By Chris Horn, University Magazine Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3687
Picture this: a guy goes in for a cardiac stress test — the kind where you run like a hamster on a treadmill while they check your heart rate.
After he runs for a while, the attendant asks him to go as fast and as long as he can, inclining the treadmill steeply. He keeps on running until, finally, he passes out.
It really happened, and the guy who put the pedal to the metal until he ran out of gas was Jerry Odom, who was a USC chemistry professor at the time and is now executive director of USC Foundations.
“That story defines Jerry Odom,” said Tom Moore, chancellor of USC Upstate and one of Odom’s former doctoral students. “He’s going to give it everything he has. He works harder than anyone I’ve ever known and expects the same from others.”
In a sense, Odom has been running since he arrived on campus in 1969, serving first as a chemistry professor, then as chair of the chemistry department, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics (now Arts and Sciences), provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and, finally, as executive director of foundations. And though he’s retiring from university service in December after 43 years, he’s still got plenty in the tank with plans to do consulting around the country.
“I had offers from other places during my career at USC but never really considered them,” he said. “And I never had ambitions to climb the ladder in higher education; I was content being a professor, but the opportunities to help strategically plan the university’s future were appealing.”
Talk to people who have rubbed elbows with Odom over the years and an interesting portrait emerges. He was:
• a dean who “saw things through to the end. An insider who knew where the problems were and had the integrity to fix them.” — Dan Reger, a 40-year veteran professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry
• a provost who was “even-keeled, calm and thoughtful and matter of fact.” — Joan Hinde Stewart, former dean of USC’s College of Liberal Arts, now president of Hamilton College in New York
• “utterly unpretentious and not impressed with himself — even though he could have been because he won just about every teaching and research award there was to win.” — Bill Hogue, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at USC.
In the 1990s, Odom served on the Future Committee and years later led the Strategic Directions and Initiatives Committee, which brought about substantive and positive change. But Odom’s success wasn’t only about his administrative abilities. Fellow chemistry professor Dan Reger recalled Odom’s mentoring skills with professors and students.
“There were always students around Jerry’s office, wanting to talk to him,” Reger said. “He had a knack for getting students who were struggling to come by his office for help.”
Moore, his former student, put it this way: “He held people accountable in appropriate ways. He would tell you exactly what he thought about something, and you never had to wonder about the veracity of anything he said. His example has been a tremendous influence on me. I grew up a lot working for Jerry Odom. That’s served me well as a parent, as a teacher and as a person.”
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