April 22, 2014

Answer to prayer comes via governor’s messenger

     Worried might be too strong a word, but my dad was concerned about my college education.  “Do
GONE FISHIN’ will be a sign hung on my door more often, now 
that I’m off the University of Georgia’s Board of Regents. 
I was honored to  be appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, 
and I enjoyed helping “create a more educated Georgia.”  
During the six years on the board, I made numerous 
lifelong friends, while crossing paths with some phenomenal educators 
and students. However, I had prayed for more leisure time to spend with 
our seven grandsons.  On April 16th, that prayer was answered. And now o
ne of my favorite things to hear will be: “Grandpa, let’s go fishing.” 
(Photo by Eric NeSmith)
you have time to study?” asked Big Dink.  “Why would you say that?” I asked.  “Because,” he teased, “you’ve joined everything at The University of Georgia except the women’s glee club.”
     He had a point.  
     Since Cub Scouts, I’ve been a joiner.  I like people, and I really like the synergy of group dynamics.  If you get enough people energized toward a common goal, you see that teamwork really does work.  Gender kept me from singing with UGA’s coeds, but I’ve had abundant satisfaction in joining worthwhile causes.  Volunteerism is crucial in filling the voids left by government.
     That’s why I was interested in a 2008 phone call.  A voice asked, “Can you be in the governor’s office Thursday at 10 a.m.?”  Three days later, I was sitting on the leather couch in the inner-sanctum under The Gold Dome.  Gov. Sonny Perdue was facing me in a side chair.  His chief of staff, Ed Holcombe, was a few feet away.
     “I’d like to talk with you about serving on the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents,” he said.  He had my attention.  Higher education is one of my passions.  And since Gov. Richard B. Russell founded the Board of Regents in 1932, only two other Athenians had been appointed to the board.  The publisher of the Athens Banner-Herald was on the inaugural group and Julius Bishop served in the 1970s.  Even if it wasn’t me, I thought it was time for another member from the hometown of the state’s flagship university.
     I told the governor that I would be honored to serve, but I had strong feelings on two things:
     1. I hoped he trusted me to be a good student of the issues. I assured him that I’d always listen to him and others.  But in the end, I would vote my convictions.  
     2. I would never accept pay of any kind—per diem or expense reimbursement.  My time and my wallet were all-in for Georgia.

     The governor nodded.  I nodded.  We stood and shook hands.  That was six years ago.  But the way pages have flown off the calendar, it could have been last month.  The System’s motto is “creating a more educated Georgia.”  And to keep that mission in gear are millions of moving parts that must be oiled and working.  
     The first task—courtesy of the Great Recession—was to do more with less.  While enrollment was climbing, $1 billion in state funding was dropping.    Regrettably, more of the costs had to be shifted to students and their families. When you look around, Georgia’s colleges and university are a bargain in comparison.  Still, I never enjoyed making those hard choices.
     But now, I leave those decisions to 19 other Regents.  Four months after I relinquished the board chairman’s gavel, my term is over.   It was an emotional moment, but my late father’s comments helped me to draw the proper perspective.  Big Dink was always concerned about my jam-packed life.  In fact, I have been praying: “Lord, I’ve been blessed.  We have seven grandsons, and another grandchild is due in July.  I would be grateful if You could help me find more leisure time to enjoy them.  Amen.”
    Last Wednesday, my prayer was answered—via Gov. Nathan Deal’s messenger.
    Am I disappointed that I’ll miss working with my friends on the board and in the System?
     Am I thrilled that I now have more grandpa time?
     Will you see a “Gone Fishing” sign on my door more often?