January 28, 2000

Former VU board president Sam Fleming mourned

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Sam Fleming

Sam M. Fleming, the former president and chairman of Third National Bank and president of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust from 1975 to 1981, died Friday morning at Vanderbilt Hospital after a short illness. He was 91.

The funeral took place Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville.

Fleming’s service on the Vanderbilt board began in 1952, and in 1979 he was named a Life Trustee. While serving as board vice president, Fleming headed the University’s $55 million fund-raising campaign from 1966 to 1970.

“Sam Fleming was one of the three people, along with Pat Wilson and Bronson Ingram, who convinced me to come to Vanderbilt 18 years ago. Since then, he has been a most generous counselor, benefactor and friend,” said Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt. “His commitment to the University, to the community and to his family is unsurpassed. Vanderbilt is a far better place for Sam’s efforts, and we won’t be alone in missing him.”

“In losing Sam Fleming, Vanderbilt has lost one of its most enthusiastic and effective leaders, and I have personally lost one of my very dearest friends,” said Martha Ingram, current chairman of the Vanderbilt board. “It is difficult to imagine life without Sam, but the example that he set in caring for others during his long and fruitful lifetime will serve as a model for all of us in the years ahead.”

A native of Franklin, Tenn., Fleming started working at the age of 8 as a messenger for Harpeth National Bank, where he remained employed while pursuing his education. After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1928, he moved to New York where he worked with the New York Trust Co.

He returned to Tennessee in 1931 to become manager of Third National Bank’s credit department. He was appointed president in 1950 and later became chairman of the board of directors. Under his leadership, Third National gained dominance in the Nashville marketplace. He retired as president in 1970 and as chairman in 1972. He also was a founding director of Hillsboro Enterprises, a holding company with investments in various businesses.

Before joining Vanderbilt’s board, Fleming headed the Vanderbilt Alumni Association in 1951-52. He later headed the board’s investment committee and also served on the executive, budget and institutional relations committees.

Fleming played key roles in three Vanderbilt fund-raising campaigns. In addition to serving as national chairman of the 1966-70 campaign, he was co-chairman of the $30 million Campaign for Vanderbilt in 1960-62. He and his wife, Valerie, served on the Steering Committee of the $560 million Campaign for Vanderbilt in 1990-1995.

“Sam Fleming understood, instinctively, the effective roles for a trustee to play,” said Alexander Heard, Chancellor during Fleming’s board presidency. “In addition, he was the most authentically generous person I have ever known. He gave not for the credit or recognition that the gift would bring but because of his belief in the cause to which he was giving.”

In 1982, Fleming received the prestigious Trustee of the Year for Private Universities Award from the Association of Governing Boards.

Fleming chaired the board during the creation of the Owen Graduate School of Management in 1969, the merger of Peabody College in 1979 and the merger of the Blair School of Music with Vanderbilt in 1981.

Fleming was instrumental in the construction of a new hospital in 1977 to help the Medical Center meet its educational, clinical and financial goals. He also played critical roles in other University improvements — in academic buildings, in student housing, in auxiliary facilities and in athletic facilities, including the extensive renovation of Vanderbilt Stadium in 1981.

Fleming Yard, at the center of campus near Rand Hall and Sarratt Student Center, is named in recognition of his service to the University. It was made possible through a gift from his daughter, Joanne Fleming Hayes, a current member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust.

Fleming’s family has a history of public service. His great-great-grandfather was Newton Cannon, twice governor of Tennessee. One of his great-great uncles, Aaron V. Brown, was also a governor of Tennessee in the mid-1880s and served as secretary of war under President Buchanan.

Fleming served on active duty with the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 to 1945. He also was president of the American Bankers Association, a director of the Nashville branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and a member of the Federal Advisory Council representing the Sixth Federal Reserve District.

An active member of the Nashville community, he was a trustee of Meharry Medical College; Battle Ground Academy, from which he graduated in 1924; Harpeth Hall; and Ensworth schools.

Other civic memberships and leadership roles included director and founder of the Nashville Chapter of Junior Achievement, director and vice president of Youth Incorporated, member of the Executive Council of the Boy Scouts of America, director of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and director of United Givers Fund and Community Chest. He was a former deacon and elder of First Presbyterian Church.

A history enthusiast, Fleming was a past treasurer of the Tennessee Historical Society and member of the State Historical Commission and State of Tennessee Civil War Centennial Commission.

He served on a number of corporate boards, including National Life and Accident Insurance Company, Genesco Inc., Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, Jack Daniel Distillery, Murray Ohio Manufacturing and First National Bank of Palm Beach, Fla.

Survivors include his wife, Valerie Ellis Fleming; daughter Joanne Fleming Hayes; and three grandchildren, Fleming Wilt, Jodie Banks and T.J. Wilt.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Josephine Cliffe Fleming, and a son, Daniel Milton Fleming.