At the Top of Their Game

What Keeps These Locals Coming Back Day After Day

These locals have spent their whole lives doing great things. But while some folks look forward to retirement, these men and women are continuing to climb, and they’re passionate about what they do. We asked how they got there, how it feels, and what keeps them coming back day after day.

By Lucy Morris  /  Photography by Emily Long

Gill Jeong, MD

Pulmonologist, Erlanger Pulmonary and Critical Care

 

CS: Did you always want to become a doctor, or were there other professions that interested you when you were younger?

GJ: When I was graduating from high school, I debated between a career in medicine or law. After the Korean War, I had significant health issues. Through this experience, I learned the value of compassion toward sick patients. With gentle, wise counsel from my parents, I was encouraged to seek a career in medicine, which has been a great blessing from the Lord.

 

CS: Have there been any influential people who helped you get to where you are today?

GJ: During my residency training at St. Elizabeth Hospital Northeastern Ohio University of Medicine, I had the privilege of working under Dr. Edward Kessler. I was a fellow under Dr. Philip Bromberg, who became my mentor as well as my teacher. These two teachers engraved in me the pursuit of analytical and logical processing to diagnose and treat patients based on accurate knowledge and pathophysiology of human bodies. When I hit a difficult medical roadblock, I still hear their voices even today.

 

CS: Were there ever times you thought about changing careers or retiring?

GJ: When I was retiring after 40 years of service at Parkridge Medical Group’s Diagnostic Center, my wife and I prayed that God would lead me to the decision to either continue practicing medicine or change my career. The Lord did not waste even an hour to reveal His will – for me to continue practicing medicine. After this revelation, I joined Erlanger Pulmonary and Critical Care.

 

CS: When you look back on your career so far, what are you most proud of?

GJ: When I look back at my career, I am so grateful that I have been blessed with many friends, brothers, and sisters. Since our duty is to help sick patients, rarely we get into contentious situations. I am happy that I did my best to help others as far as this fallen creature may be able. I am also thankful for the quiet but mighty support I have received from my wife, four children, and now six grandsons.

 

CS: What advice do you have for those still looking to find that career they’re passionate about?

GJ: For the younger generations who are still studying and considering their future career options – aspire to find a vocation that will serve people and glorify God, and do your best within that vocation. Look forward, dream, and have a vison. Do not dwell in the past.

 

Photo shot on location at The Lookout Mountain Club

Lindsay Fussell

Dance Teacher, Choreographer, & Director, Chattanooga Theatre Centre & Chattanooga State Community College

 

CS: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

LF: I really wanted to be a movie star when I was younger, and I’ve done a bit of film work here and there. I remember practicing writing my autograph as a kid. It was messy because all the ones I had seen were messy. The arts have just always been part of the fiber of my being.

 

CS: Where has your career taken you over the years?

LF: I’ve been able to go to Brazil to teach and choreograph, to Portugal, where I set a piece for the Lisbon Dance Company. I’ve been to Germany, Italy, Iceland, and South Korea with the Choo Choo Kids. I also toured military bases and taught things like improv and swing dance.

 

CS: Have there been any influential people who helped you get to where you are today?

LF: Oh, I can’t say enough about my mentor, Nancy Lane Wright. She moved to town with her husband in the early ’70s and started Dance Theater Workshop. It was a training ground for artists of all types, and I studied acting, voice, diction, dance, and choreography. It was something my soul was really hungry for, but I didn’t know it until it was available. I’d never experienced anything like that or any force of nature like Nancy. She really changed the face of arts – of dance – in this city, and I wouldn’t be doing what I am today without her influence.

 

CS: What’s it like to see your students go on to do incredible things?

LF: I have so many students who have trained and gone on to do really good things professionally – TV, film, Broadway. That’s special to get to Broadway and see one of your students perform. It’s really satisfying to know you may have been one small part of keeping that creative spirit alive for young people.

 

CS: What keeps you coming back day after day?

LF: It feeds my soul and gives me a sense of purpose, in addition to keeping me physically active. Being able to support myself in the arts is not always an easy thing, but it’s worked for me for many years.

 

CS: What advice do you have for those still looking to find that career they’re passionate about?

LF: You have to listen to that voice inside that’s wanting to get out – that’s telling you what you want to do versus what you think you ought to do.

Mickey McCamish

Executive Director, Friends of the Festival

 

CS: You have quite the resumé! Tell me about your time in the Navy.

