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The People in the Room: Forever Changed

by Tracy Boatner, ETEC Vice President | September 3, 2021

One year ago this week, my life was forever changed. My father, Carson Sandefur, was Knox County’s COVID-19 death #59. But to my family, he was so much more than a number, statistic, or case count. He was a U.S. Army veteran, daddy, grandpa, husband, and friend. He enjoyed playing golf, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity Restore a few times a week, and serving as an Elder at his church. At age 81, he was still very active, walking three miles and doing 250 push-ups every day. Even after moving to a condo with no yard work, he could often be found mowing an empty lot to keep the neighborhood looking nice. Then, on September 1, 2020, he was gone. Because of the hospital’s COVID restrictions, I was not allowed to see him, hold his hand, or even say, “I love you” before he died.

I am not alone in my grief as I know many, including many in the ETEC family, have lost loved ones during this pandemic. As I write this, the total number of COVID deaths in Knox County is 698. Anderson and Roane Counties add an additional 305 lives lost. Some days the sadness is overwhelming, but we learn how to get through it and move forward. We put one foot in front of the other, but we are never the same. COVID-19 has changed me both personally and professionally. I daresay it has changed us all.

ETEC as an organization has certainly changed. Remember the good ole’ days when officials like Senator Bob Corker came to visit us at ETEC? Two hundred of our closest friends were shoulder-to-shoulder and almost on top of one another so we could see the Senator, shake his hand, and hear about what was going on in Washington. How about the Annual Meetings each December where the tables and chairs were so close together, we dared not get up to visit the restroom because we were afraid that we weren’t thin enough to squeeze between the chairs? Jim, Nicole, and I wonder almost daily if we will ever see those days again.

However, many of the changes at ETEC have been for the better. I remember when playing a video in the room was our biggest technology challenge. Former ORNL Director, Dr. Thom Mason finally gave up on us after a few failed attempts to show an ORNL video with sound during a meeting. Everyone in the room cringed when the Bluetooth speaker loudly announced, “DISCONNECTED -- POWER OFF” that Friday morning when Thom was introducing the video.

Today, I am amazed when I realize that we can Zoom a speaker into the room from anywhere in the world, project her on the screen, and interact with her in real-time. Just think about the potential for accessing world-renowned speakers when the travel barriers are removed. One such speaker, Dr. Vanessa Chan, Chief Commercialization Officer at the U.S. Department of Energy, will be Zooming into the ETEC meeting room on October 1, 2021. We hope you will join us for her presentation.

No one truly knows what the future holds, but this is what we (your friends at ETEC) do know…
  1. We need you to do whatever it takes to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy during this ongoing pandemic.
  2. We miss you (Jim says he misses MOST of you), and we look forward to seeing you again in person when the time is right for you.
  3. We are still committed to convening our members to share information and learn about important issues and opportunities that affect our region.
  4. We will continue our efforts to support the federal missions and to look for opportunities to grow those missions here in East Tennessee.
Looking ahead, we can face this uncertain future knowing that when we all work together, we will do amazing things. Change is inevitable, but we will find a way to move forward and thrive with the help and support of the extraordinary people in this room.
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