From his beginning as a temporary employee mowing campus lawns to his current position managing Campus Services and Grounds, Tim Sullivan has played a hands-on role in transforming the UAB campus into one of the most scenic portions of downtown.

Tim Sullivan, July’s Employee of the Month, says he’s just the recipient of the praise for the work Campus Services and Grounds does on a daily basis.

And while he is awed by the construction and landscaping that has taken place during his 26 years at UAB, his favorite sight is a single dogwood tree he planted behind the Honors House in 1984.

“I planted the tree on Veteran’s Day,” he says. “That tree is probably 20 to 25 feet tall, and I literally carried it over there in a bucket and planted it. That was a long time ago — more than 20 years ago.”

Sullivan has planted many more trees and shrubs since, working on a primary component of one of the university’s priorities — a strong, welcoming visual impact for UAB.

His work has earned him selection as July’s Employee of the Month.

“I’m humbled by the honor,” Sullivan says. “I’m just the recipient of the praise for the fine work my department does – they bring their energy and their creativity, and they really contribute to make things work every day.

“Caring for this campus and its grounds takes an immense amount of dedication from many men and women.”

Olen Pruitt, executive director of Facilities Management, says Sullivan’s work is a significant reason the campus looks the way it does.

“The first year Tim was promoted to being over the Campus Services and Grounds the campus showed significant improvement and has continued to improve each year since,” Pruitt says.

“It is my opinion that many students, faculty and staff have chosen to come to UAB due partly to his contributions to the beautification of the campus.”

Sullivan says one of the perks of his job is that in his travels across campus he gets to meet many people doing great and important work.

One of those people, he says, is Tennant McWilliams, Ph.D., dean of the school of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He and McWilliams share a love of horticulture and the two have talked on many occasions.

McWilliams says Sullivan is a master of the technical and scientific knowledge of plants, shrubs and grass — even joking that Sullivan speaks in Latin derivatives when no one is around. However, says McWilliams, Sullivan always takes the time to speak in lay language with those interested in the growth and care of a particular plant or shrub, its origin and its contribution to the campus appearance.

“In this sense he’s actually an educator for all whose senses may have missed the point that greening a campus adds immeasurably to its sense of humanity and community,” McWilliams says. “Tim is a scientist, educator and diplomat of significant influence in all of our daily lives, whether we are aware of it or not.

“He is the model of a life-long learner, and he quietly exudes great pride over numerous developments on the campus, some of his own making, some the product of others’ work.”

McWilliams does joke that everyone should be aware of Sullivan’s heavy-handed side as well. “He can be a strong protector of his domain,” he says. “I personally know of one dean — yours truly — whom he corralled on an early Sunday morning and made him move his vehicle off the grass and into an appropriate parking space.”

Sullivan, a UAB graduate, became interested in horticulture and landscaping thanks to his father and aunt. He says he was further influenced by the people working around him when began working at UAB.
As for his favorite thing to grow, Sullivan says that’s easy to answer: His greatest passion is trees.

“They’re so sensual appealing to all five of our senses,” he says. “You can hear them and touch them, see, smell, and even taste them. Their presence is striking. Everything about them is cool with me.”

Sullivan says he has seen a great evolution of his department and a growth in its professionalism through the years — something of which he’s quite proud. He also says he views working at UAB as a privilege.

“To be involved in a small way in UAB’s mission of teaching, healing and research is just great,” he says. “I don’t think my job would be half as interesting if I was somewhere else.”