Scholarship Established to Honor former Orange & White Editor, Alumna Linda Higgins’ Legacy
Update: Linda Higgins passed away Jan. 20, 2024. The family asks that those who want to honor Linda’s legacy contribute to the endowed scholarship created in her name.
Linda (Jennings) Higgins (’64) has more than one “first” in a long list of lifetime achievements—such as being the first woman elected to a citywide position in Jackson, Tennessee—and one last: she was the final editor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s student newspaper, the Orange and White, before she helped it transition into the Daily Beacon that exists today.
Her extensive accomplishments make her husband, Richard Higgins, and their three daughters, Robin Higgins Horwitz (’86), KaCarole Higgins, and Beth Higgins Jones (‘93), immensely proud. When Richard and the daughters started considering how they could honor their family matriarch upon the 60th anniversary of her graduating from UT, they knew establishing a scholarship in her name at her beloved alma mater was the way to go. It was Richard Higgins who ultimately founded the Linda Jennings Higgins UT Knoxville Alumni Tri-Star Scholarship Endowment at the end of 2023, which the family then presented to Linda over the holidays.
Richard said he got the idea in part after seeing a friend’s legacy carry on through giving, so it made sense to him to find a way for his wife to be remembered in a similar way for supporting students at the College of Communication and Information.
“She was truly dedicated from the very start…and so this lady should also always be remembered,” he said.
A Working Woman
Higgins was the first person in her family to go to college, and she certainly made the most of it. She happily jumped into college life and her senior year was named Most Outstanding Woman Graduate in the College of Business Administration—at that time, journalism majors were housed in the College of Business Administration. This prompted her to join the American Association of University Women, which then sparked a lifelong interest in women’s rights.
Working as editor of the Orange and White was truly a highlight for Higgins. She had always known she wanted to major in journalism and write—though she does have a soft spot for rocks and said she would have majored in geology, if it weren’t for all the math requirements. But even as a high school student she was writing, and one of her featured articles was for her local newspaper the Jackson Sun, where she wrote about the theme of South Side High School’s Senior Banquet. She was the first person from South Side High School to be a student reporter, submitting regular articles for the Sun
As a writer and editor of the Orange and White, Higgins had many standout moments, but few could top writing the front page editorial and articles that ran the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That said, she also enjoyed penning lighter fare, such as an article regarding appropriate behavior of college students when they went on vacation. By this fall, all of the Orange and White articles Higgins and others wrote will be available through UT’s Hodges Library, as they are currently in the process of professionally scanning all the archival papers and making them searchable.
Much has changed for women in the workforce since Higgins graduated from UT 60 years ago and began her career. It was a time when a male student didn’t think twice about submitting a letter to the editor excoriating “neurotic housewives” for going to college and taking 60 percent of the workforce jobs that year—this very letter ran in an Orange and White issue Higgins produced as editor.
Upon graduating from UT, she didn’t let such mindsets deter her and instead ardently pursued her career. She first took a job in public relations and communications for Lambuth College (now University), a private Methodist university in Jackson. After that, she held roles as a freelance editor and public affairs coordinator for several nonprofits including: West Tennessee Sheriff’s Youthtown, Jackson General Hospital, and Harvest Years Senior Center.
She married her long-time sweetheart and husband shortly before graduating, which means she is celebrating 60 years of being a UT alumni and her wedding anniversary this year.
A Working Mother
Higgins had her first daughter, Robin, the year she graduated from UT. Higgins continued working and Robin said she has fond memories of being so excited to jump in her mother’s arms when she would come home from work. In addition to being a career woman, Higgins also held down the household while her husband, who served in the Air Force, was deployed overseas—something he said he always admired her for doing.
“She had to go do all of this knowing that I was in danger in places like Okinawa and Saigon, and she stuck with me and cared for me even across the ocean,” he said. Later she continued to support Richard in his career as a Jackson Police officer.
