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Black and white formal photograph of Dr. Robert Pursley

The Passing of Col. Robert Pursley, PhD


It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Col Robert Pursley, PhD.  Dr. Pursley served as an associate professor within our department from 1980 – 2006, where he touched the lives of many of our alumni.  He will be greatly missed and his contributions never forgotten.


Col (ret) Robert Jackson Pursley, PhD, born 5 December 1927, was welcomed into the peaceful embrace of God’s eternal love on 10 November 2017. He was raised in Chattanooga where he met and, on 28 November 1945 married, his beloved wife Betty Jo Lerch Pursley (d. 1995). Jack and Jo were the proud and supportive parents of Jody Lou (1952), Robert Jeffrey (1956) and Kenneth Judd (1961). He received his BS from the University of Maryland (1961), his MHA from Baylor University (1964, Honor Graduate) and his Ph.D. in hospital and health administration from the University of Iowa (1971).

He began his 30-year military career in 1945 following high school graduation when he volunteered for the Navy as a pharmacist’s mate. His skills in woodworking and design (the kitchen cabinet he built for his Mother during 11th grade won a Chattanooga-wide competition) led to his assignment at a research laboratory for artificial limbs. He published several articles during that period and in 1949 was recruited to the US Army and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1952.

Col Pursley served in multiple settings while in the Army; Research Assistant Walter Reed Army Hospital Prosthetics Research Center, Hospital Adjutant Nurnberg US Army Hospital, Academy of Health Sciences Instructor Ft Sam Houston, Hospital Executive Officer Seoul Army Community Hospital, Assistant Chief Medical Services Corps Surgeon General’s office during the Vietnam War, Hospital Executive Officer Augsburg Army Community Hospital Augsburg Germany and Hospital Executive Officer Martin Army Community Hospital Columbus GA. He retired in 1975 at which time he was awarded the US Army Legion of Merit. After his retirement, he served as Director at Georgia Warm Springs Hospital, founded by Pres Franklin Roosevelt, followed by a position as Professor and Director Health Services Administration Program Quinnipiac College Hamden CT. A self-described “Tennessee hillbilly at heart,” Col Pursley was delighted to return to TN to join the faculty as Associate Professor at UT Knoxville in 1980 (retired 2006). He loved everything about teaching; inspiring undergraduate students, mentoring his doctoral students, and collaborating on research. He said, “I can learn from my students, they can learn from one another and hopefully they can learn from me.” His special interest and most of his research publications were in the area of health risk appraisal technology, which works to inform the public of potential health risks. His career was divided into almost three equal parts: upper extremity prosthetic research, hospital administration and teaching.

In retirement, Col Pursley cherished time with his family, participated as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, enjoyed wood carving, made presentations on behalf of Veteran’s groups, was introduced at a Vol’s football game, was selected for the WWII and Korean Veterans HonorAir program, and was the proud recipient of a Quilt of Valor on Veteran’s Day 2016.

Preceded in death by his parents, Robert S and Susie A Pursley and his wife of nearly 50 years, Betty Jo Lerch Pursley, Col Pursley is survived by his three children and their spouses Jody and Dr Peter Spalding (Santa Fe NM), Jeffrey and Pamela Pursley (Ooltewah TN) and Kenneth and Pam Pursley (Knoxville TN), 8 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life followed by a reception will be held at St Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Ooltewah TN on Saturday 11-25-2017 at 4 PM.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to the University of Tennessee Public Heath Alumni Fund (ATTN: Dr Paul Erwin, 387 HPER, 1914 Andy Holt Ave. Knoxville TN 37996, or visit our donation page) or to St Francis Assisi Episcopal Church (ATTN: Rev Lou Parsons 7555 Ooltewah Georgetown Rd. Ooltewah TN 37363).