Former University of Tennessee President Emerson “Eli” Fly dies at 82

Updated: Aug. 9, 2017 at 4:54 PM CDT
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TENNESSEE (KFVS) - Former University of Tennessee President Emerson "Eli" Fly has died at the age of 82.

Fly passed on Tuesday, August 8 in Knoxville, Tn.

"Another UT legend has left us and he will be missed by all," said UT President Joe DiPietro. "We are thankful for his many years of service and leadership, including serving as president, to his beloved alma mater."

Fly filled the position as UT president from 2001 until 2002, to end his 40-year career at the university.

"I don't know of anybody who was more devoted to the university," said UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson.

Born in Milan on Feb. 5, 1935, Fly's father died when he was two years old. His mother worked in a factory. Fly and UT President Andy Holt were both from Milan.

"I don't know anyone else who has that," Johnson said. "It's quite an accomplishment and a well-deserved recognition."

Fly earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from UT Knoxville in 1961 and became a certified public accountant in 1962. From 1961 to 1962 he worked as a junior accountant for Price Waterhouse before returning to the university as an assistant auditor.

He held this position until he became the internal auditor in 1968. In 1973, he became the vice chancellor for finance at UT Chattanooga, and he was named UT vice president for business and finance in 1977. In 1991, he became system's executive vice president.

In 2001, Fly was named acting president, which the UT Board of Trustees later designated, for the historical record, as permanent. He retired in 2002, but was asked to return as interim executive vice president and chief financial officer in 2003 by Johnson, then interim UT president. He retired again in 2004.

Fly lived an accomplished life serving as the first president of the University of Tennessee Foundation and formerly as president of the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers. He was the higher education representative on the advisory committee of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board and was a member of the National Association of College and University Business Officers accounting principles committee. NACUBO awarded him its distinguished business officer award.

He was a charter member and president of the East Tennessee chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors. He was also past chair of the executive committee of the Council of Business Affairs for the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

He has served as advisory council chair for the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association/College Retirement Equities Fund as well as on the boards of UT-Battelle and University Health System. He was past president and treasurer for Junior Achievement and was active in the Knoxville chapter of the American Red Cross.

Fly was a U.S. Navy pilot and held the rank of commander in the U.S. Naval Air Reserve. He was a member of First Christian Church. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, four children and nine grandchildren.

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