“There were so many people at UT with angel wings. People who believed in me before I believed in myself.”
Marshall Ramsey (HCB, ’91) is familiar with uncertainty. He faced it in the past as a cancer patient and survivor, as a cartoonist in the ever-changing media industry and now during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. During each of these experiences he has leaned on his toolkit of skills and knowledge.
A key part of this toolkit is his marketing degree from the Haslam College of Business. The marketing program equipped him with important self-branding skills needed to set him apart as an artist.
“One of the smartest choices I made was that marketing degree,” said Ramsey. “It helped me through many times of change.”
As industries and circumstances evolved, Ramsey has continued to build his brand, adding author, radio program host, educator and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist to his list of accomplishments.
Today, Ramsey is editor-at-large for Mississippi Today, a non-profit media company. His work as a cartoonist is nationally syndicated, appearing in The New York Times, USA Today and The Clarion-Ledger.
Ramsey’s cartoons have expressed the emotions felt by many readers during times of uncertainty. His September 12, 2001 piece showing a crying Statue of Liberty gained the attention of a grieving nation. His artwork celebrating the lives of former First Lady Barbara Bush and former President George H. W. Bush are displayed in George H. W. Bush Presidential Library. Following the recent tornadoes in Middle Tennessee, his cartoon showed the heart of the Volunteer spirit.
Smokey fights fear in this cartoon by alumnus Marshall Ramsey.
In the face of current circumstances, Ramsey’s message comes in part from a philosophy born while visiting his grandparents in Maryville, Tennessee and water skiing with his father on Fort Loudon Lake. After many unsuccessful attempts to ski, Ramsey was upended by a piece of driftwood. His father tossed him the ski rope, and encouraged him to try again.
“My dad said he wanted my story to be about how I got back up, not about how I fell,” said Ramsey. “You have to reframe the story—try to think about what good can come out of this.”
Ramsey said this “grab the rope” mentality has brought him through many difficult moments and gives him reassurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s OK to be afraid. What’s going on right now is scary,” said Ramsey. “We haven’t faced anything like this in our generation.”
While fear is natural, Ramsey said he believes “fighting the fear” will move people forward.
“Try to be in the moment and think about what you can do now,” said Ramsey. “Take care of your family and finances. Make sure the ship isn’t sinking but take care of yourself, too.”
Ramsey encourages “drawing circles outward” and increasingly accomplishing what you can within those circles, including caring for your mental and physical health.
“Don’t look too far out, or it will crush you,” said Ramsey. “Pull yourself out of the waterfall of the news and consider ‘where am I right now, and what can I do to improve the situation around me?’”
This philosophy of positive, focused thinking holds an important place in Ramsey’s toolkit. For current UT students, Ramsey urges them to continue building their own toolkits by looking for opportunities to build new skills.
“Never be afraid to try new things,” said Ramsey. “That’s one of the great things about UT—you can try things, fail and it’s not a total disaster.”
Ramsey said several people encouraged him along the way at UT, from his resident assistant to his academic advisor in Haslam. This helped him build his toolkit by encouraging him to apply for the Daily Beacon as the publication’s cartoonist—a job that ultimately turned into a career for Ramsey.
“There were so many people at UT with angel wings,” said Ramsey. “People who believed in me before I believed in myself.”