The first lady of UTC and Chancellor Roger Brown’s wife, Carolyn Thompson, died Friday after an extended battle with bone marrow cancer.
Thompson — known around campus for her humor and candor — was diagnosed with myelofibrosis last summer. Brown had been splitting his time between Nashville and Chattanooga, so he could be with Thompson as she underwent treatments at Vanderbilt Hospital.
“This is a strong campus, and I appreciate your support during this difficult time for my family,” Brown wrote in February email to faculty and staff when her health went south again. “We truly could not get through this without the support and love we feel coming from our campus family. Thank you and I look forward to reporting good news very soon.”
But a bone marrow transplant she received in August was rejected by her body and the illness progressed. She was 66 years old.
She shared the heart-wrenching and, at times, gut-busting details of her illness on a blog she kept with the help of her husband.
“Roger is staying in Nashville with me, living in a long term stay hotel, and working from his computer, cell phone and videoconferences,” she said in one of her last posts. “One of the few silver linings in this situation is that we get to spend a few hours each day talking and laughing and planning our next beach vacation.”
Along with her husband, she leaves behind her two children, Caroline Thompson and Austin Thompson, and her dog “Madeleine Albright” of the Lookout Mountain canine patrol, a 13-year-old rescued Husky mix.
“She faced her illness with a spirit that has been a constant encouragement to us all,” said UT President Joe DiPietro. “She will be greatly missed, and the legacy and memory she leaves will be treasured.”
A native of Massachusetts, Carolyn was as accomplished professionally as her husband.
She earned a doctorate degree from Johns Hopkins University, and worked as a medical social worker at the UCLA Medical Center, a director of social work training at the Kenny Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital and chaired the Department of Social Work at Mars Hill College in North Carolina. She also established the master of health administration degree program at University of North Carolina at Charlotte and later was named founding dean of the Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Once she came to UTC with her husband in 2005 for his post as chancellor of the growing campus, she became a host and philanthropist.
She served on the boards of Memorial Healthcare System, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Community Impact, Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, Friends of Moccasin Bend and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.
People who worked with her said they will remember her as a brave voice in Chattanooga and a surprising breath of fresh air.
“She spoke her mind, sometimes so forcefully that she made you catch your breath,” said Ruth Holmberg, former publisher of the Chattanooga Times. “Often she spoke what others only thought but sat in silence. She did not suffer fools gladly ...
“To know her was to love her. Having known her was a gift. We weep now and will miss her always. But Carolyn, we will remember you always and as we do, we will laugh out loud.”
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...