COLUMBIA — As he stood in the Jesse Hall rotunda at MU on Wednesday to announce his retirement, Chancellor Brady Deaton invoked the name of Mark Twain who, he said, stood in front of the same lectern in 1902 and had a "comfortable feeling" as he bade farewell to colleagues and friends.
Twain was accepting an honorary degree from the university, according to the State Historical Society of Missouri.
Deaton was announcing that he will leave MU after more than 30 years in higher education.
"Things have never looked better," he said with a tremble in his voice as his wife, Anne Deaton, sat in the front row fighting tears.
Deaton will continue to serve as chancellor emeritus with a focus on international development. His retirement is effective Nov. 15. He is MU's 21st chancellor and has served in the role since Oct. 4, 2004.
MU faculty and staff filled the rotunda for the announcement. Anne Deaton, who has been active in the MU community, hugged friends and colleagues before her husband came out to speak.
The news conference began with a moment of silence in honor of longtime Columbia educator Eliot Battle, who died Tuesday night, and Roger Mitchell, former dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources who died June 5.
Deaton described his childhood in a remote area of eastern Kentucky, where he was raised as one of nine children.
"The 4-H Club was the window upon which I saw the future of my world," Deaton said. "It led me to an education that has brought me to this point, and I am very thankful for that."
Deaton, 70, has been at MU since 1989, where he began as a professor and chair in the Agricultural Economics Department. He moved to the administrative side of MU in 1993, when he was appointed chief of staff in the Office of the Chancellor. In January 1998, he was appointed interim provost and was officially named provost permanently in October of that year. He served in that role until he was named chancellor in 2004.
During his nine years as chancellor, MU grew rapidly. Enrollment increased by 28.7 percent, and 21 new buildings opened.
He talked about his pride in the teamwork at MU that made accomplishments possible in tough financial times.
"It did not happen quickly," Deaton said. "There was success in planning and an absence of crises."
Deaton was also a central figure in MU's transition to the Southeastern Conference in 2011. In a letter posted on the Mizzou Tigers website Wednesday afternoon, Athletics Director Mike Alden praised Deaton's "visionary" leadership and the role he and Anne Deaton have played in creating opportunities through their support of athletics as the "front porch" of MU.
"Whether it was the transition to the SEC, whether it's been the growth in our facilities, our academic accomplishments, our competitive achievements, whatever that may have been, he's touched all facets of our program in a transformational way," Alden wrote.
But Deaton's tenure has not been without rough spots, two of them in relation to MU's basketball program. In March 2006, then-UM President Elson Floyd asked Deaton to look into Quin Snyder's departure as basketball coach. His findings left questions unanswered, and Floyd, under pressure from several members of the UM Board of Curators, asked for an independent investigation.
Five years later, in 2011, Deaton had to walk back remarks he made at a curators' meeting that left the impression MU administrators knew about allegations of recruiting improprieties by Frank Haith at the University of Miami before he was hired to coach the Missouri men's basketball team. (Haith and others involved in the Miami allegations are scheduled to appear before an NCAA panel during hearings Thursday through Saturday in Indianapolis.)
On Wednesday, the focus was on Deaton's accomplishments.
"Selfishly, I'm sad he'll be stepping down," said UM System President Tim Wolfe, who was on hand for the announcement. "Chancellor Deaton was a gracious adviser and greater friend."
Wolfe said finding a worthy successor would be his top priority. "Finding someone of Deaton's stature and strengths will not be easy," he said.
Deaton talked about his proudest accomplishments during his time as chancellor, which included creating a team of outstanding faculty and finding strong donor support through record-breaking fundraisers.
"This has been a wonderful experience for my family, for my own personal growth and understanding of the world of higher education in society," Deaton said.
He said he plans to focus on the university's international development and will remain a chairman for the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, where he has served since being appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in 2011. Other plans for the future include some time at New York University, where he has a close relationship with John Sexton, the 15th and current president.
"I have a lot of things to think about that are very exciting," Deaton said. "Big ideas, shall we say."
Deaton said he was looking forward to having more family time and seeing his seven grandchildren more often. He told the crowd that he and Anne Deaton had celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.
Anne Deaton has been active on campus in various groups and works part time at the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, the MU College of Education and the Sinclair School of Nursing. It wasn't clear whether she intended to continue in those roles.
Deaton said he and wife will continue to live in Columbia.
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