Fri, March 01, 2024

Great leaders, great role models

Tomorrow evening, Thursday, January 11, at 5:00 pm at the Augusta Museum of History, the 14th Annual Jimmie Dyess Symposium will take place. The symposium was initiated and developed to honor and recognize one of our country’s and area’s great heroes, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Dyess, and also identify and honor others who have demonstrated outstanding valor or have made significant civic contributions. Each year, the Dyess Symposium honors one Medal of Honor (the United States Armed Forces highest military decoration which is awarded for acts of valor) winner and typically, two or three esteemed members of our local area or region who have distinguished themselves through their civic contributions. These honorees are emblematic of Jimmie Dyess in that he is the only American to have ever been awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism. I am proud to have seen my friend, the late Coach Vince Dooley, and the recently deceased, Jane Howington, wife of my good friend, Jerry Howington, be deservedly honored for their civic contributions at the Symposium in recent years.

Coach Clint Bryant retired as Augusta University’s AD in 2022.

Among this year’s honorees is another friend who I knew by reputation before I arrived in Augusta and whose great work and contributions I was able to witness up close for my first five-plus years here. That is retired Augusta University (AU) Athletic Director (AD), “Coach” Clint Bryant. Although he has not coached the basketball team at AU since 1997, nobody was more of a coach to others throughout his career than Clint Bryant, and that is probably why those who know him best, have always called him, and continue to call him “Coach.” During his 34 years as AD (including the first nine while also serving as the head basketball coach), Coach Bryant was a great leader, mentor, and difference-maker, not just at AU, but also in our community. Like many great leaders, Coach Bryant led with humility, empathy, selflessness, and sacrifice, making those around him better.

Coach Bryant (Photo courtesy of Michael Holhan/Augusta University)

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The impact of great leaders does not end when they leave positions of leadership. Rather, those they have led tend to carry on their legacy for many years to come. This is especially true for Coach Bryant. In particular, he has impacted the lives of hundreds of student-athletes, providing them opportunities and mentoring them along the way. Many of these men and women have gone on to successful careers and have become strong leaders themselves, thanks in a large part to Coach Bryant’s efforts. The lessons that they learned from Coach Bryant will be passed on to future generations. But it is not just the student-athletes that Coach Bryant influenced so positively. As an AD, he was the “Coach of the Coaches,” so he created more leaders for the various teams at AU. He is also tirelessly committed to this community, contributing his time and talent to make Augusta a better place. I cannot think of a more deserving honoree for his contributions to the community and society as a whole than Coach Bryant.

While I am sure the other honorees tomorrow night, Medal of Honor recipient, James McCloughan, and community leader, Nancy Hussey, are well deserving, there will be another great leader and role model on the stage who deserves our recognition. That is retired Air Force Major General Perry Smith. Like Coach Bryant, I knew of General Smith only by his great reputation prior to coming to Augusta. As a retired Air Force officer, I knew of General Smith as one of our foremost thought leaders in the area of leadership. I also knew of his record as a fighter pilot, flying 180 combat missions during the Vietnam War. Since I have moved to Augusta, I have been fortunate enough to get to know him and he has become a friend who has been a consistent source of encouragement for me.

General Smith is much more than a military hero and leadership expert. He is the epitome of integrity and ethics. Some of you may remember him as an expert commentator on CNN during the Gulf War. However, he resigned from that high-profile position in protest of a CNN story that he determined was untrue. Beyond this demonstration of high character and ethics, General Smith has been a committed advocate of this community and a significant contributor to many of its charitable non-profits such as the Fisher House, Kroc Center, and many others.  Finally, General Smith is the heart and soul of the Dyess Symposium. His wife, Connor, is the daughter of Jimmie Dyess, who was eight years old when her father died. While General Smith honors his wife’s father through this symposium, he also has made sure it recognizes many others who served this country and this community. Like Coach Bryant, General Smith is a humble, selfless, and servant leader.

I hope you can take an hour on Thursday evening to attend the Jimmie Dyess Symposium, which is free for all attendees. While all of the honorees are highly deserving, I will be particularly aware of the great leaders and role models that Coach Bryant and General Smith are. At the end of the day, it is the people that make the place, and we are fortunate to have great people such as these outstanding men in Augusta.

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