Retirements Cut Ties
Between Past and Future

by Eric Gilmore

All good things must end. Time dictates it. The career clock has summoned two of ECU’s most impressionable and faithful employees.

One, a burly man with a low voice and a big heart, has inspired and tutored more than an estimated 4,000 physical education majors during his 39 years in education. The second, a soothing voice in a land of looming deadlines, has become synonymous with her job’s department.

Both Dr. Jimmie Grimsley, associate professor in the exercise and sports science department and Pam Forrest, secretary for media relations and the Pirate Sports Networks are days away from their respective retirements. Though each has served the university in different capacities, they have remained every bit as genuine as the day they arrived. Both epitomize the old southern culture that is dwindling in today’s fast paced society.

“People are different today,” said director of electronic media and 17-year play-by-play voice Jeff Charles. “Pam is old school and Jimmie Grimsley is old school. And those kinds of people, from that generation, are the kind that came to [Greenville] and made their home here. When those people leave, it just never feels like it’s the same.”

In a day where computers are replacing the old fashioned handshake, both Dr. Grimsley and Forrest are about people. To them, relationships trump money and good deeds come naturally. That’s why with their retirements, ECU is losing the last of a dying breed and more importantly two vital links to its past.

Added former ECU baseball coach Dr. Gary Overton, “They will not be forgotten for quite some time.”

Dr. Jimmie Grimsley

Countless students have stepped into Dr. Grimsley’s exercise and sport science office seeking academic advice. What they got, more often than not, was a manual on life.

“He understands students and their needs,” said close friend and colleague Carol-Ann Tucker, director of advising for the College of Health and Human Performance. “He understands the human side of it.”

Saying that students’ personalities haven’t altered much over the course of his career, he’s developed a philosophy rich on relationships.

“My teaching style has evolved,” recalled Dr. Grimsley. “I consider how you teach, how you conduct yourself in class and the impression you make on kids much more important than the content that you deliver.”

The youngest of eight children, Dr. Grimsley grew up on a farm in rural Wilson, N.C. When legendary coach Clarence Stasavich offered a grant-in-aid to play football in 1962, a younger Dr. Grimsley gladly obliged. A self-termed “brief football career,” ensued, but more importantly, the scholarship helped to ensure a college education.

After finishing a four-year undergraduate degree, Dr. Grimsley completed his graduate work in 1967. During the same year, he joined the ECU faculty and was named Head Coach for men’s soccer and tennis. Despite spending 1972 at the University of Georgia to complete his doctoral work, Dr. Grimsley has spent the last 39 years in education.

“Students have always been his No. 1 priority,” said Bill Cain, assistant to the dean of the College of Health and Human Performance and former athletic director.

However, when a student failed to get in gear, Dr. Grimsley sometimes had to deliver some tough love.

“He is old school,” said Jane Moore, department of exercise and sport science secretary. “He’s not a friend to the students, he’s an authority figure. He is type of faculty member that students come to when they have problems. If they need a swift kick, he’d do that.”

Pirate Sports Radio Network color commentator Si Seymour credits Dr. Grimsley with motivating him to complete his graduate degree. Asking how he could repay his professor for his guidance, Dr. Grimsley replied unselfishly to “assist other students.” Seymour parlayed his degree into becoming a head coach for 17 years at Craven Community College. 

“I never forgot that,” Seymour said. “In a world where we’re all looking for the bottom line, Dr. Grimsley only cared about helping students.”

Always a student advocate, Dr. Grimsley doesn’t preach on the holier-than-thou pedestal, but more of a ‘let’s discuss the truth’ approach.

Standing outside of a coaching theory class, a few years back Tucker overheard Dr. Grimsley address yet another batch of students. “I can teach you the way it’s supposed to be, but we’ll close this door and talk about the way it really is,” Tucker recalled while overhearing the 39-year teaching staple.