MM: You know, it’s funny. My brother, sister, and I have all worked our whole lives. My first job was actually at Engel Stadium selling Coca-Cola products back in the ’50s. But when I was in college at the University of Chattanooga, Navy and Air Force recruiters came to campus and said it was important to start looking at what your niche in life would be – what career path you wanted to take. So, I took the officer candidate exam for both and ultimately selected the Navy, where I had a 27-year career driving destroyers. That was a great career that I’m very proud of. I relive it just about every day because it was such a good fit for me. 

 

CS: From there you spent time with Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday before returning to Chattanooga. Tell me about that transition.

MM: After I retired from the Navy, I was recruited by Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which was working to produce the first PGA senior tour championship. I was there for 16 years before retiring in 2018 and returning to Chattanooga. I think I stayed retired for about 30 days … By 9 a.m., I had already hit golf balls, vacuumed, and taken the dogs for a walk, so I decided to go back to work and joined the Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee as executive director for 10 years. Through that, I was able to create a partnership with Friends of the Festival, where I am now!

 

CS: What does your day-to-day look like?

MM: I still maintain a lot of military habits, so I’m an early riser. I get up at 4 a.m. and come into the office for a bit before I hit the gym at 6 a.m. I’m usually in the parking lot before the staff even arrives to unlock the door. Then after my workout, I head back to the office until closing time so I can have dinner with my wife. After that, I like to read or watch a bit of Andy Griffith.

 

CS: Why work if you don’t have to?

MM: There are several reasons. First of all, my wife would kill me if I was home all the time [laughs]. But also, it enables me to give back to the community that’s given me so much, to be involved, and to stay mentally alert.

Harry Burnette

Founding Partner, Burnette, Dobson & Pinchak

 

CS: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

HB: At the age of 7, I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player, and it was not until a long time afterward that I decided I wanted to practice law. I actually got a teaching certificate out of college because many family members taught, and I thought it was a very honorable profession. I think I accidentally found my niche with practicing law.

 

CS: In your role, you’re giving back to the community. How does that feel?

HB: Well, it’s great. And it’s the reason that I don’t have any retirement aspirations. We represent employees and corporations in cases about race, religion, gender, pregnancy, age – discrimination cases. We do whistleblower cases. In each case, I’ve always felt like I’m representing the aggrieved party and doing the right thing. We take cases that we believe in and that we believe deserve justice.

 

CS: When you look back on your career so far, what are you most proud of?

HB: I’m personally proud of several things. I’ve been fortunate to win several million-dollar jury verdicts. I have been elected to the American College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, which is the most prestigious employment lawyer organization in the country. I am the only lawyer in Middle or East Tennessee that has been elected to the college who represents injured employees. I have been named the Best Labor and Employment Lawyer for the entire state of Tennessee by Best Lawyers in America. I have received the highest rating of “AV” by Martindale-Hubbell for 30 consecutive years. This is an especially nice award since it is an election by lawyers and judges that is based on both skill and ethics. My personal “greatest, greatest” honor was being elected to the Blount County-Maryville College Wrestling Hall of Fame.

 

CS: What keeps you coming back day after day?

HB: I think it’s a real joy representing people. Sometimes they come in and just literally have no hope at all. When we’re able to help them – and not every day is flawless – but most days, you really feel like you’re doing something that’s positive.

 

CS: What advice do you have for those still looking to find that career they’re passionate about?

HB: I think it’s important to find something that you enjoy and are proud of. Unfortunately, I run into so many people who are unhappy with whatever it is they’re doing. I think if you find something you want to do, you fight for it. It’s not ever guaranteed, but it’s worth taking a swing at getting that dream job.

Virgil McGee, Sr.

Owner, Live & Let Live Barber Shop

 

CS: How long have you been in the industry?

VM: I was born in the industry. I came out cutting in the barber shop! My father was a barber, and my parents lived in the barber shop. So, I grew up in the industry, but didn’t spend my whole career here. After high school, I studied accounting at Tennessee State University. After graduating, I sent out my resumés but received no replies, so I decided I would join the military. I went into the Navy and advanced to the rank of Commander, and then retired after more than 22 years as Commander. I came back in ’79, which is when I started the barber shop up again.

 

CS: What do you love most about being a barber?

VM: I love having close communications with other individuals. These customers can become friends. I get to hear quite a bit!

 

CS: What does your day-to-day look like?

VM: I come in about 9 a.m. and stay until around 5 p.m. I have some regular customers who I’ve had through the years, and I pick up new customers as well.

