Flickering off in the distance, the end is near.
The past 30 years have sped along, bringing Joan Cronan from there to here. To the present — her final two years as an employee of the University of Tennessee.
At 68 years old, Cronan is a library of mantras and maxims. She describes herself as, "Cajun with orange blood," referring to her Louisiana roots and LSU degree, and says, "You don't stop playing when you get old, you get old when you stop playing," alluding to a lifetime immersed in women's athletics.
Today Cronan exists in the blue-gray area between black and white. She's an outgoing athletic director, an ongoing employee and an upcoming retiree.
A little more than a year ago, Cronan tossed over the keys to the Tennessee athletic department. A three-month stint as interim vice chancellor/director of athletics passed quickly.
Cronan, UT's longtime women's athletic director, bridged the gap from the tenure of former athletic director Mike Hamilton to current AD Dave Hart.
Given her three decades as a UT administrator and the two years remaining on an original contract signed in 2007, Cronan now occupies a diplomatic role of sorts. She operates under the vague title of "senior advisor to the chancellor" for UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
What that translates to, according to university spokeswoman Margie Nichols, is Cronan serving as a face for the University of Tennessee brand.
"People love her. We love her," Nichols said. "So she, in her new role, is an ambassador. She speaks to community groups, clubs and various organizations all across the state.
"She speaks to university groups, student government associations, graduate student government, sororities, fraternities, alumni groups. You name it, she covers those groups."
Think of Cronan ostensibly as being a public body-double for Cheek.
She spreads the promise of her beloved UT, glad-hands influential donors — trying to serve as a lifeline for the old guard of cash-happy pot-fillers to the new faces of the current UT administration — and utilizes a valuable image as a lifelong champion of women's athletics.
In this role, it should be noted, though, Cronan renders no verdicts on administrative matters.
An "appointment letter" from Cheek to Cronan dated June 9, 2011, outlined her athletic department withdrawal. The letter stated after her interim AD position was filled, she would revert back to director of women's athletics. At that point, the new athletic director (Hart) would take full control of a consolidated men's and women's athletic department.
On June 30, 2012, Cronan relinquished control of the women's athletic department. On July 1, 2012, she became advisor to the chancellor.
Now, June 30, 2014, is the circled date. Cronan's final day as a UT employee.
"Nobody was trying to get rid of Joan Cronan nor did I want to walk away, it was my thought process and the university's thought process — this was what worked best to help in this transition," Cronan said. "This was what we came up with."
She's working out the remainder of buyout worth $1.29 million, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel through a public records request.
In November 2011, Cronan's base salary rose to $320,000 annually. Her original contract, which rose from $226,000 annually to $233,400 annually in 2009, has been amended three times, concurrent with her adjusted duties.
With UT locked in open-ended legal battles with multiple former women's athletic department employees, Cronan is one of the few remaining holdovers from a sweeping regime change.
"I hope it helps, the fact that I'm still around and supportive of everyone — I'm not sure how to word that exactly," she said.
"Obviously I take a lot of pride in the solid base that we've been able to build at the University of Tennessee in women's athletics."
Even when her contract expires, Cronan won't be far. She'll have four seats in the Lady Vol Development Skybox at Neyland Stadium, six tickets to every Lady Vols basketball game, and four additional season tickets to Lady Vols softball and men's basketball, for life.
Between the cost of tickets and coinciding mandatory donations (paid out over multiple years), a modest estimate places the cost of that package for the 2012-13 school year at $84,596.
The going-away present is similar to that received by Hamilton upon his departure. The 19-year UT employee was granted eight football and eight men's basketball season tickets for life.
In describing her swan song at UT, Cronan circles back to the same sub and substance: She loves the University of Tennessee and she loves women's athletics.
"The University of Tennessee has my heart of soul," she said. "I hope I'll always be involved."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn