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Washington Co. Commissioner, ETSU prof Joe Corso dies

Gary B. Gray and Rex Barber • Jan 7, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Joe Corso, a Washington County Commissioner and East Tennessee State University political science assistant professor, died early Monday morning from apparent heart complications. He was 70.

Corso, who was serving his first term a county commissioner, was well known for his thoughtful manner and clear pronouncements made in commission chambers regarding various issues. He was never hesitant to speak his mind and presented his arguments calmly and diplomatically.

“He was a real statesman,” said Commission Chairman Greg Matherly. “There’s not a lot those around. He was a thinker, and he looked at all sides of the issues.”

Corso was in the hospital battling pneumonia during the commission’s December meeting. Matherly said Corso had had heart problems for quite some time.

Matherly said the County Commission will declare a vacancy and advertise the open seat for 30 days before voting to appoint Corso’s replacement to serve until his term expires in 2014.

“Dr. Corso assumed the office of county commissioner when I became mayor,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Monday. “He was a strong, steadfast and eloquent supporter of his ideas. The other commissioners respected him for the time he invested and his unique perspective.”

Corso served on several committees, including City/County Liaison; Joint Education; Oversight and Steering; and Rules. He also served on the Washington County Planning Commission and a single term on the Johnson City Board of Education from 1989-1993.

Corso was awarded a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University and a master’s degree from the University Notre Dame. He completed his doctorate from the University of Missouri in 1973.

“I spoke to Joe Saturday,” said County Commissioner Mark Ferguson. “He wanted to talk, but I told him to rest. I’d kept in touch with his wife. I got acquainted with him when he came on the commission. Joe really put his heart into what he did. He took it serious.”

Gordon Anderson, ETSU’s College of Arts and Sciences dean, said students really enjoyed Corso’s classes.

“You know, we talk about teaching and research and service, and he certainly over the years did his part in each of those but teaching was very much what he enjoyed doing,” Anderson said. “He was a very popular teacher.”

Corso started teaching at ETSU in 1974, and this semester would have marked his 39th year at the university.

He always taught a course called political life, which is an introductory class for students studying political science. Another course he taught was called “the idea of the city,” where he looked at how cities develop and are designed. This course included a trip to Charleston, S.C., a city Corso considered to be a model that illustrated well the ideas presented during the course.

Corso was heavily involved with the masters in public administration program at ETSU, Anderson said. Corso used his connections in local government to develop internships (many paid) for students in that program so they would have an income or experience while studying.

Anderson said many of Corso’s classes filled up quickly because he was so well liked among students. Anderson said Corso’s course load would be taken up by other faculty members this coming semester.

Longtime Johnson City Board of Education member and former chairman Tom Hager served with Corso during Corso’s term on the board from 1989-93. The two rarely were in agreement, as Corso often was on the losing end of 6-1 votes.

“Even though we may have had differences when he was on the school board, you always had to respect Dr. Corso for his positions,” Hager said Monday. “He kept things lively. I certainly hate to hear of his passing.”

Corso often challenged majority school board positions, particularly those regarding school locations and pupil distribution during planning for the school system’s first major facilities realignment in decades in the early 1990s.

“He was in it for the underdog and for people supposedly on the other side of the tracks,” Hager said.

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