Fielding Rolston, longtime education and community leader, has died

Hank Hayes • Oct 1, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Former Tennessee State Board of Education Chairman Fielding Rolston, 78, of Kingsport, died Sunday in Kiawah, South Carolina.

On Rolston’s watch, Tennessee started raising academic standards in 2009 and then became the fastest-improving state from 2011 to 2015 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and mathematics assessments.

“Fielding Rolston provided invaluable service to the students and citizens of Tennessee in his nearly 25 years on the board,” said Dr. Sara Morrison, executive director of the State Board of Education. “Under his leadership, Tennessee raised expectations for student learning, elevated support for educators and witnessed dramatic improvements in student achievement. He will be dearly missed by all who had the opportunity to work and learn alongside him.”

Said former Gov. Phil Bredesen: “Fielding Rolston provided a steady hand of leadership on the State Board of Education for many years. He and other board members were instrumental in our efforts to raise K-12 academic standards, which led Tennessee to become the fastest-improving state in the history of the Nation’s Report Card. With his passing, our state has lost a true advocate for public education.”

Rolston was first appointed to the state education board by former Gov. Don Sundquist in 1996. With a professional background in engineering, Rolston also served either as a board member or board chairman for several other organizations, including the former Wellmont Health System, the Board of Trustees for Emory & Henry College, the Board of Directors of Barter Theatre, the National Assessment Governing Board and the Eastman Credit Union (ECU) Board of Directors.

“Fielding has worked tirelessly to make this region a better place. His impact on Eastman Credit Union, as well as many other organizations, will be seen for years to come, and he will be truly missed,” said Olan Jones, ECU CEO and president.

Rolston was board chairman at ECU for over 20 years and saw ECU through some of its major strategic changes, including the move away from a single-sponsor credit union to one that can serve anyone in a defined geographic area.

“His contribution to ECU will be measured in ways far beyond the twenty-plus years of service he gave us. He never failed to see the vision we laid out for where we wanted ECU to go and never hesitated to ask the hard questions. He was a good friend as well as a valued colleague,” added Jones.

In 2003, Rolston retired from Eastman Chemical Co. with more than 38 years of service that included work as an industrial engineer.

“Fielding was a well-known, respected and highly involved leader - not only in his career at Eastman, but his leadership and involvement with organizations throughout the region and the state has made and will continue to make a positive difference. We are deeply saddened by his death and extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family,” said CeeGee McCord, Eastman’s director of Global Public & Community Affairs

Rolston held a series of management posts in industrial engineering, strategic planning, supply and distribution and human resources and communications. He was a Virginia Tech graduate and earned a master's degree in public administration from American University.

"Along with so many, Kingsport City Schools grieves the loss of Fielding Rolston, a man who was truly a servant leader that genuinely sought the very best for the students, educators, and families of Tennessee," said Andy True, Kingsport City Schools assistant superintendent. "As one of only four individuals to have ever been awarded the KCS Champion of Education honor, he was a true friend that held a deep passion to positively impact the lives of children. His impact on the world of education will be felt for generations and we will be forever grateful for his dedication and service."