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Kentucky home

UK alumni Brady and Anne Deaton remember their roots

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  • Story by Karen Pojmann
  • Video by Shane Epping
  • Published: Oct. 22, 2012

Homecoming is always a big to-do for Mizzou’s first family: brunches, house guests, parading through downtown Columbia in the back of a decked-out convertible.  But the 2012 Homecoming celebration, Mizzou’s first since joining the SEC, takes on a special significance for the Deatons. This year home is coming to them.

Both MU Chancellor Brady Deaton and his wife, professor Anne Deaton, are alumni of the University of Kentucky, Mizzou’s rival in the 2012 Homecoming game. Brady Deaton, a Kentucky native, earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a master’s degree in diplomacy from UK. Anne Deaton, a Brooklyn New Yorker who spent her teen years in Lexington, earned a bachelor’s degree in English there. 

Though afflicted with a soft spot for UK, both have been devoted Tigers for 23 years. As Anne Deaton puts it: “We’ve got black and gold and blue and white, and our hearts are big enough to go around all those colors.”

Moving mountains

By any measure, the historic Residence on Francis Quadrangle is a long way from the Appalachian abodes where Brady Deaton grew up, with neither plumbing nor electricity. A day spent manning the helm of a flagship research university or jet-setting to international-policy consortia is a far cry from one spent studying at a two-room schoolhouse or milking cows on the mountain farm that yielded the family’s food supply. In some regards, though, little has changed at the core of Deaton’s life. His perspective and his notion of “home” may have grown, but his lifelong passions — global affairs, agricultural economics, community service, insatiable intellectual curiosity — remain intact.

So do the Deatons’ Appalachian roots. The region is still inhabited by members of the couple’s sizable families (Brady Deaton was one of nine children, and Anne Deaton was one of five), and service to rural Eastern Kentucky long has been a family affair. Even before she met Brady Deaton, Anne Deaton (then Simonetti), while a student at UK, spent two years of Saturdays and one full summer as an Appalachian volunteer, working to help low-income communities. For the city girl, culture shock was unavoidable — and, it turned out, invaluable.

“When I met Brady I had already been steeped in the Appalachian culture, which was very insulated at that time,” she says. “I always felt that God really had a hand in our coming together because our two worlds were so different.”

Once married, the couple returned to the mountains to do more volunteer work. Years later, following in his parents’ footsteps, one of their four children, Brady Deaton Jr., worked on economic development and water resource projects in the region before earning a Ph.D.— in agricultural economics, of course.

Wildcat country

Along with volunteer work and challenging coursework, Brady Deaton immersed himself in extracurricular undertakings at UK: the 4-H club, the Patterson Literary Society, a job at the dairy barn. In 1965 he won the National Collegiate Dairy Judging Contest. “This impresses a girl from Brooklyn,” Anne Deaton notes.

Reminiscing about their college years, the Deatons recount spontaneous touch-football games, impassioned debates and gingko-tree-filled botanical-garden strolls.

“The University of Kentucky was a very exciting university at that time, and it still is,” Brady Deaton says. “It was very intellectually oriented, very globally oriented, and classes were fun. Everybody was interested in working together, learning more.”

Where the heart is

The same university that tied the Deatons to their home state also fed their wanderlust.

Deaton, a 4-H member since age 10, had long been lured by the promise of foreign travel and hoped to get in on 4-H’s International Farm Youth Exchange Program. Instead he found himself in a brand-new program called the Peace Corps. He spent two years in Thailand and was hooked. 

Once back at UK, Deaton took part in a YMCA work camp project in which students built schools in Bogota, Colombia. Deaton was well-equipped — with skills he learned from his father, a carpenter and bricklayer. The presence of Americans aroused suspicion in Bogota, and a local newspaper reporter accused the student volunteers of spying for the CIA; the group responded by inviting him to a debate. Again, Deaton was well-equipped — with skills he learned in UK speech contests. (Cowed, the reporter printed a retraction.)

The next YMCA trip proved even more exciting. Deaton, then in graduate school, was asked to lead a group of students on a community-development mission to Ecuador. Among the prospective participants attending the information meeting was UK undergraduate honors student Anne Simonetti.

