Carl Colloms (’66)

Category: Accomplished Alumni | Awards

Carl Colloms (’66) wants his scholarships to make differences in lives.
Carl Colloms’s career as a lawyer, judge, and real estate developer began with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2598 in Cleveland, Tennessee. “I owe the start of my college education to a scholarship given to me by the VFW in 1960,” he remembers. “It enabled me to go to Tennessee Wesleyan College and then to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for my law degree.”

Colloms grew up as the next-to-last of 10 children on Carrie and Edgar Colloms’s farm outside of Charleston, Tennessee. He had a twin brother, Clyde Lester, who died at three days old. His father, known as E.T., worked as a foundry moulder in Cleveland and as a custodian at Charleston School and Arnold Grammar School in Cleveland, where Carl went to seventh and eighth grade. “In my law school class, I would probably have been voted least likely to succeed,” he says. “Along with our modest background, no one in my family had ever been to college, let alone law school. We were little country people. But as modest as we were, my father pastored churches. He had a fifth-grade education, but he knew the Gospel, had a gift for preaching, and established some churches. Ones in Bradley County that he started are still going strong. I had a good role model.”
Colloms always knew he wanted to go to law school. “I knew my path,” he says. After graduating from UT in 1966, he was a trial lawyer, served as a Bradley County attorney, and a city judge in Charleston. Starting in 1974, he served as Bradley County judge (now called county mayor). At 32, he was the youngest county judge in Tennessee. He did not run for re-election for the newly created county executive position in 1982 and returned to private practice.

Around that time, he was on a business trip in a Nashville hotel when he saw a sign for a hospitality room. “John Coleman Hayes, Architects and Engineers were there and mentioned, among other things, that they did apartment complexes. I casually mentioned that I had often thought that I woud like to own an apartment complex someday. The next week I had a planner in my office. That snowball started and wasn’t going to stop. I learned so much.” Over time, Colloms & Associates Inc. Property Development and Management built or acquired some 32 apartment complexes totaling about 820 individual units and was involved in the construction of five nursing homes.
In 1987, Colloms was appointed as a child support magistrate for the 10th Judicial District of Tennessee, serving family courts in Bradley, Polk, Monroe, and McMinn counties. He carried out that role for nearly 25 years and retired in 2012. “I didn’t always win my cases before Judge Colloms,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee (Law ’78) at his retirement ceremony. “Sometimes I went back to my office and my client went to jail. But I never left feeling disappointed or that justice was not served.”

Several years ago, Colloms was struck by a Sunday School lesson at the Charleston First Baptist Church on leaving a legacy. “They asked us, ‘Do you want to leave a good legacy? A mediocre one? Or a bad one?’ I thought, what better way to leave a legacy than to help kids get an education?”

He had previously endowed scholarships at Lee University in Cleveland and his alma mater, Tennessee Wesleyan. In 2011, he made an estate gift of $1 million to the UT College of Law. In 2016 he gave $25,000 to add to a scholarship fund at Cleveland State Community College already established for the VFW Post 2598. “I’d like to give deserving local students the same opportunity given to me,” he said.

In early 2019 he gave $2 million to Tennessee Wesleyan, the single largest donation in the college’s history, to help fund the construction of a new campus center, to be named the Colloms Campus Center. “I do seriously feel that it’s a good way to honor my family name,” he said. “We are a family. The building is not going to say the ‘Carl Colloms Campus Center.’ It says ‘Colloms Campus Center,’ and that’s a tribute to my family. I would just hope four or five years from now, to be able to meet someone who has come through Tennessee Wesleyan College with good experiences at the campus center who has made a change in their lives and the lives of their family and those around them.”

In June of 2019, he committed another $1.15 million over seven years to add to his scholarship endowment for UT College of Law students from Southeast Tennessee. This will grow the Judge Carl E. Colloms Scholarship Endowment to one of the largest in college history.

These days Collom works in an office on Wool Lane in Charleston, behind the Dollar General and the abandoned Sonic Drive-In. He moved from Cleveland 15 years ago to be closer to home. “I practice a little law—I’m handling some estates that are pending.” He has a staff of four who manage his real estate holdings, which are down to 10 apartment complexes, plus three he manages for other people.

He also chairs the board of the Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society, for which he gave $50,000 in 2018 to build a new Hiwassee River Heritage Center highlighting Charleston’s history as the site of the federal Indian agency that provided services to the Cherokee. Later, tragically, it was the site of Fort Cass, the US Army headquarters of the Trail of Tears Cherokee removal to Oklahoma, and, later still, a pivotal crossing for troop movements during the Civil War.

As he reflects on his scholarship, he hopes recipients will go on to positions of influence and someday realize “that they were helped by that man from that small town in Tennessee,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if 100 years from now someone said, ‘I couldn’t have gone to UT Law School if it weren’t for this scholarship,’ and wouldn’t it be something if that person turned out to be on a court and cast a deciding vote on an important issue that set the law for the entire nation? That’s why I contributed to Lee University, Tennessee Wesleyan, Cleveland State, and the UT law school.”

On November 2, at the College of Law Homecoming tailgate, Dean Melanie Wilson surprised Colloms with an Accomplished Alumnus Award. “Student scholarships are crucial to the College of Law’s success,” said Wilson, “and we are deeply grateful to Judge Colloms for his incredibly generous support. Scholarships change the lives of our students by reducing the cost of their education and the debt they carry after graduation. Scholarships also allow the law school to attract the best and brightest students.”