“I’ve found that teaching, coaching and parenting are all the same,” Dr. Grimsley stated. “As long as you’re firm, fair and consistent, most of the time they’ll live up to your expectations,” said the father of three.

His expertise in officiating, derived from his doctoral thesis, has led to a successful career in operating the scoreboard for both football and men’s basketball games. According to the Dr. Grimsley, he’s missed two football games and only a handful of basketball games since 1970, when he assumed the job.

“I’ve always considered myself one of the officials of the game,” Dr. Grimsley said. “I try to concentrate to get it 100 percent correct. I’m trying to make the [game officials’] jobs easier.”

Whether it’s scoreboard operating or spending time officiating, Dr. Grimsley has immersed himself within the community. Former best friend and colleague George Williams formed a tournament, which he promptly named the Jimmie H. Grimsley Hot Stove Tournament in 1989 to promote local baseball. The tournament, held annually continues to draw some of the region’s best teams.

What satisfies Dr. Grimsley the most is being able to teach second-generation students. And what continues to impress his co-workers is that he can remember details from the parent’s lives. Dr. Grimsley claims that he can remember 75 percent of his student’s names (even 35 years later), which has made a tight knit spider-web network throughout eastern N.C.

But now, retirement is at his doorstep. What he calls a bittersweet experience, in the third year of the Phased Retirement process, Dr. Grimsley carries the burden of being the last connection between ECU’s physical education history and its future.

“With each name that has been phased out, the department has seemed to lose something from the past,” Dr. Overton said, a former Dr. Grimsley student, who is currently the Assistant Athletics Director for Internal Affairs. “With him being the link to the past, that final link probably is gone.”

For a few short days, the limelight is on Dr. Grimsley. With all of the good deeds and years of service, it’s about time.

Pam Forrest
Forrest has dealt with local celebrities and media types throughout her 28-year career. And her pleasant demeanor still hasn’t changed. Through five office moves, nine different bosses and a wave of technology, Forrest has kept her cheerful ways.

“Pam has been the rock of this department for all these years,” Charles said about his trusty office assistant. “She’s seen a lot of people come and go.”

And that’s usually when her job picks up. Whether it’s a coach firing, a player arrested or some wild scandal, she assists the sports information directors in keeping diligent files and making copies.

“The one thing that’s so great about Pam is that she never gets rattled,” Charles said. “Things get hectic around here sometimes and you have all of these press conferences called with coaches being released and all of the other normal day-to-day environment within an athletic department.”

But her experience has helped her to keep rolling with the punches. She learned the lesson early on when her office was relocated from Minges Coliseum to the actual football press box.

“We didn’t have air conditioning up there,” Forrest reminisced. “That first summer was tough. It was so cold in the winter that my typewriter froze.”

Yes, ancient typewriters. Forrest was responsible all the press releases while still filtering interview requests. Her immediate help consisted of two media relations personnel, a temporary and two student workers. But again, she kept her charm.

“She’s always, sometimes to a fault, courteous and has great patience with people,” Charles said. “She’s been a terrific employee of this athletic department for the last 28 years.”

Charged with keeping all of the media relations files in a neat manner and answering phones, she’s seen a revolving door of bosses. With differing opinions on how to approach sports information and media relations, she has survived all nine superiors.

“That’s the great thing about Pam is that you won’t hear her publicly or outwardly criticize anybody,” Charles said. “When you work in an office like this…you have all sorts of egos, she’s been really good at deflecting all of that and just doing her job.”

Even when that means yet another sports information director is hired.

“For someone new, she’s been a wealth of information,” said current sports information director Tom McClellan. “For me, her knowing the ins and outs, every crook and crevice of ECU athletics has been invaluable.”

As her X’s on a small calendar located in her corner office continue to mount, Forrest comes ever closer to her beloved farmland near Grimesland. But as she leaves, so an aura of thoughtfulness and happiness is as well.

“Pam Forrest has been a fixture in media relations,” Dr. Overton said. “She’ll definitely be missed.

Eric Gilmore