Michael Edward Hamilton, 60, passed away at the University of Colorado Medical Center on Thursday, November 9, 2023 in Denver, Colorado after complications from a liver transplant intended to bring healing after a hard fought battle with bile duct cancer.
Mike was born on August 13, 1963 in Brevard, NC to James and Louise Hamilton. He spent his childhood participating in competitive but friendly neighborhood sports and collecting hundreds of sports cards. Mike was a proud graduate of Brevard High School where he served as Student Body President his senior year. After graduation in 1981, Mike headed to Clemson University where he was an engaged part of the student body. He graduated in 1985 with a BS in Accounting. After one year in corporate banking in Florida, Mike returned to his alma mater to work for Clemson’s Athletic Department while earning his MBA, which he received in 1988.
Mike married the love of his life, Beth Merrill, in July 1988 before beginning his full-time career in college athletics at Wake Forest University as Assistant Director of the Deacon Club. After four years in athletic development with the Deacs, Mike accepted an offer to become Assistant Athletic Director for Development at the University of Tennessee- Knoxville. Over the next 19 years, Mike worked in ever expanding roles at UT, including Associate Athletic Director for Development and Marketing (1996-2002) and then Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations (2002-2003). In May 2003, Mike was named Athletic Director at the University of Tennessee, serving in that capacity until 2011.
During the years at UT, Mike and Beth’s family grew. In April 1996, they adopted their first daughter, Madison, followed by their first son, Matthew, in June 1999. Mike and Beth were passionate about adoption and after Mike became AD, began raising funds for Bethany Christian Services at the annual Mike and Beth Hamilton Celebrity Golf Classic. In 2009, Mike, Beth, Madison and Matthew welcomed three new children into the Hamilton household. Nate (7), Kiya (4) and Kalu (10 months) were adopted from Ethiopia in June of that year. This process not only changed the landscape of their family, but forever altered the landscape of Mike’s heart. Mike’s desire to engage the orphan crisis, clean water initiatives and the HIV epidemic on the continent of Africa led him to pursue and become involved with organizations addressing these issues. In 2010, Mike and Beth formed the Kalu Grace Foundation, named after their two daughters, to raise funds for water, HIV and orphan care needs on the continent of Africa.
In 2011, Mike stepped away from athletics for a season and moved to Nashville, TN where he first served as the President of Operations for BloodWater:Mission, a key partner in providing clean water and preventing the spread of HIV in Africa. In 2014, Mike became the Executive Director of Show Hope, an organization focused on international and domestic adoption. These years working in the nonprofit world, for causes deeply important to his heart, brought a rich sense of purpose and community as he linked arms with others to bring care and compassion to a hurting world.
In November 2018, Mike re-entered the world of college athletics, albeit in a different capacity, as the Executive Vice President, University Partnership Group at Learfield, a leading media, data, and technology services company servicing college sports. He was thrilled to be back in athletics and took great joy in engaging and working alongside both his Learfield team and his long-time peers and friends in college athletics. Mike was a key part of the leadership team that helped guide Learfield through the choppy waters of the COVID pandemic and its aftermath. Mike’s wisdom, humility and calming presence proved vital in helping Learfield navigate a challenging season and arrive at a place of strength.
Though Mike’s professional success was outstanding, his life’s priorities were his faith and his family. He delighted in and deeply loved his wife Beth and their adventures of 35 years. Together, they lived a bountiful life following Jesus into a myriad of beautifully foolish places. Mike’s role as a father to Madison (27), Matthew (24), Nate (21), Kiya (18), and Kalu (15) was his greatest joy. Much of his free time was spent engaging in their unique interests, being intentional to spend time with them both individually and as a family, or making them laugh with his goofy antics. Mike was also deeply committed to his faith. His love for the Lord was the foundation of his life, guiding his every decision, professionally and personally.
Mike is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Merrill Hamilton of Franklin, TN; children, Madison Sottek (Ben) of Nashville, TN, and Matthew, Nate, Kiya and Kalu Hamilton of Franklin, TN; his mother, Louise Hamilton Skerrett, of Brevard, NC, and sister, Denise Hamilton Reese (Greg) of Rosman, NC. In addition, Mike leaves behind his mother-in-law, Lois Heath Merrill, brother-in-law Robert L. Merrill, Jr (Lee), sister-in-law, Debbie Merrill Stout (Steve), eight nieces and nephews: Hunter Reese (Candace), Hannah Reeves (Israel), Harper Reese, Jacqui Martin (David), Jessica Merrill, Kelsey Condon (Jack), Kristen Stout and Kimberly Stout; and five great nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his father James Edward Hamilton, father-in-law Robert Lewis Merrill, and nephew Chris Merill.
The Hamilton family invites you to join them at the celebration of life for their beloved Mike Hamilton. The Celebration of Life is scheduled for December 11, 2023 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. The service will be officiated by Dr. Rick Dunn of Fellowship Church, Knoxville, TN. Doors will open at 1:30 PM and the service will begin at 2:00 PM. There will be a private burial.
Mike's passion for college athletics was second only to his dedication and commitment to his family, his community, and serving others. His mentorship of colleagues and peers, along with his devotion to charitable giving, impacted the lives of many. Please go to https://mikehamilton.learfield.com/ to make a donation in honor of Mike and to continue his legacy of caring for his family and his selfless giving.