 

CS: What keeps you coming back day after day?

VM: I have been told six days for labor, and on the seventh day, rest. So, I work six days and remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. As long as I’m able to work, I will work and go to church on Sundays.

 

CS: When you look back on your career so far, what are you most proud of?

VM: In the Navy, one of my commands was starting an ROTC program at Savannah State College. Two of my students who graduated from the time I was there made terrific gains. One chose to go into the Marine Corps. He advanced to the rank of Major General and became the Commanding General of the forces in Iraq and Iran during the war. Another one of my students stayed in the Navy, flew airplanes with the Blue Angels, and became Commanding Officer of the Blue Angels. I’m also proud of my marriage. I met my wife in college, and we have been married for 63 years!

 

CS: What advice do you have for those still looking to find that career they’re passionate about?

VM: I would tell them to examine themselves and determine what they like to do best, and then give it all they’ve got.

Robbie Morgan

Special Education Teacher, Brown Middle School

 

CS: How long have you been teaching?

RM: Well, I’ve retired from Hamilton County, then retired from Whitfield County, then put in an application to be a substitute but was brought back on full-time, and that was six or seven years ago. This month, I’ll begin my 49th year!

 

CS: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

RM: The thing is, I’ve always loved school. School has always been – and I tell my students still – school is my happy place. I work with students who don’t like school, their parents don’t like school, it’s been a negative experience. My goal is to change their mindset. If they say, ‘I can’t do that,’ I say, ‘You can’t do that yet.’ I want school to be a happy place for them too.

 

CS: What’s it like to see your students go on to do incredible things?

RM: I got a call in March from the grandmother of a student I had taught back in elementary school. She was calling to let me know her grandson, who was finishing up 6th grade, had made the honor roll. That was monumental because when I had him in 3rd grade, he couldn’t read. I was able to work together with his other teachers to help and encourage him, and to get the call that he had made it on his own and was doing his own work, it was really fantastic.

 

CS: What keeps you coming back day after day?

RM: It’s all about the children and seeing that they get the best education possible. I can’t solve all of the problems, but I can work with one student at a time, throughout my day, throughout the years, and I know I can help them and provide opportunities for them. I had a student one day come to me and say, ‘Ms. Morgan, you’re just like my grandma.’ And I said, ‘You know what, I bet your grandmother loves you.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, she does.’ And I said, ‘I love you too,’ and she just grinned.

 

CS: What advice do you have for those still looking to find that career they’re passionate about?

RM: You have to find something you enjoy – the amount of money you make is beside the point. If you can pull out of your driveway each day and enjoy where you’re going, that’s what matters.

Bernie Barker

General Manager, Bahakel Communications Chattanooga

 

CS: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

BB: I wanted to be in radio. I wanted to be on the radio. That’s how it all started. My first job in the industry was playing DJ one night a week from 8 o’clock to midnight when I was in the 8th grade. It just grew from there. I worked at a local radio station while I was in high school and in college at Auburn. I took a job with a company that owned several stations after college where I started as an announcer. My boss said, ‘I don’t think anyone is gonna remember the name Bernard; how do you like Bernie?’ and I said, ‘That’s got a ring to it!’ So, I’ve been Bernie ever since.

 

CS: What does your day-to-day look like?

BB: The old adage is, ‘You use it or lose it,’ so I choose to hang on to mine. I’m in the office about 7 o’clock every morning and here ‘til about 5. There are an awful lot of moving parts in the business, so I’m overseeing everything from the promotions department to the programming, engineering, and sales departments.

 

CS: When you look back on your career so far, what are you most proud of?

BB: Following an upward trajectory and staying interested and challenged. I guess I picked the right field! I was also able to serve as the national chairman of the Nielsen Radio Advisory Council, which is an elected group of broadcasters to represent their interests to Nielsen in the Audience Research process.  It was a great experience to go behind the scenes and understand the process as it unfolds. It was also quite an honor to serve as president of three different state Broadcasters Associations over the years – the Alabama Association, Georgia, and most recently, the Tennessee Association.

 

CS: What keeps you coming back day after day?

BB: A basic love for the industry I’m in, which not only includes the challenges of marketing and driving audience to our radio stations, but assisting advertisers in successfully driving customers to their businesses. Add to that my basic love for music, and it’s a pretty good combination. I like it all … from Sinatra to Elton John to Boston, Journey, and AC/DC. Music is a very emotional and powerful thing.

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