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VOL. 128 | NO. 9 | Monday, January 14, 2013

Dunavant Public Service Awards Nominations Sought

By Bill Dries

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After being grounded last year under doctor’s orders, former Saks Inc. CEO Brad Martin will be the keynote speaker this year for the 2013 Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards.

The awards to one elected official and one non-elected public official will be given Feb. 27 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. The luncheon begins at 11:45 a.m.

The award, named for the late Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Bobby Dunavant, is presented by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.

Martin, the cofounder of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence and a former Tennessee state representative couldn’t make last year’s luncheon and Church Health Center founder Dr. Scott Morris was his substitute.

“He gave one of the best presentations I’ve every heard,” said Mark Griffee, of the Rotary Club. “It was on the 10 virtues of basically being a good person and a good public servant and applied it to that.”

The awards committee, which includes members of the Dunavant family and the Rotary Club, is seeking nominations for the award by Jan. 30.

Nomination forms are at www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org.

The committee also considers those nominated in past years.

All nominees are judged based on their honesty, lack of pretentiousness, attentiveness, mentoring abilities and accessibility.

The criteria are based on Dunavant’s conduct during his tenure as both an elected official and a government employee who worked under elected officials. Dunavant, whose portrait hangs in the Shelby County Courthouse, was Probate Court clerk for 21 years.

Even after being elected to head the office, Dunavant kept his desk at the counter where attorneys file their papers and waited on attorneys and others at the counter.

He retired in 1994 and died in 2003, the first year of the awards.

Dunavant’s family wanted to honor him and his philosophy of public service, but the award also was a reaction to public corruption investigations of the day.

“There was a whole lot of Tennessee Waltz stuff and other investigations of corruption,” Griffee said, referring to the FBI corruption sting. “That was getting, understandably and appropriately, a lot of media attention. We, as a club, wanted to come up with something that would recognize the vast majority of public servants who do such a great job for us as a counterweight to some of that.”

The hope is also that other public officials – elected and non-elected – will attend and get some encouragement from the award’s emphasis on good government.

“Everyone who is a public servant who attends the luncheon will be recognized that day, not just the award recipients,” Griffee said. “It’s a chance for us and the community at large to give these people a pat on the back and say thank you for a job well done.”

The 2012 awards went to Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery and Ted Illsley, plans review manager for the Shelby County Code Enforcement Department.

Some of the past winners have, like Dunavant, been honored for their service as non-elected officials and later held elected office.

Martin, chairman of RBM Venture Co., a family investment company, founded the Martin Institute with his family as a nonprofit working in the professional development of teachers and school administrators from the campus of Presbyterian Day School.

The institute works across the line separating public schools from private schools with programs open to all educators in the region that are linked to the University of Memphis. The institute also has a teacher residency program and funds professional development opportunities at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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