With an eye for detail, a penchant for hard work and determination to make her way, Judy Fisher has made a lasting impression at Belmont University.
For 20 years, Bob and Judy Fisher have poured so much into the university in the heart of Music City. Judy Fisher has stood by her husband’s side wearing many different hats from organizing events for the university to keeping Bob Fisher humble and on top of his game.
What many people don’t know is that Judy Fisher has also played a role in the sprawling rose gardens, the shiny polished marble buildings and the lush landscape that has earned Belmont beauty accolades.
She is a woman with keen aesthetic abilities and passion for education. On Belmont’s campus, both flourished.
Her familial roots lay deep in Arkansas, where she grew up with four brothers. Fisher constantly had to prove herself around them. This taught her to not fear not being good enough and to just go for it. Whatever it may be.
“ Having four brothers, I never doubted that. If there was something I wanted to do that I could not do it. I always thought I could do that. Yeah, except I can’t be a basketball star,” said Fisher with a laugh.
But every rose has its thorns, and her childhood was not without its hardships.
Judy Fisher’s father died of cancer when she was in college, a disease he battled while she was in high school.
But still, Fisher was determined to grow into the person she has believed she could be from a young age.
She is rightfully proud of the things she did by herself–like putting herself through college. Working at a young age and losing her father only made her stronger — and willing to work harder for what she wanted.
“[My father] had a real estate company. And it took so much of our money and I just worked all my life. And I put myself through school. And I’ve just worked ever since. ” said Fisher.
It was during her high school days that she met her future husband, Bob, who was in one of her classes. They were smitten and became high school sweethearts.
“Judy was absolutely the most kind and caring person I had ever met–plus she was Honor Society smart and Homecoming Queen/Miss Arkadelphia High School beautiful. I was third-string on the men’s basketball team yet she still agreed to go out with me!” said Bob Fisher.
Judy gave Bob a chance, and the rest is history.
“We dated through college. And at the end of college, we got married,” said Judy Fisher.
And like many young women, Fisher had big dreams. Both she and her new husband wanted to get graduate degrees, but Bob Fisher landed a better assistantship in Memphis.
“So, that’s where I went. And then I worked in Memphis. And, gosh, I haven’t thought about these things,” said Judy Fisher, reminiscing.
The young couple worked hard. He had two jobs and got a doctorate and she held her own job as a science teacher. Then, the couple moved to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro where Bob Fisher served as provost.
“And then we started having children. And I knew that I wasn’t going to work as long as the kids were at home,” she said.
Once their children reached school age, both mother and children went to school. The children as students and Judy as a science teacher where she fostered her love for nature and the outdoors with the students she taught.
When Bob Fisher accepted the job as president of Belmont University and the couple relocated to Nashville, Judy Fisher did not abandon her fascination with flora.
Instead, her passion for nature coupled with her unparalleled attention to detail led her to the world of landscaping.
“I’ve always loved gardening. I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve always liked plants, but that’s not my life. Totally. It’s just it was a need and want to me. That’s why I got involved in that part,” said Fisher.
At Belmont, Judy Fisher realized the school needed what she could give.
“And he [Bob Fisher] can’t do everything. I’m working with the interiors, and the landscaping, the furniture. And that was that, it wasn’t hard. Wherever we moved, we would build a house or we were married and some of the plans I drew up myself and I oversaw the building. So, he knew that he wasn’t pushing me into something that I couldn’t do right. And I’ve always worked with the architects and the designers,” said Fisher.
She definitely has an eye for what was asked of her. It is seen throughout campus. If you just take the time to stop and smell the roses.
“As you walk around campus in the lobby of McWhorter, the rotunda of Baskin, the Maddox Grand Atrium, the Ayers Atrium, Harrington Dining and soon, the Belmont Performing Arts Center, and other new spaces you can see Judy’s consistent vision for creating extraordinarily classic and livable space for our students. That same vision is evident in her leadership that has ensured that we have stayed true to the original external architectural style of our numerous new buildings,” said Bob Fisher.
Judy Fisher said she has no regrets standing by her husband’s side for many years. She never doubted that if she wanted to do something she could do it. But, she always had time to tend to the dreams of her partner.
Freshman year of college, both Judy and Bob Fisher had aspirations of running for office in student government. But, it was Judy that pushed him to run for class president.
Although being the class president was also on Judy Fisher’s mind, it wasn’t as big of a deal to her as it was to Bob Fisher.
She encouraged him to chase his dream.
“It’s not a big deal to me. Because when you are doing something like that, it’s a whole lot of work. And I was putting myself through school and working after school and on weekends,” said Fisher.
At Belmont, as the president’s wife, Judy Fisher’s passions were nurtured and given room to grow.
She is more than just the president’s wife.
“Most importantly, Judy is my most trusted advisor. Her wisdom combined with her kind and loving heart provides me with input that has repeatedly helped me to avoid bad decisions when I become frustrated. We have spent thousands and thousands of hours discussing everything from enrollment management strategies to building designs,” said Bob Fisher.
It was her keen eye for the outdoors, gardening and aesthetics that helped Belmont be named among the “50 Most Beautiful Colleges in America” by Architectural Digest.
While she might say that she only “enhanced” the beauty of the campus, it was her painstaking attention to detail that helped transform the campus over 20 years.
“Judy’s day-to-day passion has been to keep her relentlessly sharp eyes focused on creating and maintaining a beautifully landscaped campus that is environmentally sustainable. While the beautiful flowers and trees are clearly visible, what is not as visible is the results of her commitment to the environment which was strongly influenced by our son Rob. The hundreds of deep geo-thermal wells under The lawn that provide low-impact and low-cost heat/air to Johnson was the idea of Judy and Rob. Same for the numerous green roofs that are spread all over campus as well as the solar panel field that has been added to the roof of the Curb Event Center. Ditto for the water-capture pool that uses rain water to irrigate part of our campus, etc,” said her husband Bob Fisher.
And while Bob Fisher is credited with the extensive expansion of the campus — from the new athletic center, to the performing arts center, and several dorms — her subtle touches are there.
“All he’s done is built where he’s been and wherever he goes. He’s a really hard worker. And he knows how to get things done wherever he is,” said Judy Fisher.
This semester marks the last for both Bob and Judy Fisher at Belmont. Both are retiring.
Now, with the luxury of free time, Judy wants to return to her primary focus: her children and lots of grandchildren.
“First, we plan to take a break. For 21 years we have both been obsessed with trying to figure out how to make Belmont better. Although I don’t think this applies to Judy, I’m a bit out of breath. I plan to sleep late. Go fishing. Read. Write,” said Bob Fisher.
“We plan a lot of travel including more time with our grandchildren and, when we’re not traveling, a lot of Belmont music and sporting events. Beyond that, we will be seeking opportunities to serve in yet to be identified roles in our community.”
In her time away from Belmont, Judy Fisher hopes to travel and see her children more. With her dedication to Belmont and with COVID-19, it has been hard to see them often.
And both say they will remember Belmont fondly.
“I know that Belmont is just going to continue to grow and to meet lots of needs for a lot of students.”
“And sometimes I’ll worry about landscaping,” said Judy Fisher.
This article written by Hanley Riggs.