Leadership Albany 2014 class participant Mary Bickerstaff helps 2010 alumnus William Hancock with his name tag at a reception Thursday night celebrating the organization’s 30th Anniversary. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — For the better part of the last three decades the lion’s share of Albany’s business, civic and community leaders have honed their professional and leadership skills through the Leadership Albany program.
To commemorate the organization’s 30th anniversary a few those who were instrumental in founding Leadership Albany shared their thoughts and experience with the 2014-2015 class at a recent reception held at Resora at Cypress Pond.
Mobile users can see the video here.
The program has had a storied history in Albany as it’s graduates have gone on to serve the local community in a variety of different ways and lead the call to affect positive change throughout the city.
The leadership development program was started in 1984 after Albanians Patsy Martin and George Chastain spent 1982 as representing the Good Life City in Leadership Georgia.
According to both Martin and Chastain, the time they spent learning about the important issues affecting the state and developing their leadership skills was invaluable, and upon graduating from the program they endeavored to start a similar program in Albany.
“We went through the Leadership Georgia class and it was an awesome experience,” said Martin. “But the most prevailing thing George and I took away from that experience was that we’d hear all the participants talk about Leadership Savannah, Leadership Macon, Leadership Atlanta, Leadership Columbus and George and I would say, ‘we didn’t have a Leadership Albany.’ So we needed to come home and work on that.”
Motivated by this experience the pair began contacting others who had been through Leadership Georgia, other state leadership programs and other important citizens, such as then Chamber of Commerce President John Moulton, then Albany State University President Billy Black, James Gray Jr. and then City Manager Roy Lane, to assist them in getting the organization started.
“We worked on it all of ‘83 and into ‘84,” Martin said. “We went around and met with people, like the general at the base, the city manager, the mayor, plant managers, the top, most influential people. They bought in hook, line and sinker.”
Once the idea had been blessed by Albany’s leaders the group began visiting other cities to see how those programs were being run and look for ways to tweak Albany’s fledgling program to make it one of the best in the state.
“We would all get in the car and go visit Macon and Columbus, all these places around, and talk to the facilitators and the people that were running these programs,” said Martin. “We knew that our program, once it did work, would be the best in the state.”
Martin is convinced one of the reasons the program not only started strongly, but endured over time is due to the caliber of the people involved in the beginning and their willingness to work toward making the program something area businesses and organizations would find value in.
Along with Martin and Chastain, the members of the original LA board included a who’s who of important city leaders including Willie Adams Jr., Billy Black, Gilbert Camp, Nancy Chambless Anson, Josephine Davis, James Gray Jr., Geraldine Hudley, John Jenkins, Carl Leavey, John Moulton, John Phillips III, Peggy Neilson, B.R. Tilley and Ed Freeman.
Through the efforts of that original board Leadership Albany has continued to serve as a breeding ground for leaders dedicating to working together for the common good of the community.
They also laid the foundation for developing the skills needed for becoming a good leader, something Chastain feels is the organization’s most important challenge.
“I’m fairly passionate about this,” Chastain said. “Leadership Georgia and the ability to have a few fingerprints on Leadership Albany are absolute highlights of my life. The big thing about Leadership Albany is you don’t have to have a title to be a good leader. It gives you a good understanding of what leadership is and, more importantly, what leadership isn’t.”
Chastain also said one of the great things about Leadership Albany classes is that they are made up of a diverse group of people, from all ages and walks of life, that have already shown a spark of leadership. Once those people come together, great bonds are formed and from those bonds come the ideas that move the community forward.
In fact, many widely known community leaders made up the charter class of Leadership Albany, which included: Frances Brown, Carl Bryant, Lamar Clifton, Edwin Cooper, Glenn Creech, Maureen DeLoach, Paul DeLoach, Richard Dieckman, Henry Dunn, Ed Freeman, Greg Fullerton, Nancy Hannah, Carolyn Hatcher, Brenda Hodges Tiller, Ben Johnson, T. Marshall Jones, Walter Judge, Walter Kelley, William Kidd, Roy Lane, Carolyn Maschke, Emily Jean McAfee, Clifford Mehearg, Donald Radcliff, James Saville, Larry Sculley, Mark Taylor, Karen Wakeford, Mack Wakeford and Michael Wetherbee.
From that first class grew a tradition that both Martin and Chastain, as well as many others, feel has been vital to Albany’s growth as a community.
Current Leadership Albany Director Mary Ligon jumps at the opportunity to point out today’s leaders and influential Albanians that have graduated from Leadership Albany and have put their skills to good use.
For example, she recently shared an example centered around the program’s “Discover Albany” day where class members visit important sites in Albany and learn about the city’s history and it’s assets, both cultural and recreational.
Rashelle Beasley, LA class of ‘08 and executive director of the Albany Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, continues to build on this theme as do alums Justin Strickland (LA ‘07) and Barbara Rivera Holmes (LA ‘10), who have been instrumental in developing a new branding campaign through the Albany Dougherty Economic Development Commission, aimed at improving Albany’s image and attracting new business and industry.
“Many times issues discussed in the Leadership Albany class plants seeds that are taken up by class members and others,” Ligon said. “The first example of this comes from the charter class that graduated in 1985. That first class expressed concern about the environment. From that came the Clean Community Commission which we now know as Keep Albany Dougherty Beautiful. Karen Wakeford (LA ‘85) was the first executive director, followed by Judy Bowles (LA ‘89).
Another example Ligon shared was Leadership Albany’s focus around the inter-connnectedness of socio-economic issues such as poverty, education and economic development. She points out that Cynthia George (LA ‘90) and John Culbreth (LA ‘07), through their involvement with other organizations ended up forming Strive2Thrive, to address some of those issues.
Examples like these abound throughout the 30 years of Leadership Albany’s existence said those who have remained active in the organization continue to testify to its importance now and in the years to come.
“One of the things good leadership will allow you to do in the future,” said Chastain as he addressed the 2014-2015 LA class. “Is to turn it over and rather than you leading you’ll help others lead. The reason it has lasted, the big thing, is it has to be grown. One of the best things about going through Leadership Albany is becoming a mentor, creating new leaders. I believe in the idea that it’s more fun to create stars than be one. Leadership Albany illustrates the importance of training future leaders.”