“Brady was on stage talking to students, and he was saying ‘Make your life count. Have the courage of your convictions. Live the change,’” she remembers.

Inspired, she signed up for the life-altering excursion, but before they could go, Brady Deaton had to win over his future in-laws.

“Anne’s mother grabbed me by both arms and said, ‘You take good care of my daughter this summer,’” he recalls. “I did. And she’s been taking good care of me ever since.”

Global citizens

For Brady Deaton and many of his contemporaries, international consciousness was an intrinsic component of education and conversation.

“I still remember many soldiers coming home from World War II. I remember the Korean war very vividly,” he says. “In the small community I was in, when neighbors got together, discussion about global affairs was very common, really. We had a draft for young men, and that made you very aware of what was going on in your world and very concerned and interested in it because literally your life depended on it.”

Once the Deatons had acquired master’s and doctoral degrees and settled into careers — and their four children had settled into school — globetrotting became a regular event.  In the past 30 years professional activities have taken one or both Deatons to countries including Hungary, Kenya, Jamaica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Haiti, Zambia, Estonia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Bulgaria, Korea, Russia, Thailand and Belgium. This list omits leisure travel and visits to family members, such as their son Tony Deaton, a public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Windhoek, Namibia, or their son David Deaton, who worked in Hong Kong for four years before moving back to Virginia.

Naturally the pair passed along their world view to their children, who have traveled abroad, worked abroad and participated in organizations such as the Peace Corps. Their daughter, Christina Deaton Demarea, has sparked American kids’ interest in international travel, taking the Chicago Children’s Choir on tours to Europe and Japan.

The seed was planted early. When the Deaton kids were growing up, a houseful of international students was commonplace.

“They just assumed that the world was theirs and there was a very big family out there that they could be part of,” Anne Deaton says.

Open house

The Deatons’ enthusiasm for hosting visitors continues in their current home, the Residence on Francis Quadrangle in the heart of the MU campus.

“We have been able to open the residence for so much hospitality for students, faculty and staff,” Anne Deaton says. “This is really becoming a house that embraces everyone and celebrates them, celebrates our supporters. And everyone loves to come here; that’s very heartwarming for us.”

Often visitors include former faculty and alumni from the University of Kentucky with whom the Deatons have maintained close ties. In 2003, for example, friend and former UK yearbook staffer Sam Abell, a renowned documentary photographer who worked for National Geographic for 30 years, stopped by Mizzou to give a talk at the School of Journalism and attend the Corps of Discovery Opera.

“We sat up almost all night talking about affairs of the world and what we were all doing,” Brady Deaton says.

Earlier this year they welcomed acclaimed dairy cattle geneticist Robert Walton, who was Brady Deaton’s first adviser at UK, and a friend and mentor when Deaton was in graduate school in Wisconsin, and Tony’s godfather. Working on his memoir, Walton stopped in Columbia to meet with fellow animal scientists on the Mizzou faculty and stayed overnight in the residence. 

“Robert Walton is a wonderful man who brings honor to the University of Kentucky and also happens to have this link to the University of Missouri,” Brady Deaton says.

For Homecoming week, the house will be packed. Anticipated guests include two of the Deatons’ children and their spouses, five of their seven grandchildren, Brady Deaton’s brother and cousin and their spouses, and their son-in-law’s parents.

A high point is the parade. “It’s wonderful to see the adulation of the public toward the university — the streets being lined with crowds of people,” the chancellor says. “As we go in the parade, people are shouting our names,” his wife adds. “It’s a wonderful, close, exciting feeling.”

And at game time? “I’m going to be rooting hard,” Brady Deaton promises, “for the University of Missouri.”

Read more in:  On CampusFamily & CommunityArts & CultureBeyond Campus

Reader feedback

  • Thank you so much for creating this piece for the MU homepage. The Deatons are remarkable people, perhaps MU's greatest asset. This view of their history explains how they can be so loyal to MU, such wonderful leaders of our campus and its life at all levels, and so kind and friendly while being so important in the larger sense. Dr. Deaton is one of a few rare U.S. administrators today who truly cares about his institution at least as much as, and perhaps more than, his own career.  He and Mrs. Deaton are, and deserve to be, very much appreciated.

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Last updated: Nov. 5, 2012