If Marshall Ramsey were to draw a cartoon about his time at UT, he’d doodle a picture of himself sitting with his dad in Neyland Stadium watching his first UT football game in 1980. It was the moment he knew he wanted to be a Volunteer.
Tennessee lost to Georgia that day, mostly because of the Bulldogs’ freshman running back, Herschel Walker.
“But as far as I care, I had won. I knew where I wanted to go to school. And six years later, I did,” Ramsey said.
Today, Ramsey is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist whose cartoons are syndicated nationally and whose artwork, stories, and posts are frequently shared on social media.
Some of his cartoons have captured national attention.
His cartoon of a crying Statue of Liberty conveyed the country’s sorrow on September 12, 2001.
His obituary cartoons of former First Lady Barbara Bush running to embrace her daughter in heaven and former President George H. W. Bush landing his World War II aircraft in heaven went viral. They also brought public praise and thanks from Today show contributor Jenna Bush Hager, the Bushes’ granddaughter.
Ramsey got his cartooning start at UT, working at the Daily Beacon.
“I like to say that UT gave me an education and the Daily Beacon gave me a career,” he said. “My resident advisor encouraged me to try out, and I did. The rest is—as the cliché goes—history.”
During his days at the Beacon, Ramsey contributed cartoons five days a week. It was a demanding schedule that taught him discipline and how to take criticism.
“I would come in at 2 p.m., draw a cartoon, work in production, and usually get home around 10 p.m. So the Daily Beacon taught me time management, too.”
Ramsey said Faye Julian, longtime UT faculty member and former dean of the College of Communication and Information, was the most influential teacher he ever had. She pushed him in ways he’d never been pushed before.
“One day, she was passing out graded tests and when she put mine down on the desk, I saw a big red 95. I was thrilled; it was an A. . . . But she looked me in the eye and said, ‘You can do better.’
“I thought, ‘Who is this person?’ But, you know what? I did do better. She believed in my talent before I did and told me I was going to have a great career.”
Another UT moment he’ll never forget was a chance meeting with Pat Summitt in Arena Dining.
Ramsey said Summitt was sitting by herself when he walked in to grab some lunch.
“She saw me and called me over and started bombarding me with questions about myself. I told her about myself and that I was the cartoonist for the Beacon. She said she was a fan of the cartoons I had done about the Lady Vols’ championship.
“I told her about my dream of becoming a cartoonist. She looked at me with her famous glare and asked, ‘What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve it?’ She took interest in me, a lowly student. I will forever love her for her kindness and for that question.”
After Ramsey graduated from UT he struggled to find media work, so he signed on as a janitor at a high school in his hometown of Marietta, Georgia. While it wasn’t his dream gig, it had a rich payoff: someone he met at the school introduced him to his wife, Amy.
Within a couple of years, Ramsey landed a job at Copley News Service in San Diego, California, where he worked for two years.
After returning to Mississippi, he went to work for the Jackson Clarion Ledger in 1996. In 2018—22 years and 7,000 cartoons later—he left that job to become editor-at-large of Mississippi Today, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news and media company.
Ramsey has stayed close with his alma mater over the years, too.
He’s spoken at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and served as a panelist during Social Media Week.
In 2009, he did a cartoon celebrating the conclusion of Where in the World is Smokey? a global photo challenge that promoted UT’s Ready for the World initiative.
In 2011, UT honored Ramsey with an Accomplished Alumni award. And this year, he was honored with the Alumni Professional Achievement Award.
In 2014, he drew an original cartoon for the College of Communication and Information and presented it to the CCI Board of Visitors. That cartoon depicted all of the college’s deans over the years, including his beloved Faye Julian.
“Her memory was fuzzy and slipping at that point, but she smiled when she saw me,” Ramsey said. “I always try to do better because of her.” Julian died in 2018 at the age of 81.
In 2014, Ramsey summarized his feeling about UT in a post on his website:
“I wish I could line up my professors, resident assistants, coworkers, advisors, teaching assistants, and friends on the 50-yard line and have everyone in Neyland Stadium give them a standing ovation. They earned it,” he wrote. “Not only did I learn in the classroom, I learned at the Daily Beacon, in Greve Hall, in a small bar on the Strip (where I occasionally played harmonica), and in the library. Each person and place I encountered made me better in a different way. My five years in Knoxville shaped me and gave me the skills I needed to achieve professional success. I always tell people that I got just as much of an education outside of the classroom as I did in it. That’s the beauty of college. It’s a giant laboratory where you can try, fail, and work your way to success.”