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Alumni Profile: Deb Woolley – Making a Difference by Giving Back

Deb WoolleyCCI Board of Visitors Member Deb Woolley (BS/JEM ’70) has had a remarkable career and believes in giving back to CCI through both her service and gifts, which include financial support of the JEM Medal of Honor Project and a legacy gift to CCI.

Woolley grew up in Oak Ridge, TN where she graduated from high school before attending UT.  After graduating with her bachelor’s in journalism, she headed to Columbia, South Carolina to work for The State newspaper.  Fast-forward 16 years as she advanced from editorial assistant to editorial writer, business news editor and business editor at either The State or its afternoon sister, The Columbia Record.  

She earned a Master’s degree from the University of South Carolina in communications and business during the same period. “It was an exciting era in newspaper journalism, and the experience, along with my journalism degree, prepared me for so many other opportunities,” said Woolley. 

After leaving the newspaper, she stayed in Columbia for a number of years working as the communications manager for the South Carolina economic development agency, vice president of Community and Governmental Affairs for Mack Trucks, and senior account manager for a large regional advertising and public relations firm.  

After a stint as head of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s Communications and Workforce Relations Divisions, Woolley moved back home to Tennessee to serve as president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry where she served for a decade before retiring. 

Finding herself too restless to stay retired, she now provides consulting services to companies around the southeast.  “I experienced so many different things in my career, and I realized, as I moved into each new position, how well my journalism degree had prepared me for a diversity of responsibilities and opportunities,” remarked Woolley.

Woolley admits she never imagined herself on the path her career eventually traveled.  Fortunately, her education provided her with a solid foundation to take advantage of each opportunity as it presented itself.

When asked why she chooses to support the college financially, Woolley explained that she feels there is no better investment than helping ensure young people have good and diverse educational opportunities. “Life changes, careers change, addresses change, but the foundation of a strong education travels with a person forever.”  

Her advice to current students is to pay attention and absorb everything they possibly can.  She feels a degree from CCI teaches students to observe, research and analyze before communicating the information and applying it to a decision, situation or observation.  With this preparation, she thinks CCI graduates have no limits on their careers!

Woolley’s favorite memory from her time at UT was when “I worked on the Daily Beacon and in the UT Office of Public Relations News Bureau.  It was exciting and fun to be a part of the overall university while building great relationships and friendships with students and professors.  As time has dimmed the pain, I even fondly recall those Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday 7:30 a.m. classes (a thing of the past) when Dean Willis Tucker taught us journalism skills and perseverance!” 

Woolley’s experiences through her late husband Don Woolley, a professor of Photojournalism at several major universities, also taught her the importance of supporting students. “I was awe struck each time a former student would call or come to visit. It might have been five years or 30 years since they had been a student and their resume often was far more accomplished and recognized than Don’s, but they called, asking his advice or sharing an important event.  I realized that the call came because Don had touched a life and made a difference, and it was never forgotten.  Nothing in the world can be more gratifying than that.”

In her own life, Woolley has made a positive difference in the lives of many others – whether it was through a story she wrote, an action she took or a decision she made – those were the most gratifying experiences of her life.  Her parting words of wisdom for today’s students could easily apply to all of us. “Enjoy today because tomorrow will be here really fast.  Develop friendships and relationships and work to maintain them, even as you move up and away in your career.  Know that every opportunity you have was created by someone else’s decision or action, so make a promise to say thank you to your supporters and to give back to others as you move along life’s journey.”