David Grissom

J. David Grissom, former chairman of the U of L board of trustees, July 18, 2019.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – J. David Grissom, the no-nonsense lawyer and businessman who led the University of Louisville board of trustees through a turbulent transition from the era of former President James Ramsey, has decided to leave the board years ahead of schedule.

Grissom, 81, said in a letter dated Friday to Gov. Matt Bevin that the university "would benefit from having a younger man or woman serve in my stead," according to a copy of the letter obtained by WDRB.

Grissom’s resignation, effective Dec. 1, comes a few months after he stepped down as chairman of the board of trustees in July. Grissom's 2017 appointment to the board gave him a term lasting until 2023.

Grissom declined to comment on his resignation other than to say the April 2018 hiring of Neeli Bendapudi as the university's president was the highlight of his two-year tenure as chairman of the board. He also played down his individual role, saying the board's 13 members acted collectively.

"At a time of great stress of the university, David Grissom accepted the call of duty and felt like this was an institution important to this community, and he was going to do everything in his power to right the ship and get it back on a positive trajectory," said Mary Nixon, a longtime professional associate of Grissom's, who succeeded him as the chairwoman of the board of trustees.

When Bevin wiped out the university board in January 2017, installing an all-new group of trustees, he gave the longest appointment term to Grissom.

As the board's chairman, Grissom oversaw the abrupt transition from the era of James Ramsey, who resigned under pressure in 2016 after 14 years leading the university and its nonprofit foundation, which paid Ramsey and other administrators millions of dollars in deferred compensation -- payments the current U of L regime now call excessive.

Under Grissom, the board overhauled its relationship with the foundation, eventually suing Ramsey and a handful of others, alleging they "raided" the university’s endowment through unscrupulous spending. That lawsuit remains pending.

As Grissom noted in his resignation letter, the university is preparing to take over the KentuckyOne Health system in Louisville, including financially struggling Jewish Hospital, in a move that "will clearly benefit all citizens of Louisville." The deal is set to close on Friday.

Grissom’s tenure also included the 2017 firing of Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino and longtime athletics director Tom Jurich after the U of L program was implicated in an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

Grissom’s detractors faulted him for the university’s heavy-handed treatment of Jurich, who would eventually obtain a settlement worth more than $7 million over his ouster.

Lawyers for Ramsey and the other former administrators that U of L sued last year say Grissom’s board has in fact halted the university’s progress. They note that the university’s fundraising is still a far cry from the Ramsey era.

Grissom also made some notable off-hand comments, including describing Bendapudi’s voice as “sexy” in a joke that some found inappropriate.

Grissom also brought fresh scrutiny to an embarrassing chapter for U of L when he volunteered in a sworn deposition earlier this year that Ramsey had told him in 2016 that a university trustee was the "cash source" for the payments in the stripper scandal that cost the university its 2013 national basketball title.

Nixon, who has known Grissom since the late 1970s, said Grissom "was willing to take whatever flack came at him” as the board’s leader because “he wasn’t doing it for the glory or for the recognition. He was doing what needed to be done."

"The community owes him a big thank you, even if you don’t agree with everything he did," Nixon said. "We are in a much better place."

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.