A charismatic and passionate professor, Dr. Ed Kimbrell has spent his life improving the education of the students at MTSU. Fresh off of getting his PhD in Missouri, Kimbrell was called on by President Scarlet to begin a journey in which Kimbrell would eventually found the school of journalism as you see it today.
“The mission was to build a department here at mass communication. President Scarlet was a journalism professor at Kent State. He saw what we had here, and in his opinion it was nothing. At the time broadcasting minors and graphics and photography and journalism were scattered across campus with no focus. And so I began with nothing. I began with Prof. Himebaugh, who was with me until he retired. And so it began, two guys, a typewriter, and a telephone over at Jones Hall. I designed the major, and that’s the major you see today, EMC and Journalism.”
Kimbrell decided to do the same thing with the RIM major after seeing how scattered the recording industry major was. “A delegation came to me from Music Row, and they said ‘You know, we have talent at this place coming from all over the country. But where are the educated people of music? We can’t find talent, and I’m not talking someone who can pick and sing. We can’t find talent to manage. We can’t find the talent to lead because we don’t have the people.’ ”
He fondly describes the house on Main Street that he turned into a studio to provide RIM majors with somewhere to record and play. “It was delightful, there was brilliance, there was fun. That thing ran 24 hours a day. They had freedom. It was a terrific time, it was an explosion of creativity. It was a joyous moment for me.”
After the RIM major was established, Kimbrell still hungered for more. He wanted to give journalism, EMC, and RIM majors their own school. “I stepped down in 1981. We were just absolutely overflowing with brilliant students and our facilities sucked. And I said we need a building. And I said the only way I can do that is to leave the directorship and start a campaign to raise some funding.”
So after waiting on the door of Sam Ingram for 4 years, Ingram finally gave him the green light to form the school with John Bragg. “I had befriended a man who would become my mentor and actually my father: John Thomas Bragg. I circumvented everybody. I didn’t go to the board of regents, didn’t go to anybody. I worked directly with John and finally the president said, ’I give up’. Found out later he was scared crapless of Bragg.
“It became a lifetime challenge. We had nothing. Fertile ground but hard ground. Good soil but not great soil, it wasn’t a rich university. You’re living currently in the wealth, but not then.”
Kimbrell shines with true pride and joy as he remembers the opening of the John Bragg Mass Communication building. “I can remember walking in this building, when it was just rising, I stood where they poured concrete. I still have a videotape of when we founded it. Bragg was there and the legislature was there. This entire floor was full of people. It was great, it was a celebration. It got so big that it had to be moved outside for the formal proceedings. John (Bragg) rose to speak and he said ‘This building wouldn’t be here without Ed’. He was unflagging and he never gave up.”
Having led an incredibly full and fruitful life, Kimbrell is truly erudite, someone that cares dearly for the quality of education and on a constant search for further knowledge. “I have only one hobby. I am probably the best read person you’ve ever met on politics and journalism. We have over 1,000 books in the house and I read 4 newspapers a day. I read very widely, I read a lot about religion. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m terrified of it or fascinated. I also mow and garden modestly.”
Ed Kimbrell is a remarkable man of great passion, brilliance, vigor, and kindess, something that shines through to his students and in the accomplishments that he’s made at MTSU.