East Tennessee State University

Retirees Association (ETSURA)

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Grace Leab

Genie Dossett Matthews, daughter of President Dr. Burgin E. Dossett, recalled a story about her brother, Tom, who was a freshman at the university the year the family moved to town.

“Tom could be the charmer of all charmers,” Matthews said. “He would flirt with Grace Leab, who taught English, playing up to her and figuring that he was just going to zip through her course.”

One day, Miss Leab was at a party at the president’s home and said, “Mrs. Dossett, I love having Tom in my class. He is the most precious, beguiling student I have ever had. He rolls those big blue eyes, and it just makes me want to melt.

“However,” she continued, “I want you to tell him that if he doesn’t start studying, he is going to flunk my course.”

Tom got the message, quit rolling his eyes so much, and managed to pass – barely, Matthews said.


Joan Dressel, the former assistant dean of women, remembers visiting Miss Leab’s home and discovering that sheets of paper covered the floor. They were the galley proofs of the university catalog, which she was editing.

“That must be a deadly job,” Dressel said.

Miss Leab replied in her quiet, ladylike voice: “No, it isn’t so bad. I correct the mistakes that the faculty has made in course descriptions and the academic department heads have made.

“Then I send it to the print shop. They return it, and I have a whole new set of errors to correct. Then, with a comma here and a period there, our catalog is as good as anyone’s.”


Another story Dressel remembers about Miss Leab concerns a young man from the area who had taken her English class and flunked it, and then took it again with her and flunked it a second time. Then he was shipped out to Vietnam.

One day she looked up and there he was in her class.  After telling him how happy she was to see that he had safely returned, Miss Leab said, “But I was wondering. I think perhaps you ought to take your English course with someone else.

“You have already tried this twice and you didn’t do well.  Maybe I’m not getting across to you the things that I need to, and someone else might be able to do it.”

The young man rose and put his arm around her shoulders as if to comfort her. “Ah, Miss Leab, you are as good as any of them,” he said.


Dr. James Pleasant still cringes as he recalls an incident that occurred when he was graduate coordinator and Dr. Donald Sanderson was assistant graduate coordinator in the computer and information sciences department.

One day, Pleasant heard Sanderson say, “Oh, my God, no!” and asked what was the matter.

He discovered that Sanderson was reading a copy of a letter that had been sent by the dean of the graduate school to a prospective student in India.  The last sentence said, “And the usual Blah, Blah, Blah.”

The dean hadn’t realized that his new secretary was not aware that his usual closing sentence in such letters said something like, “We look forward to hearing from you and to receiving your transcript” The “blahs" were a signal to use the standard ending.

No doubt, the letter had been sent to a number of foreign students.


Pleasant also has vivid memories of the days when students would stand in line to pick up course cards during registration. The cards then were turned in to the central record-keeping area so that the numbers enrolled in courses could be controlled.

During one registration period, an unusually long line formed in front of a particular table in the mathematics department where cards for the course abbreviated in the schedule book as “Stat, Relations and Function” were being given out.

Come to find out, a misprint had denoted the course as “Sex, Relations and Functions.”




"Tales of the University" is a regular column provided by the ETSU Retirees Association about the university and the people associated with it through the decades.  Faculty, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to share their memories of ETSU with the Retirees Association for consideration for future columns.  Stories, comments and suggestions may be sent to Dr. Willene Paxton, chair of the Tales of the University committee, 1203 Lester Harris Road, Johnson City, TN 37601, or willenepj@charter.net.

Mailing Address:  Office of Human Resources
ETSU Box 70564
Johnson City, TN  37614-1707
Telephone:  423-439-4457
Fax:  423-439-8354
TDD:  423-439-4710

Office Hours:  8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. E.S.T. Monday - Friday
Office Location:  Rooms 307 and 311, Dossett Hall

Updated on 09/07/10