VOL. 125 | NO. 239 | Thursday, December 9, 2010
Memphis Law Talk
Baptist’s Duckett Finds Professional Purpose in Service
RICHARD J. ALLEY | Special to The Daily News
Attorney Greg Duckett is a man motivated by service to his community.
It is this commitment that has led him to the Tennessee Board of Regents, where he serves as vice chairman, membership on the Tennessee Election Commission and the boards of the Memphis College of Art, the National Civil Rights Museum and the Liberty Bowl Festival Association.
As senior vice president and corporate counsel for Baptist Memorial Health Care, Duckett was attracted to the work because “we all work for a purpose, and a number of us are blessed to have part of that purpose be more than just a salary to maintain our personal needs, but it’s that element of … I did something to help someone else, and Baptist, being a health care provider and service-oriented, fulfills that mission and need for me.”
Duckett, 50, is a native Memphian and graduate of Hillcrest High School who went on to Oberlin College in Ohio for his undergraduate work before returning home to receive his juris doctorate from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
An interest in elected office guided his early years of college and the realization that so many elected officials are lawyers, as well as one of the most famous lawyers of the day, helped him narrow that focus.
“When you look during my era, it was the “Perry Mason” programs, but the real driving force was the public service component and, looking at what public officials had as a background and career, it piqued my interest,” he said.
Before leaving college in Ohio, Duckett enrolled in a quantitative research summer program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, which was billed as “a very intense, rigorous academic exercise” to get a personal assessment of whether he was up for the rigors of law school.
“Having successfully completed that program, it really focused my attention on entering law school,” Duckett said.
While his path may have seemed laid out by then, there was another prospect on the horizon. While playing football at Oberlin, Duckett was asked to work with some teams in Canada before finally being offered to play semi-pro ball around the time he was admitted to law school.
“Looking at law school versus semi-pro, and the things that I had as my ultimate ambition, I called home and told my parents, ‘I’m headed home for law school,’” he said.
Duckett was involved in student government and the student bar association, eventually being elected president of that organization. While in school, he completed an internship with then-Congressman Harold Ford Sr. and, later, with then-U.S. Sen. Al Gore for three years.
In the mid-1980s, he ran for a position on the state Democratic executive committee, he said, “and one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I lost that race, because had the outcome been different, there have been times when I’ve wondered where would my career have gone.”
After passing the bar, Duckett became a staff attorney, and ultimately state counsel, for Gore. Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett approached Duckett in 1988 to become the director of public service for his new administration and then was almost immediately asked to head housing and community development, which he ran for more than two years, before being named the city’s youngest chief administrative officer at 31, and the first African-American ever appointed to that position.
When Hackett lost re-election to Willie Herenton, Duckett had numerous job offers to consider.
“I was most intrigued by the Baptist opportunity, which allowed me a combination of staying in touch with the operations of a complex corporate organization, but it also gave me the opportunity to now focus more on what I had prepared myself for, and that was to be a lawyer,” he said.
In his position with Baptist, Duckett is the chief legal officer and is responsible for the coordination of all legal services with a team of in-house staff of four and with 13 outside law firms in three states.
In addition to his duties for Baptist, Duckett works with nonprofits to further his three passions – education, diversity and economic development.
“My strong concern as we look to a number of challenges in our community becomes one of, if you get the education, then the opportunities are boundless,” he said. “You don’t have to be an elected official to give back to your community; there are a number of ways to give back.”