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Museum of Appalachia honors Dr. Joe Johnson, Jim Hart at Heroes of Southern Appalachia Award Ceremony

Johnson is former UT president. Hart is president of Friends of the Smokies and a former WBIR general manager.

NORRIS, Tenn. — The Museum of Appalachia celebrated Dr. Joe Johnson and James M. Hart at its “Heroes of Southern Appalachia” award ceremony Oct 1 at its Heritage Hall. 

Johnson is retired president of the University of Tennessee and Hart is president of Friends of the Smokies and a former general manager of WBIR-TV.

The museum said its criteria for choosing recipients included honoring someone from the Southern Appalachian region who exemplifies the characteristics of perseverance, fortitude, self-reliance and service.

Johnson, a beloved part of UT's history and past administrations, and Hart, a staunch supporter of conservation and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are two such people, the museum said.

Credit: UT
Dr. Joe Johnson, former president of the University of Tennessee

“It was a special night,” said University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd, who also served as one of the evening’s presenters.

Boyd honored Johnson, who was president in the 1990s and acting president a few years in the early 2000s, and Gary Wade and Stephen W. Dean paid tribute to Hart, who has been with Friends of the Smokies more than 20 years.

“Both Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hart have dedicated their lives to this region and its people,” Museum President Elaine Irwin Meyer said. “They truly embody the spirit of Southern Appalachia.”


Johnson, of Vernon, Alabama, has spent more than 6 decades at the University of Tennessee, according to a release.

The museum said Johnson ushered in a tremendous period of growth and expansion for the university, as he brought multiple state campuses together into a single system and expanded the boundaries of the Knoxville campus, allowing for the growth of the student population from 10,000 to 30,000. 

He spearheaded several record-setting fundraising campaigns and facilitated the creation of UT-Battelle, a company that manages the nation's largest multi-program science and technology laboratory, ORNL, according to a release.

Boyd described Johnson as nothing less than “a UT legend.”

Credit: Friends of the Smokies
Jim Hart, president of Friends of the Smokies, at a Smokies anniversary celebration in 2009 with Dolly Parton and others.

Hart also received his fair share of praise at Saturday’s event. Hart was WBIR's general manager for 13 years and one of the originators of "Straight from the Heart."

He grew up in Knoxville, was a Boy Scout, and spent more than 30 years in broadcasting. His father, John, was WBIR's first general manager.

“He’s the best boss I ever had,” retired Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade said. 

His community involvement has included Home Federal Bank, Friends of Young Williams Animal Shelter, and East Tennessee Historical Society.

Credit: Museum of Appalachia
UT President Randy Boyd, Jenny Boyd, Sen. Lamar Alexander and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade were among those attending Saturday's celebration.

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