Thomas L. Christenbery, 66, professor of nursing and director of program evaluation at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, died unexpectedly in his sleep February 16. The popular professor was legendary for his friendliness, wit, kindness and encouraging nature. In his two decades at Vanderbilt, he taught and mentored hundreds of students and colleagues, encouraging them to reach for new possibilities.Son of Wilson and Lela Stewart Christenbery, Tom was born in Michigan but grew up in Kentucky. He earned a BS in nursing from Murray State University, a MS in nursing from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in 1988, and a PhD in nursing science from Vanderbilt in 2004. He started his nursing career at Nashville's Park View Hospital before moving to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he worked in pediatrics and as a nurse manager. He joined Tennessee State University School of Nursing as an assistant professor in 1989 and taught for nine years before returning to Vanderbilt.Vanderbilt School of Nursing Dean Linda Norman said, "Tom left a mark on everyone he encountered with his friendly smile, quick wit, compassion for all, deep thinking and love for nursing. He forged warm bonds with colleagues and students alike. We will deeply miss him and grieve his loss."
Tom taught in Vanderbilt's prelicensure, master's and doctoral programs. His focus was teaching, research and scholarship endeavors related to evidence-based practice. He authored papers and a textbook on the subject.He was active in school leadership and activities, particularly diversity initiatives. He helped found VUSNPride, an LGBTQ+ student group which he served as faculty adviser. He founded and advised the Middle Tennessee/Vanderbilt chapter of the American Association of Men in Nursing. He was instrumental in recognition the School of Nursing received twice as a Best School for Men in Nursing and for the school being named a National League for Nursing Center of Excellence. He received a variety of teaching and mentoring awards from students and Vanderbilt.Tom recently announced his retirement from VUSN, effective at the end of the academic year. "I feel as if I have been at a long, delicious, and satisfying meal and now it is time to push my chair back from the table," he wrote several friends and colleagues. "Nursing has been a nourishing career and a wise choice for me."Predeceased by his immediate family, he is survived by his husband, David Frese, BA'66, and several generations of nieces and nephews. A memorial service is not planned.