With his mom at his side as he carried the neatly folded American flag that once covered his late father's casket, Bill Hagerty arrived at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin on Monday for one of his last stops before heading to Japan.
The Nashville businessman and Gallatin native, who was sworn in as the 42nd United States ambassador to Japan last month, was honored by state and local officials during a reception at the college Aug. 7. The 57-year-old, along with his mother Dr. Ruth Bishop Hagerty, were also each presented with a key to the city.
"I've had so many great events and sendoffs... but there couldn't be one to touch my heart closer than today," Bill Hagerty told those in attendance. "Know that I will put my best effort into representing our country and each of you to the best of my ability."
The reception was held just days before Hagerty, his wife Chrissy and their four children leave for Tokyo. Once there, the family will live in same house Gen. Douglas MacArthur stayed in during the Allied occupation following World War II.
While the next several years should be a "very exciting time" for Japan, which will host the Summer Olympics in 2020 and could potentially see a new emperor rise to power, Hagerty noted the threat of North Korea and it's growing weapons program.
"A big part of my job will be working with our military and ensuring our safety there in dealing with some pretty important challenges in the region both in North Korea and more long-term in China and Russia," Hagerty said Monday. "Also, there are some great economic ties and I look forward, with a lot of you here, to continue to advance those."
Vice President: Hagerty will make alliance 'even stronger'
Hagerty's connection to the Land of the Rising Sun dates back some three decades to the start of his career working in the private sector.
After graduating from Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Law School, the Gallatin native began his professional career as an international management consultant for Boston Consulting Group in 1984 and spent three years in Japan managing the company's business with clients throughout Asia.
Hagerty then moved to Washington, D.C. in 1991 to work as a White House Fellow reporting to the vice president where he focused on international trade, commerce, treasury, defense and telecom before returning to work in the private sector in 1993.
From 2011 until 2015, Hagerty served as commissioner of economic development for Tennessee as part of Gov. Haslam's cabinet. During his tenure, Tennessee became the top state for jobs and economic growth from 2013 to 2015 and led the nation in foreign and direct investment, of which 60 percent came from Japan.
"Bill, given your integrity, your record of leadership and your distinguished history, the president and I are confident that you will excel in this new role," Vice President Mike Pence said during last month's swearing-in ceremony. "You will help make the extraordinary friendship and alliance between the United States and Japan even stronger."
In addition to his professional work, Hagerty has also spent time as a community volunteer and philanthropist. He led a $50 million capital campaign as chairman of the executive board for the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He also served on the nonprofit's board of the Far East Council.
And while his new role will take him to the other side of the Pacific, Hagerty said he still plans to return to Tennessee as much as possible.
"I leave here with a great and humble sense of my background," he said Monday. "I will always look back and think about how fortunate I was to be from a place like Gallatin and always be able to call Gallatin my home."