil Buckley, the chancellor’s brother and an attorney from Dublin, spoke of their early life in Ireland. Along with some good-natured ribbing, he said, “I am beyond proud of his achievements.”
President Boyd introduced the chancellor. He said a major aspect of his position is to find the right people for the jobs. “Chancellor Buckley is the right person to continue the work of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,” he said.
In his remarks, Chancellor Buckley expressed appreciation for the inspirational leadership of President Boyd and for giving him this privilege and opportunity for servant leadership as UTHSC chancellor.
Chancellor Buckley praised the students at UTHSC. “It is such a privilege to be with our students,” he said. “We learn from them, and we are very proud of them.”
He said he is also proud of the UTHSC’s public-private partnerships to improve access to health care across the state, proud of the rejuvenated campus infrastructure, proud of the institution’s response to the community during COVID-19, and proud of efforts to care for the citizens of Tennessee, including new initiatives to increase dental care across the state and grow the ranks of health care workers in rural areas of the state.
“All of these matter, because they are at the heart of what we do,” he said.
Chancellor Buckley announced that he and his wife of 35 years, Leonie, have endowed a new Chancellor’s Scholarship to support students in UTHSC’s six colleges. “This event is called an investiture, and we are invested,” he said.
The couple emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland 30 years ago on a lottery Visa to continue studies in America. “How’s that for the luck of the Irish,” the chancellor said. They became U.S. citizens six years later and pledged to make a difference in their new country, just as their forebears had done. They were accompanied to the ceremony by their sons, John and Brian.
“Our UTHSC community has been welcoming and warm to my family,” the chancellor said. Additionally, he acknowledged positive and interdependent relationships with community leaders and organizations and across the UTHSC and UT systems. “We are all in this together and we are in this for the long haul,” he said.
“There is much to be done and we will do it together,” he said.
After the ceremony, the celebration continued on the Health Science Center’s Memphis campus with faculty, staff, and students. Rounding out the guest list, were two other members of the Buckley family, their “gentle giants,” Great Danes Harley and Etho.