Nashville Mayor Reflects on Campus, Basketball, and a Beloved Professor

Nashville Mayor David Briley

Nashville Mayor David Briley (C’88) has a political pedigree that led him become the city’s top leader. A longtime Metro councilman at large, he was elected vice mayor in 2015, becoming interim mayor a year later. In May, he was elected to his own term as mayor.

Briley’s resume in government and law began in large part when he was a student at Georgetown. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and would later earned a J.D. at Golden State University in San Francisco.

Nashville-based journalist William Williams spoke with Briley regarding his time as a student. The brief exchange had the mayor recalling campus sites, Patrick Ewing (C’85), and the late Keith Fort, a legendary English professor.

David Briley, circa 1984

Why did you choose Georgetown?

In 1982, students didn’t apply to multiple schools like they do these days. I only applied to Georgetown and Vanderbilt. But because I really wanted to get out of Nashville and spread my wings—and because I was interested in politics and Washington, D.C.—Georgetown seemed like the place to be. I wish I could say it was a more thoughtful process, but it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.

Did you have a favorite campus building, green space, or interior space?

I was a frequent visitor to the Healy Pub on campus (in the basement of Healy Hall). And it’s hard to forget my first-year experience in Harbin Hall. I lived there my freshman year and remain close friends with guys I met that year; I saw one of them in New York in March and visited another in San Francisco last year.

What was it like being a student when the Hoyas won the 1984 national title in men’s basketball?

I was a fan. Everybody was. My freshman year (1982-83), I went to see some games. Back then, it was a 45-minute bus ride to the arena. One of my friends, Pete Arian (C’86), was a manager of the team for at least one year when Patrick Ewing played. Patrick visited a group of us for a party. I don’t remember how we celebrated after we won the title—but it was a big deal.

Was there a professor who influenced you more than others?

I had an English professor named Keith Fort. He was born in Chattanooga, so we had a shared personal background. He was a great help to me and took a personal interest in my academic work and success. Professor Fort helped me figure out what I wanted to do. He is the kind of professor every Georgetown student should hope for: both caring and intellectually capable. He died in 2004 at age 71.

David Briley, 2018

If you could, hypothetically, return to 1982 as an 18-year-old Georgetown freshman, what would you do differently during your time at the university?

I would study more. It took me some time to understand the benefit of building relationships with professors and I wish I learned that earlier. I didn’t fully appreciate how they could help. If I were a student now and understood that benefit, I would be stronger both academically and personally.

Was there any Georgetown experience that—though you would never have known at the time—helped mold you in such a way that has been beneficial in your role as Nashville mayor?

I got to go on a six-week program to Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in Quito, Ecuador, and I learned to speak Spanish. It led me on a path traveling in Latin America and gave me an opportunity to experience and understand that part of the world. It also gave me a perspective on the privilege of being American, and the Spanish I learned has proved helpful as mayor.