Gaye Christy met President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver in 2009 when he first became president at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas.
She was the previous president’s assistant for several years, and when he retired, she didn’t quite know what to expect from her new boss. There wasn’t much time to get to know Oliver until he officially started as president, she said.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking because I didn’t know how to work with this person,” she said. “But when I met him and Susie and Callie, they were just great.”
Christy retired from ETBU in January 2014.
Around that time, Oliver was set to move into presidency at Union University, and he called Christy to ask if she would consider moving to Jackson to work with him again.
“I had lived in Longview, Texas for 20 years,” she said. “We had children there, my husband had his own business there. We thought, ‘This is where our life has been, why change it?’ But God had a different plan.”
Considering their two children were married and had careers in Texas, there was little holding the Christys back from taking on this new adventure, she said.
The couple had no problem settling into life in Jackson. Christy’s husband sold his custom picture framing business in Texas and was able to launch a new one in Tennessee. After 28 years of marriage, she calls him her best friend. Together, they attend athletic, music and art events at what she now calls her second home—Union.
“There are not a lot of people I would move across the country for, but the Olivers are worth it,” she said.
Every morning, Christy starts her day with an 8 a.m. meeting with Oliver. There, they catch up on the previous day’s mail and paperwork, discuss scheduling issues and address plans for his upcoming trips.
Because he is in and out of the office all day, this is one of the few chances Christy has to visit with Oliver. Every day looks different for both of them.
“I’m always putting out fires here and there,” she said. “But as far as routine goes, I really don’t have one. I have a lot of things to do, but no day is ever the same, and that’s what I love about my job.”
Christy has two computer screens on her desk—one of which displays Oliver’s schedule at all times. She manages his calendar and the steady stream of requests for time with the president. She also plays a significant role in planning and facilitating events for several committees: the Foundation Board, Board of Regents and Union Auxiliary, among others.
Because Union is about three times larger than ETBU, Christy said she has more people helping her with the same things she did there. For instance, Union’s communication department has several photographers and graphic designers as opposed to the much smaller staff in her former office.
While she is often working behind the scenes, Christy is perhaps best known for greeting each person that walks through the presidential office with a warm smile and an offering from the bowl of Reese’s peanut butter cups that consistently sits on her desk.
“I love working in a university setting because of the impact we as staff can have on students,” Christy said. “Just by your words and actions you can make a difference, so I try to make it a good difference for anybody that comes through those doors.”
As for working with Oliver, she calls it the “greatest joy” of her life.
When he first came to ETBU, Christy said she told her husband that her life was going to be changed forever.
“What I meant by that was this man literally walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk—he’s the real deal,” she said. “He told me his leadership style was shoulder-to-shoulder, and seeing him live that out, he’s certainly not above anyone else. We’re all in this together.”
Christy said her first impression of Oliver never changed, and she has indeed become a better person because of him. Working with him taught her to turn her focus toward working for the Lord rather than setting out to please man, she said.
“He would never accept credit for this, but just by his example, he really pushed me to that thought,” she said. “I began to examine my own heart and adopted Colossians 3:23 as my life verse. It’s given me a refreshing new view of why I do what I do.”