Former school board member Rosie Graham hugs former Director of Schools Dan Lawson at his farewell reception Sunday, Dec. 2 as Vickie Shelton, another former board member waits to offer Lawson her congratulations.

According to Tullahoma School Board Chairman Pat Welsh, class is when you’re leaving town and you make it look like you’re leading a parade.

This is how Welsh described the leadership of Dr. Dan Lawson during his tenure at the helm of Tullahoma City Schools.

“For over two decades, he’s led a parade,” Welsh said. “And he’s led a parade in which he’s fulfilled our greatest corporate responsibility: the education of the children of Tullahoma.”

Lawson stepped down as the director of schools at the end of October, but the Tullahoma Board of Education waited until Sunday to have one final send-off for the longtime superintendent.

Attended by scores of former students, faculty and board members, as well as friends and family, the “drop-in reception” at Tullahoma High School served as one last goodbye to the man responsible for enacting dozens of changes to the school system.

Some of the bigger changes, as pointed out by Mayor Pro-Tem Renee Keene, include the renovation of Tullahoma High School’s auditorium and football stadium and the construction of two new elementary and middle schools. Lawson was also named Superintendent of the Year by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) during his tenure in Tullahoma, as well as a South Central Superintendent of the Year multiple times during his time here.

Surrounded by multitudes of friends, Lawson said he was humbled and honored that so many people had taken time out of their “busy schedules to come out and celebrate the time that I have enjoyed here.”

“I appreciate the fact that they knew both my strengths and my weaknesses and, in spite of those, were terribly supportive in all the time I was here and worked together to accomplish great things for our kids and our community,” Lawson said.

Lawson wasn’t celebrated only by the people of Tullahoma – some of his family members made the eight-hour journey from Missouri to celebrate his time in Tullahoma.

“My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law and [my] three kids came in,” Lawson said. “I certainly appreciate the fact that they made the trek. I’m very happy that they were able to be here to celebrate with me.”

Though Lawson hails from Missouri, Tullahoma has become his “home away from home,” and his parents recognizing the importance this community holds for him was an honor in and of itself.

“They know that this place is dear to us and [is] valued by us,” he said of the community.

After mingling with all those in attendance, Lawson stood up to speak briefly – “a record,” he said of his speech – about his time investing in the children of Tullahoma.

When the school board decided 23 years ago to take a chance on him, he said, they “went way out on a limb” in making their decision.

“In fact, they left the limb and went out on a twig,” Lawson joked.

Although the board wasn’t entirely sure if Lawson would be up to the job, he said, with a little coaching and encouragement, “‘maybe we can make a superintendent out of this redneck kid,’” Lawson said.

“I don’t know if they were successful in making a superintendent out of that redneck kid,” he continued, “but they were certainly successful in making a kid who was hungry to serve successfully in a great community … that is positive and powerful in what provide our kids and our next generation.”

Harkening back to what Welsh said about leading a parade, Lawson concluded by saying he had fun being Tullahoma City Schools’ grand marshal.  

“My success here is not mine; I just get to be at the front of the parade – which, by the way, starts at 7 o’clock on Friday night,” he joked, referencing his status as grand marshal of the Tullahoma Christmas Parade later this week.

“As I’m at the front of that parade, I will do nothing by relish the wonderful memories of tremendous people who have dramatically changed my life for the better,” he said. “Thank you.”

Lawson will begin teaching at Lee University come January.

Erin McCullough may be reached at