For her daughters, Higgins was an icon to look up to and emulate. They never questioned or bemoaned that they had a working mother, except perhaps during the times their father had to cook dinner, which to their dismay always meant boiled hot dogs.
Today, all three Higgins daughters are accomplished in their own careers and two of them are also alumni of UT while the other followed in her father’s footsteps and entered the military.
“When Robin, Ka, and I were deciding to go to school, mom and dad were really gracious and said, ‘You can go to school wherever you want, we just want you to know we’re sending your tuition to Tennessee.’,” Jones recalled with a chuckle.
Robin graduated in 1986 with a degree in recreation-arts administration and now works as manager of the Devonshire Cultural Center with the Skokie Park District in Illinois; KaCarole is the information sharing and safeguarding officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington, DC; and Beth graduated in 1993 with a degree in sociology with an emphasis on criminal justice and is an executive director of development for Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Some years after earning her bachelor’s degree, Higgins decided to pursue her master’s degree in political science with an emphasis in public administration. She juggled parenting and working with the three-hour round trip drive to Memphis State University, all while attending classes, and graduated with her advanced degree in 1981.
After working as a freelance editor and public affairs coordinator, Higgins held many other roles, including:
- Grants writer, aging planner, and director of planning for the West Tennessee Development District
- Executive Director of the Reelfoot Girl Scout Council
- Marketing and grants for West Tennessee Legal Services
- Part-time journalist for the Jackson Sun
Then, in 1996, she became the first woman to win a citywide election in Jackson as the Jackson City Court Clerk.
As her career and interests continued to evolve, Higgins began exploring history and genealogy more. She eventually was appointed to be the Madison County Historian by former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, and she served on the Tennessee Outdoors Commission upon appointment by former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander.
Not one to stop there, Higgins also co-authored a book, Images of American Madison County.
Despite a lifetime of impressive achievements, being a Volunteer is always at the top of Higgins’ list of titles she’s earned. She and her husband have regularly given back to UT and CCI for the past 30 years—which was another reason that establishing a scholarship in her name for CCI students was an astute way to honor her.
Her living room wall is covered with family photos, but featured prominently among the portraits and snapshots is a framed Peyton Manning jersey. She is thrilled that both she and Manning earned a degree from the same area of study at UT.
Her Volunteer spirit has shone brightly for the past six decades and she never stopped giving back to the communities and people who were dear to her. It started with her service at her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, and the charitable work they supported, and continued after she graduated.
“The Volunteer spirit, that’s something she learned during her time at UT. She volunteered in college quite a bit, and she volunteered a lot in the Jaycees, where she held regional and state leadership roles. I was going through an old scrapbook where she got several accolades as a volunteer from people all over the state,” Beth said.
In between working, earning a master’s degree, and raising her family, Higgins always found time to volunteer. When she was honored with a Sterling Award as one of West Tennessee’s Most Influential Women, a spotlight article on her listed just a few of her accomplishments:
- Elected vice chairman of the W.T. Historical Society’s Board
- Served as editor of Family Findings, the quarterly journal of the Mid-West Tennessee Genealogical Society, from January 2010 to April 2012
- Historian for the Jackson-Madison County Daughters of the American Revolution
- Wrote grants totaling $556,267 to restore the auditorium/theatre in Bemis, Tennessee, which in 2004 converted the auditorium into a museum about the cotton mill town
- Member of the West Tennessee Historical Society board
- Member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Member of the Tennessee Trust for Historic Preservation
- Member of the Discovery Museum
- Member of the Tennessee Historical Commission
Her work, both career and volunteer, has made a long-lasting impact on so many people, not the least of which are her own children. All three daughters expressed that they are very proud their father established the scholarship in Higgins’ name, and they look forward to her legacy being carried on through it.
“It is so apropos considering her love for the University of Tennessee, her Volunteer spirit, her service above self, and her longstanding commitment to the mission of the university via philanthropy from her and our father. On behalf of Robin and Ka, I think it is safe to say we are proud to follow in her and their footsteps,” Beth said.