Knoxville’s own Ross Bagwell Sr., a pioneer in the television industry, helped equip the next generation of media professionals through the Bagwell Center for Media and Art at Pellissippi State Community College.
Bagwell, 91, died Nov. 23, 2023, after a storied career that took him from a pageboy at NBC in New York City to his own prolific production companies in Knoxville, creating hundreds of hours of television programming.
His family’s $1 million gift to the Pellissippi State Foundation in 2006 in his honor – the first million-dollar gift to the Foundation – paved the way for Pellissippi State’s Bagwell Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus. The 29,000-square-foot Bagwell Center opened in fall 2007 and houses the college’s media technologies program that includes concentrations in animation, audio production engineering, design for web and print, photography, video production technology and web technology.
“Ross was a kind, loving, generous man. He shared his most precious memories with Pellissippi State, artifacts that are on display in the Bagwell Center tribute exhibit dedicated to him,” said Marilyn Roddy, director of major gift development for the Pellissippi State Foundation. “The exhibit tells his story of vision, courage and a healthy dose of East Tennessee moxie. Ross Bagwell lent his name to Pellissippi State in the hope that Pellissippi State students would also be inspired to follow their dream.”
“At Pellissippi State, we are proud to be able to equip our students for a great future in the workforce,” said President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “The Bagwell Center for Media and Art is considered by industry professionals of the community to be one of the most modern and well-equipped academic facilities in our region. Our faculty who teach in the Bagwell Center are training, empowering and inspiring the future workforce in east Tennessee and beyond.”
Pellissippi State has awarded 1,328 degrees and 1,593 certificates in media technology fields since the Bagwell Center opened in fall 2007. Margaret Ann Jeffries, dean of Engineering and Media Technologies, remembers walking through the building while it was under construction and realizing this building would be different than any other on the Hardin Valley Campus.
“Sixteen years later, there still exists a vastly different energy when one walks in the building – an energy of creativity, exhilaration, transformation and tangible joy. I can imagine it is the same energy that Ross Bagwell took wherever he went,” she said.
“Never was there a time that Mr. Bagwell visited the college and strolled through the halls of the Bagwell Center that he didn’t stop for an impromptu visit into a classroom or two. His enthusiasm and bigger-than-life love of everything media was contagious, and he readily shared it with students. It is this legacy, and his spirit, that will continue to allow Pellissippi State to prepare students to follow in his footsteps.”
“It is hard not to think about the impact of Ross Bagwell every morning when I get out of my car and look across the courtyard to the Bagwell Center,” he said. “I know as we move through the day it will fill with faculty and students looking to learn and learning to tell stories about people and places in east Tennessee.
“My heart fills with pride when I encounter those students as graduates in the industry during interviews or photo shoots. They’ve found a niche in the local economy because Ross Bagwell created a space for them here at Pellissippi State. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in the creations of others for years to come.”
Lesli Bales-Sherrod, public relations specialist, Pellissippi State Community College
Editor’s Note: Mr. Ross Bagwell was Knoxville through and through. Here is Betsy Pickle’s story about his talk to fellow graduates of Knoxville High School. He was predeceased by his wife and son. His daughter is Dee Haslam. A celebration of life will be held Saturday, Dec. 9. Details and his full obituary are here.