The award was established to acknowledge individuals who go above and beyond the call of duty in supporting ETSU and the ETSU Foundation.
Gatton owns and co-owns dealerships in Bristol, Kingsport and elsewhere.
In addition, he is a recognized philanthropist in higher education and has aided ETSU's academic and athletic opportunities over the years, most recently helping fund the new College of Pharmacy, which admitted its first class of 72 students in January.
"Pharmacy is a great career opportunity for young people. Prospective students will be able to attend ETSU without going all the way to Memphis for their education. We have an aging population, and trained pharmacists are essential for the health care of our older citizens. Also, the new College of Pharmacy will be a great boost to the economy of this region," Gatton said.
Gatton also is active with the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Bristol Rotary Club, Salvation Army, Humane Society, and Bristol Boys and Girls Clubs. He has also served nationally and regionally in leadership roles for many automobile-related organizations.
Also Friday, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning bestowed the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Philanthropy on a couple in the medical community for their generosity.
Manning presented the award to honor Johnson City resident Dr. May Louise Votaw and her late husband, Dr. Charles L. Votaw, who died Jan. 5. The couple have been associated with the ETSU James H. Quillen College of Medicine since its earliest days. Dr. Charles Votaw was the first associate dean for clinical affairs at ETSU's medical school, as well as a professor of anatomy.
His professional endeavors at ETSU included teaching in various medical subjects, the development of curriculum, serving as interim chair for several departments until permanent chairs could be hired and designing the "Pre-Medical Medical Program" in which ETSU undergraduates were admitted to medical school to integrate medical school courses with their undergraduate curricula.
Dr. May Votaw had a father who was a missionary and a mother who was a physician, both posted to India. Her parents instilled in her a desire to serve the medical needs of the people by becoming a physician. After she and her husband came from the University of Michigan to ETSU to join the medical school faculty, she recognized the need for quality medical care for people in underserved areas in rural Appalachia.
The working mother of three children was a professor of internal medicine and served many years as chief of the division of hematology/medical oncology, as well as medical director of the Johnson City Medical Center's Hospice Program from 1983 to 1995.
In addition, she initiated the Office of Women in Medicine in the Quillen College.
Both doctors established the Bertha B. Votaw Scholarship Endowment, named in honor of his late mother, for medical students needing financial assistance.
Over the years, the university has benefited from the Votaws' strong support, including Friends of Music, Friends of Theatre, WETS-FM public radio, the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, the LeeAnne Brown and University Physicians Chair of Excellence, the Veterans Affairs Memorial Theatre Restoration, Women in Medicine, and the College of Pharmacy.