Alumni Spotlight

Tommy Chamberlin '96

By: Whitney E. Copley, '08
October 02, 2013

As an adolescent growing up in Kimper, Ky., Tommy Chamberlin had one thing on his mind: baseball. Upon graduation from Johns Creek High School, he realized his dream of playing collegiate baseball when he enrolled at then Pikeville College as a pitcher. Chamberlin’s decision to become a lawyer was something that came about from time spent at Pikeville College. “Like many college students, I was in my junior year and had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. As far as I cared, all I wanted to do was play baseball forever,” Chamberlin said. “As the reality of the ‘real world’ was soon approaching, I started thinking about what to do with myself. A good friend at PC named Gerald Vanover had this really good plan called law school,” he said wittily. “I used some of my time to do a prelaw internship and came to realize how a higher education would make me even more marketable in the job field. So, copying my PC buddy’s plan, I went off to law school to become something other than a trial attorney.”
 
Although Chamberlin graduated with a bachelor of arts in history with an emphasis in political science in 1996, he deferred his acceptance into law school and returned to Pikeville College. A baseball injury forced him to sit out a season and, being a passionate baseball player, he wanted to finish out his final year of eligibility. It was during that fifth year, post-graduation, that Chamberlin enrolled in various additional courses, including constitutional law, which helped to better prepare him for law school the following year. It was also during that year when he completed a pre-law internship with prominent Pikeville attorney, Bill Baird.
 
In the fall of 1997, Chamberlin began law school at the University of Louisville. He graduated in the spring of 2000 and passed the Kentucky State Bar exam that summer. Before Chamberlin even entered law school, he knew he wanted to work as anything but a trial attorney. During his time directly out of law school, he pursued various career options that involved interviews with professional sports franchises including the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and with the national legal services provider West Corp. “In 2002, while working for a small law firm to ‘build my resume,’ I received a phone call about whether I’d be interested in becoming the new assistant county attorney in Pike County, Ky. Being a prosecutor was not really attractive to me and the idea of working in criminal law was not appealing,” he explained. “But, like the majority of us, it had one major factor that was appealing – it came with a good pay raise. So off I went with the plans to prosecute for a year or two until I found what I really wanted to do. Then something strange happened; I discovered I loved this new job. Being a prosecutor at the district court level, I handled misdemeanors and traffic cases.” Chamberlin had such an affinity for his new career that he ceased his search for a career outside the criminal realm. “It’s high volume every day and I spend my days in court making split second decisions on how to best represent the wishes of the people of Kentucky in prosecuting everything from speeding tickets to DUIs and domestic violence cases. I love that I’m active and involved on a daily basis and not stuck in an office all day doing research.” With a hint of irony in his voice, he said, “So here I am 11 years later as chief assistant Pike County attorney doing exactly what I never wanted to do – being a trial attorney that spends every day in court, but loving what I do. It’s funny how life turns out like that sometimes.”
 
School children, typically fifth and sixth graders, periodically visit the courthouse to take tours and observe court. Chamberlin highlights what goes on in court, what a prosecutor’s job is and how decisions are made. “I try to explain that I am a prosecutor, which is a lawyer. Everybody knows a lawyer has a client, but who is the prosecutor’s client? I tell them the client is the people of Kentucky, more specifically the people of Pike County. When I do my job, I ask myself, ‘What would the average citizen expect to happen with this case?’ and, ‘What is fair?’ When you’re a prosecutor, the people put a lot of trust in you in criminal matters to do the right thing and handle it properly because there isn’t a client, per se, standing over your shoulder to ensure you’re doing your job properly when you try 50 cases a day.
 
Chamberlin also volunteers his time within local schools. Every nine weeks, he visits a geography class at Pikeville Elementary to make a presentation of his time in Egypt. Annually, he visits Majestic Elementary to read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and discuss his most recent travels. Chamberlin also volunteered his time to teen court for several years.
 
In addition to his position as chief assistant Pike County attorney, Chamberlin currently serves as an adjunct professor at UPIKE, instructing a night course called Interdisciplinary Commons. “This is my second semester teaching the class and I try to take my group of seniors and give them a ‘first step’ into the ‘real world’ that is soon facing them. It’s a different approach to a class that is largely based on projects where the students get out in the ‘real world’ and get some experiences to benefit them in seeking that first job.” Continuing something one of his law school professors did, Chamberlin hosts review sessions for his students in his home. A few nights before each midterm and final, he invites students to an optional study session and provides refreshments in a casual atmosphere. Chamberlin added, “I’m not sure if they come for the test review or my fiancée’s homemade chili, though.”
 
