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US Now hosting a presidential debate, Belmont's president got into politics through a homeroom election

22:02  19 october  2020
22:02  19 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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The 2020 United States presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the major candidates in the 2020 United States presidential election

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NASHVILLE — He was a political junkie by age 8.

On Sunday mornings in his youth, Bob Fisher hopped out of bed, ran outside to get the newspaper and read all the editorials and stories. He got caught up in the 1956 race pitting President Dwight D. Eisenhower against Democrat Adlai Stevenson II.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Belmont University President Bob Fisher poses for a portrait on the Belmont University campus in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean Belmont University President Bob Fisher poses for a portrait on the Belmont University campus in Nashville, Tenn., Friday, Oct. 9, 2020.

After that, he sat glued to the television for "Face the Nation" in his family's two-bedroom home.

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He and his buddy Ricky Carson made campaign signs for both candidates and planted them all over their tiny town of Blytheville in the northeast corner of Arkansas.

"I remember admiring Dwight Eisenhower for his military skills," Fisher said. "But I also admired Adlai Stevenson for his peacemaking and ambassadorship.

"We were just excited," Fisher added, smiling.

a vintage photo of a group of people posing for the camera: Belmont University President Bob Fisher as a little boy in the garden outside his family's home in Blytheville, Ark. © Courtesy of Bob Fisher Belmont University President Bob Fisher as a little boy in the garden outside his family's home in Blytheville, Ark.

The pint-sized political enthusiast grew up to be president of the Nashville university set to host the Oct. 22 debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

As a teenager, Fisher, now 72 and president of Belmont University, lost an election in a tie-breaker, which served as a wake-up call, a turning point that launched him onto a successful path.

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Fisher lost the race for homeroom rep for student government his senior year to a smart, popular classmate named Claudette Thompson. And he's really glad he did.

A bad attitude

As a boy, Fisher didn't spend all of his time with his nose in a newspaper or a book.

He rode his bike, played with friends, went swimming, raised homing pigeons, went to First Baptist Church and used an earpiece in bed at night to listen to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games on a transistor radio.

The boy, with help from his folks, even built treehouses in the yard.

And he always got straight A's in school – until the family moved across the state his sophomore year of high school.

a person wearing a bow tie: Bob Fisher as a boy in Western wear a couple of years before his family moved across Arkansas, from Blytheville to Arkadelphia, © Submitted Bob Fisher as a boy in Western wear a couple of years before his family moved across Arkansas, from Blytheville to Arkadelphia,

Fisher said he had a hard time adjusting to his new school and his new town of Arkadelphia. He felt like he didn't fit in because all the kids at his new school already had friends.

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His grades slipped a little and he didn't really care. "I had a bad attitude, and I didn't try very hard," Fisher said.

Something changed when he started senior year, though.

In the first days of the semester, his homeroom teacher asked the class whether any of them wanted to be a representative for student council. Fisher's hand shot up. The only other hand in the air belonged to Claudette Thompson, a class leader and, according to Fisher, "an amazing person."

No time to campaign – the teacher handed out slips of paper right away and told students to write down their pick.

After tallying the votes, the teacher called the two candidates into the hallway, where she told them they each got the same number of votes. The teacher said she would break the tie.

"We all know Claudette would make the better representative," the teacher said.

"I don't care," Fisher shot back.

But he did care. Deeply.

Fisher had put himself out there in a school where he didn't feel like he belonged, and he got rejected. By a teacher.

And that lit a fire, Fisher said.

"Honestly, it was good for me," he said. "I thought, 'I'll show you!'"

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And he did.

a man posing for the camera: Bob Fisher as student senate president at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. Fisher was the student representative on a university search committee for a new president that year. © Submitted Bob Fisher as student senate president at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. Fisher was the student representative on a university search committee for a new president that year.

When Fisher went to Hendersonville State University the next year, he ran for freshman class president and won.

Fisher also served as president of his sophomore and junior classes, and he got elected student body president his senior year.

That last year, the school appointed him to the search committee for a new leader after the university president died.

And that's when Fisher discovered what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to lead a college.

"I had been interacting with the university president, and I remember how much I respected him. He was a remarkable man, stern, but I know he loved and cared about the students," Fisher said.

He also liked the idea of running what seemed to be a small town, which he thought would be challenging but a lot of fun.

"You get to be in college your whole life. And I loved college. It transformed me, showed me so much about myself, what I can do and how I can serve others," Fisher said.

"It’s like flipping a switch. I was that kid in grade school again."

Fisher earned advanced degrees, taught some classes, became an administrator and was named Belmont University president in 2000.

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In twenty years, Fisher has more than doubled the student body, created a renowned law school, grown the size of the campus and landed a U.S. presidential debate there in 2008.

On Thursday, the university announced plans to launch a college of medicine in partnership with HCA Healthcare, one of the largest hospital chains in the country. Tri Star hospitals Centennial, Skyline and Southern Hills are part of the chain.

In the larger community off campus, Fisher has served as chairman of the Greater Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, co-chair of the Mayor's Task Force on Public Education and sat on boards for United Way, the Country Music Hall of Fame and several other nonprofits.

And later this month Belmont will host its second presidential debate.

It all started with an election he lost in his senior year of high school, a stinging disappointment that inspired him to be a better student and a leader.

Funny thing is, Fisher would've won that election if he hadn't voted for Claudette Thompson.

"Back in those days I was taught to be humble, so you didn’t vote for yourself," he said. "I voted for her."

Reach Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessean.com or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Belmont University President Bob Fisher holds a debate button at the 2020 Presidental Debate announcement Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. © Larry McCormack / The Tennessean Belmont University President Bob Fisher holds a debate button at the 2020 Presidental Debate announcement Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Now hosting a presidential debate, Belmont's president got into politics through a homeroom election

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