Born in Wagoner, Oklahoma in 1917, Dickey received his primary and secondary education in Wichita Falls, Texas, and in Lexington. He was graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. degree from Transylvania College in 1939, and received both his Master of Arts degree and a Doctorate of Education from the University of Kentucky in 1942 and 1947, respectively. In 1940 he was married to Elizabeth Drymon, of Lexington; they had three children-two sons, Frank, Jr. and Joseph, and a daughter, Ann Elizabeth.
Following a stint as a teacher in the Lexington public school system from 1939 until 1943, Dr. Dickey entered the armed forces, attaining the rank of Master Sergeant by the time of his discharge in February 1946. His first position following completion of his graduate education was as instructor in secondary education and administration in the UK College of Education. Within two years, in 1949, he was named Chief Administrative Officer of the University's Bureau of School Service, and in 1950, a mere six months later, he was appointed Dean of the College of Education. One of his major responsibilities as Dean was the direction of the off-campus and field service educational program of the University; in this capacity he worked closely with more than 20,000 Kentucky public school teachers, administrators, and school board members. During a year's leave of absence in 1952-53 he served as a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, where he did advanced study in educational administration. In June of 1956 Dickey was named President of the University of Kentucky at age 38, the youngest man ever to attain that position.
The creation and establishment of the Medical Center are the Dickey administration's lasting legacy. In 1954. as a result of a special feasibility study begun a year earlier at the behest of President Donovan, the University developed plans for a campus Medical School-to include colleges of medicine, dentistry, and nursing, a hospital, a student health service, and a medical library. State funding was requested for the project, and, in 1956, with Governor A.B. Chandler's public support, following a personal appeal by President Dickey to the Kentucky General Assembly, and with political pressure generally mounting in Frankfort, an initial appropriation of $5 million was approved for the proposal. Dr. William R. Willard, Dean of the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, in Syracuse, was selected as the University's first Vice President for the Medical Center and Dean of the College of Medicine. The initial phase of construction was begun and completed, and the first medical students were admitted in the fall of 1960.
The Dickey years were characterized by a significant increase in campus enrollment and major physical growth, stimulated and evidenced by an ambitious building and building renovation program and by the extensive addition of land. The opening of off-campus Extension centers gave impetus to the creation of the University's Community College System several years later. Academic standards were enhanced and programs broadened and extended, particularly as the result of a new emphasis upon international educational exchange and cooperation.
Dickey resigned the University presidency in 1963 to become Director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, in which position he served until 1965. From 1965 to 1974 he headed the National Commission on Accrediting of Colleges and Universities, and from 1974 to1976 was Provost of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. In 1976 he took a position as vice president of an educational consulting firm.
The Dickeys lived in retirement in Lexington, where they maintained their connections with and interest in the institution they served forty years ago. A recent effort on his part was his lobbying to prevent the removal of the Community College System from the jurisdiction of the University.
President Emeritus Frank Graves Dickey passed away on August 7, 2009 in Lexington.