Chamberlin reflected on his time spent at the University, “I really enjoyed the small school atmosphere where everyone knew everyone else. I didn’t realize it at the time, but being more than just a number, rather a face people knew, really enhanced my educational experience. My professors knew who I was and cared about my future. Their guidance helped shaped my future and I am proud to still think of those former mentors as friends today.” One professor in particular was profoundly influential on Chamberlin and his career path. “Nancy Cade was critical in helping steer me in the right direction and take those steps towards law school and my future,” said Chamberlin. Cade, a history and political science professor, was Chamberlin’s advisor and mentor in college and is a close friend today. “My undergrad degree is in history and I had Nancy for what seemed like at least three classes every semester. I enjoyed her classes and exhibited my appreciation in many ways, but my favorite was by pulling a prank on her. During one semester, I found her absent from her office and stole the Mr. Potato Head off her shelf. Then, daily for the rest of the semester, Nancy would come to her office and find a picture waiting from Mr. Potato Head and whatever adventure he was on. He was off to see the world – or as much of it as he could see in Pike County, Kentucky. The day of her last final he returned home with a confession letter from his ‘tour guide.’” Chamberlin added, with humor, “As a prosecutor, I now recommend that no student take anything from any professor’s office.”
 
“In addition to directly influencing my post-graduate path, Nancy indirectly helped shape one of my future passions without ever knowing it. It was during my time at Pikeville College that I grew to really love history – I enjoyed the stories of the past we would hear in class. For me it was not a series of facts; it was always about the story. That love of history would later grow into one of the current great passions of my life – a love of travel,” explained Chamberlin. “I strive yearly to travel to some foreign destination and explore historic locations.” His love of history has taken him to locations including Egypt, Jordan, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, and Mexico. Chamberlin seeks once in a lifetime opportunities when he travels abroad. “I have been blessed to have many wonderful experiences – standing alone, with just a friend, in the tomb inside the Great Pyramid, exploring the Valley of Kings where I was left alone in the tomb of King Tutankhamun with only the boy pharaoh, and walking the Siq to Petra by candlelight under a sea of night time stars.” Other memorable excursions include “exploring a 13th century castle in the countryside of Scotland uninterrupted except for the occasional passersby, standing atop El Castillo in Chichen Itza and staring out across the jungle dotted with Mayan ruins, and being alone inside the circle of Stonehenge when the cold, wind-blown rains had driven my friends back to the warmth of a taxi.” Chamberlin recalled a fairly recent experience abroad, “Last, but definitely not least, I proposed to my beautiful fiancée, Erin Fields, in the courtyard of a lovely 13th century castle in Ireland.”
 
“The love of history I first developed in those years at PC is likely the greatest lasting contribution to my life. I look forward to hopefully many more years of traveling to see the great historical wonders of our world. In May 2014, I will lead a tour group to Israel and Jordan for yet another ‘experience of a lifetime.’ It’s a new experience being the tour leader and recruiting people to go, and I look forward to sharing the wonder of walking the places where history happened with someone else.” Sentimentally, Chamberlin added, “Thanks again, Nancy.”
 
Chamberlin’s interest in history extends beyond his desire to travel and see the world. “Being a history nerd has spilled over into other areas of my life, as well,” said Chamberlin. “The best example of this is building my home. Several years ago I was blessed to be able to build my own home and was able to design it with my own desires and tastes. The home is built with an ‘old world’ theme. As I told my architect friend who helped design it, I wanted it to have a ‘historic feel.’ The walls were painted with a Tuscan look, while arches and stained woodwork decorate the interior. My favorite is probably the tall, stone fireplace in the great room; I love a good fire in the winter. The whole house is laid out around that open great room area which was designed with entertaining in mind. I enjoy having family, friends, and neighbors over for Christmas parties, the Super Bowl, my annual Halloween murder mystery party, and any other excuse to have fun. This also works well when students in my night class visit to review for their exams.”
 
“When I think back on my time at Pikeville College, I smile and think fondly of the friendships and fun I had. I was a baseball player for five years. Baseball was the love of my life and, to this day, some of those teammates are my best friends. I still feel close to those guys I called teammates and Ron Runyon, Gary Justice, Brandon Ball, and Rob Taylor will be friends of mine until the day I die.”
 
Still a “baseball guy,” Chamberlin recently enjoyed hosting a UPIKE AlumNite event at a Cincinnati Reds game in early September. “It was a beautiful night at Great American Ballpark where we had a large group of alumni with their friends and families. Our view was from a reserved patio deck right over the Reds bullpen with an all-you-can-eat buffet to satisfy our hunger. I am excited that I have already been asked to host this event again next season and hope we can have even more alumni join us for a night at the ballyard next summer in Cincinnati.”
 
Chamberlin lives in Pikeville. He authored a personal memoir entitled “Forgotten Empire” in which he discusses his travels to, and the history of, the Yucatan Peninsula. He and his fiancée, Erin, will be wed in November 2013.

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