January 12, 2007

Community service at heart of Nixon’s legacy

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Vanderbilt government relations guru Betty Nixon was all smiles at a recent party celebrating her retirement.
Photo by Daniel Dubois

Community service at heart of Nixon’s legacy

Vanderbilt's Betty Nixon is retiring Jan. 15 as assistant vice chancellor for Community, Neighborhood and Government Relations, following an esteemed career as a Nashville mainstay in both politics and public service.

Nixon's distinguished political resume includes being the first major female candidate to run for mayor of Nashville/Davidson County and the first Metro Council candidate elected on a neighborhood improvement platform.

More than 400 friends, co-workers, politicians, administrators, chancellors, judges and lawyers honored Nixon during a Jan. 3 event at the Student Life Center celebrating her retirement.

The theme was appropriately advertised as “Vote Betty Nixon for Retirement.”

"Betty Nixon brought to Vanderbilt a sophistication about state and local politics that this University never had before,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice chancellor for Public Affairs.

“But equally important, it was married to a passion for the community and a deep concern for our surrounding neighborhoods.

“As a result, she always provoked Vanderbilt to do the right thing, for the right reasons. It would be difficult to imagine Vanderbilt's current success without Betty's unseen, but ever-present, wisdom and counsel."

Nixon came to Vanderbilt 17 years ago as special assistant for government relations. Since that time the University has improved relations not only with its elected representatives, but also with its surrounding neighborhoods.

“We have established Vanderbilt as a positive presence to the state legislature and as a source of expertise,” Nixon said.

“Now Vanderbilt is far more open to the community, whether you define it as the neighborhood or the state or the world. And it is more reflective of the world in its faculty, students and staff. It has become a global university.”

Nixon's career includes positions as a high school teacher in Anniston, Ala.; a Metro Councilwoman and two-time mayoral candidate in Nashville/Davidson County; deputy press secretary to Tenn. Gov. Ray Blanton; and state campaign manager for the Mondale/Ferraro presidential campaign.

She served as state campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser for his successful 1988 re-election campaign and as a professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Most recently Nixon chaired the board for the Metro Election Commission.

“I have been so focused on work for the last 50 years that I am just going to let it go,” Nixon said of her retirement plans. “It's a huge life change and I'm just going to kind of ease into it.”

Her commitment to public service won't let her rest too long — Nixon is already focused on chairing the NAACP Nashville branch fund-raiser Feb. 10.