A look back to 1978 through the eyes of a college dropout

Rick Wagner • Apr 24, 2018 at 10:00 PM

KINGSPORT — How do you reach across 40 years to inspire 2018 high school graduates?

One way is to share the story of how you dropped back into college as an adult, but wish you’d never dropped out of college shortly after high school.

That was what Tim Attebery, president and CEO of Ballad Health’s Holston Valley Medical Center, recalled at the recent TN/VA Scholars picnic at the Eastman Recreation Area near Bays Mountain. His audience included more than 300 area high school seniors preparing to graduate.


Now before you go over to the comics, bear with me a moment. I know this is the time that graduation speeches at the high school and college level abound, but his has an interesting twist and some nostalgia. Attebery recalled that he graduated in 1978 at a high school outside St. Louis and gave a speech to classmates as valedictorian. 

It also was the year that Attebery started a college career that initially lasted two semesters, after which he left college “bored” to become an entrepreneur. He later went to work with a health care consulting firm operated by his friend Mike Farris, which led to his career in health care. That career brought him to the Tri-Cities, first as CEO of Cardiovascular Associates, then working in cardiovascular for Holston Valley and finally as leader of Holston Valley in December 2013.

The only problem? He had never finished his bachelor’s degree, which he did in mid-2014, followed by earning his master’s at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his current work on a doctorate at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. 


Never stop learning was one of the central themes of his talk to the more than 300 students from area high schools.

Another theme was that of the three boxes of life, identified as fun, work and learning/education in the book “Three Boxes of Life.” He said all three areas are always part of your life, but in different mixes at different times. He recommended that students don’t drop out of college, but whether you do or don’t, it’s never too late to learn. 


And finally some trivia Attebery gave that folks who remember 1978 should recognize:

Jimmy Carter was president and the world population was 4.2 billion, compared to more than 7 billion today.

The minimum wage was $2.65 an hour, and big movies included “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Jaws II” and “Grease.” 

“Laverne and Shirley,” “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy” were hit TV shows. The year also saw the emergence of the “Twinkie defense,” when a man was found not guilty of murder for being impaired by eating too many Twinkies, and the phrase “Drink the Kool-Aid,” a reference to the mass suicide of 909 in Jonestown by members a cult led by Jim Jones.

QUIZ: When did the head of Holston Valley Medical Center earn his undergraduate or bachelor’s degree, before or after he took the helm of the hospital?

BONUS QUESTION: What does “Twinkie defense” mean? 

Rick Wagner is the education writer for the Kingsport Times News and can be reached at (423) 392-1381 or rwagner@timesnews.net.