Public Servants

Ted Illsley, Myron Lowery recognized with Dunavant Awards

By Bill Dries

The two winners of the 2012 Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards thanked their coworkers Wednesday, Feb. 22, as they were honored by the family of the late Probate Court clerk and the Rotary Club of Memphis East.

Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery with wife, Mary, accepts a Bobby Dunavant Public Service Award. Ted Illsley of Code Enforcement received the Non-Elected Public Servant Award. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Shelby County Code Enforcement official Ted Illsley told the group of 500 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis that he wasn’t used to making speeches.

He called the award “the honor of a lifetime.” Illsley, a 27-year code enforcement office employee, said he and those in the office he runs would continue to go about the work of enforcing building code standards in the plans they review for residential and commercial construction.

Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery repeated what he told council members at Tuesday’s council session. Now in his sixth four-year term as a council member, Lowery said the council elected in 2007 is the best group of council members he’s served with in a long political career. Twelve of the 13 council members, including Lowery, were re-elected in the 2011 elections.

The awards honor public service and go to one elected official and one non-elected official each year. The award is sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.

Church Health Center founder Dr. Scott Morris, a substitute keynote speaker for Martin Institute founder Brad Martin, talked about the intersection of politics and public service.

It was a connection Morris admits he didn’t initially make when he came to Memphis 25 years ago to found the nonprofit health center.

“Trust me, I get it now,” he said as he talked of the “many politicians who have come through the doors of the Church Health Center” and the many trips he’s made to Nashville to visit with state legislators and governors, past and present.

“All of us have tried hard to separate our work at the Church Health Center from the public arena,” Morris said. “But in matters of integrity, we share a common cause. … No one can act with integrity without first spending time knowing what you believe to be true.”

He also advised those interested in public service to change their minds when they realize they are wrong and cited the late Memphis City Council member Bob James whom Morris got to know after James left the council.

James was a conservative and a charter member of the council that took office in 1968. James was an ardent backer of then-Mayor Henry Loeb in that year’s sanitation workers strike.

Morris said in his conversations with James later in life, James remained a conservative but wasn’t afraid to say he had been wrong in his view of the city’s racial problems.

“He got it,” Morris said of James.

The awards began as a way of not only honoring Dunavant but of promoting good public service during the time of the Tennessee Waltz corruption investigation.

Ted Illsley of Shelby County Code Enforcement accepts a Bobby Dunavant Public Service Award from keynote speaker Scott Morris and Carolyn Wills during a Rotary Club of Memphis East luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis on Wednesday. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout remembered Dunavant as “totally honest” and an elected official “who didn’t seek recognition like many politicians.”

“(Dunavant) went about his business on a day-by-day basis,” Rout said.

Morris said those public officials who go astray don’t “wake up a bad person one day.”

“It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self respect to self interest.”

Morris also warned that it’s important for those in public service to “map out” what they believe to be true before attempting to “act with integrity.”

“If you wait … you will almost every time make a bad decision. This is as true in health care as it is in politics,” he said.

Morris also cautioned against partisan political divisions in working with others.

“It ultimately comes down to our hearts,” he said.