What would Jimmy Buffett do?

Dawson gets Caribbean-themed retirement party at Clayton Center

Sue and Joe Dawson hold grandchildren Savannah Dawson, 3, and Owen Dawson, 8 months, during the “Change in Latitude” retirement party of Joe Dawson.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Sue and Joe Dawson hold grandchildren Savannah Dawson, 3, and Owen Dawson, 8 months, during the “Change in Latitude” retirement party of Joe Dawson.

When Joe Dawson walked into the hall at the Clayton Center for the Arts on June 10, he wasn’t wearing a tie, a suit coat or any vestige of corporate wardrobe. For that matter, nobody else was either.

It was Dawson’s retirement party, and he told the planners he wanted it laid-back and fun. No grand speeches, no overpriced chicken cordon bleu, no ties.

The “Change of Latitude” party lasted all evening and drew a large crowd for the informal send off. Community members and co-workers mingled with Dawson and his family and friends.

“They know I’m a Jimmy Buffett fan,” Dawson said of the party planners at Blount Memorial Hospital. “He’s my age, and anyone who makes that much money having fun is someone I like.”

Dawson said he wasn’t involved in all of the planning for the “Change of Latitude” party. “Board chair Bob Redwine and some of the hospital staff formed a group and planned my retirement activities, which I was not aware of for a while,” Dawson said. “Then periodically they’d send an emissary to me when they thinking about this or that and would ask me what I thought.”

“They said, ‘Let’s give him something he’ll enjoy,” and they made it a Jimmy Buffett thing. Automatically it made it casual, relaxed and fun.”

The hospital administrator said that over the years he has been given awards and attention. “I’m not very comfortable with that, so whatever we did, I wanted it to be low key,” he said. “I wanted it to be kind of a laid back, casual thing -- not formal.”

Dawson has been in hospital administration for 37 years, came to Blount Memorial Hospital 33 years ago and has been administrator 25 years. “When I came here I didn’t have the expectation of staying this long, but it’s my home, and I’m a good fit here,” he said.

Dawson said the hospital is doing well financially and is getting good marks for quality of care. “If you compare our outcomes and measureable quality metrics, we compare very well, better than most in the state. We’ve got solid leadership from the board and medical staff and a continuity of good executive leadership,” he said. “It gives me mixed feelings, but I wouldn’t feel good if I was walking out on a big problem. We don’t have that now.”

Dawson and his wife, Sue, have two children, both of whom are married. Their son David Dawson works for Pilot Corp. and is married to Jennifer Dawson, who works the hospital. They have two children. Daughter Savannah is 3, and son Owen is 8 months. The Dawson’s daughter is Caroline Smith, who married in May. She works for Tennessee Hospitality Association.

Dawson said he has been thinking about retiring for about a year and a half, and he worried his family would be uncomfortable because the hospital has been a stabilizing force in the family. “The hospital has been such an important part of our lives. My dad was on staff here; I worked as an orderly; my children and grandchildren were born here. I’ve had two critical illnesses here, and my wife has had one,” he said. “The hospital has been the center of my life. To say I won’t be there is disconcerting, because it has been a stabilizing influence in so many ways.” Now that he has made the decision, however, Dawson said the family “seem excited for me to be more available.”

Dawson also has a brother and a sister-in-law who are retired. “They want me to be more available to play with them. It is a good time to leave work and enjoy family life and friends,” he said. “There are so many things to do and enjoy away from the hospital, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Dawson’s last day is June 30.

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