By Alli Hill
It has been said that behind every great man there is a great woman. The same is true of Union University president Dr. David S. Dockery, husband to Lanese Dockery.
Mrs. Dockery was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 9, 1954. She and Dockery met during elementary school years at a summer camp of Hunter Street Baptist Church, where their families were members. After Dockery’s family moved its church membership, the two were not reunited until they attended the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Dockery led a Bible study, and when Mrs. Dockery arrived on campus as a freshman in 1972, she attended his Bible study and the couple began dating. Dockery transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham during his senior year. The Dockerys were married June 14, 1975, after he graduated from UAB.
Eventually, the couple moved to Louisville, Ky., where Dockery served as dean of the School of Theology and as vice president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In the spring of 1996, the Dockerys and their three sons — Jon, Ben and Tim — moved to Jackson following Dockery’s election as Union’s 15th president in December 1995.
As a mother, Mrs. Dockery ensured her sons adjusted to their new lives in Tennessee. Once they began settling into school and church, she was able to focus on her role as the first lady.
One of her many achievements at the university is founding the Union Auxiliary, an organization that provides scholarships to missionary and international students. Auxiliary members have given more than $360,000 toward scholarship efforts.
“Lanese goes all out to make sure every missionary and international student is adopted by one of the auxiliary members,” said Lisa Morris, director of missionary kid support.
In addition to raising support, Mrs. Dockery also hosts a Christmas dinner each year for the students.
“I love having the missionary and international students for Christmas dinner in our home,” she said. “I bring out my Christmas china, and we tell the Christmas story and talk about the cultures where they are from. (The event) is a highlight for my Christmas.”
Another one of her achievements is graduating from Union in December 2001, with a degree in psychology. Mrs. Dockery graduated one semester before her oldest son, Jon. She said she is a proud member of the class of 2002 Union graduates. Mrs. Dockery has been enrolled in classes on campus and has been involved in other activities such as Klemata, a women’s Bible study each spring. She also teaches an etiquette luncheon to educate students on how to eat a meal in a formal environment.
“It is more about helping you feel comfortable in a setting with lots of silverware in front of you,” Dockery said with a smile.
Rachel Ware, coordinator of church relations programs, has attended the etiquette luncheon and said Mrs. Dockery is “one of the most gracious, warm and caring people I know. Union has benefited on so many levels through her presence.”
Mary Mohler, wife of Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, said she and Mrs. Dockery have been friends for more than 20 years and she considers her to be a role model for women.
“When I think of Mrs. Dockery, I think first of her wonderful smile,” Mohler said. “She is one of those rare people who always seems to be filled with the joy of the Lord.”
Mrs. Mohler said she remembers taking her newborn daughter, Katie, to the Dockerys’ home when they briefly lived in the same neighborhood. Katie is currently a senior history major at Union.
“It was a place of thriving activity with the energy of three young boys,” Mrs. Mohler said. “Lanese always was calm, cool, collected and ready to visit. Her smile was contagious as we shared encouraging conversation that I needed as a new mom.”
Mrs. Mohler said the gracious hospitality of “Mrs. Lanese,” as many students call her, is known to all.
In March, Mrs. Dockery exemplified hospitality by planning and hosting a luncheon in honor of the other two living Union first ladies—Mrs. Joyce Barefoot, wife of Dr. Hyran Barefoot, and Mrs. Mary Jean Craig, wife of the late Dr. Robert E. Craig. The luncheon was held in the President’s Dining Room of the Carl Grant Events Center.
Mrs. Dockery said it was a special time to join the women together for a meal on the university’s campus. She also regularly offers hospitality for numerous Union events like the Union Christmas Open House and the Freshman Ice Cream Event, among several other annual events.
Although she is devoted to her role as the university’s first lady, Mrs. Dockery views her devotion to her husband as her primary role.
After the Feb. 5, 2008, tornado, Mrs. Dockery said she had to make some changes for her husband’s sake.
“I had to (temporarily) shut down hospitality in our house for David to have a place of rest,” she said. “All of our sons came into town the first weekend after the tornado, and we all rallied behind David. My birthday is Feb. 9, and we were able to be together.”
Since the tornado, Mrs. Dockery has been able to reopen her hospitality efforts during the rebuilding of campus. She said one of the biggest jobs she has chosen is writing “thank you” notes on behalf of the university.
To the Union community, Lanese Dockery is that great woman behind the great president, Dr. David S. Dockery.