VOL. 130 | NO. 4 | Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Dunavant Award Nominations Open
By Bill Dries
With Memphis elections on the horizon in another election year, Rotarians are about to begin the process of selecting new winners of the Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards.
The Rotary Club of Memphis East is taking nominations for the annual Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards, named in honor of the late Shelby County Probate Court clerk. The awards, now in their 12th year, go to one elected official and one non-elected public official who best exemplify Dunavant’s record of service.
(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)
The 12th annual awards that go to one local elected official and one local non-elected public official are a way of not only honoring the late Shelby County Probate Court clerk but also fostering a broader discussion about the nature of public service and specifically local public service.
A committee of members of the Dunavant family as well as members of the Rotary Club of Memphis East selects the award winners in the program, which is sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.
The nomination process opened this week with forms on the Rotary website, www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org, and anyone can submit a nomination.
No date has been set yet for the annual awards luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis.
Last year’s awards went to Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft and Collierville town administrator James Lewellen. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was the keynote speaker at the 2014 luncheon.
David Leake, who is on the selection committee, said no date has been set at this point as a deadline for submitting names.
“We usually go over the names that have been submitted in the past so they don’t need to resubmit on that basis,” he said. “But we want to encourage those individuals who do such an outstanding job and have a great story to tell. We are kind of looking for the story behind the story.”
The form for nominations is more than submitting a name. It includes nine qualities exemplified by Dunavant and asks how the nominee exemplifies each of them. The qualities are honesty, empathy, being family-oriented, mentorship, being energetic and involved, interest in those the nominee serves, caring for employees on and off the job, being accessible and being unpretentious.
“I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Bobby (Dunavant) was the finest public servant I ever saw.”
Allie Prescott, who is serving on the Rotary awards committee, first knew Dunavant from playing in the amateur All-Memphis baseball league and later as an attorney who, like so many new attorneys, encountered him at the Shelby County Courthouse.
“I always knew Bobby to be a kind, soft-spoken guy but extremely competitive on the athletic field,” said Prescott, who is owner of the marketing and advertising firm Allie Prescott & Partners LLC. “But when I started practicing law, particularly as a young lawyer … I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Bobby was the finest public servant I ever saw. He was just so dedicated to that job.”
Some attorneys’ first encounter with Dunavant came before they realized he was the Probate Court clerk. Dunavant had a desk near the counter in the clerk’s office rather than keeping an office. And when his employees at the counter were busy, it was common for Dunavant to take the next attorney who had papers to be filed.
“If you had something wrong, he would sit down at the desk there and redo it for you,” Prescott said. “Service above and beyond the call was the hallmark for Bobby. … You know the old adage ‘the speed of the leader is the speed of the gang’ – no one wanted to let that guy down.”
Like so many of the award recipients, Dunavant was a non-elected employee in the clerk’s office before he was elected Probate Court clerk.
“He was helpful to everybody – the senior partner at the largest law firm in town or the young lawyer right out of law school who Bobby could tell looked bewildered. … He never lost that real zeal for just helping,” Prescott said. “We had a couple of tough judges down there, and you didn’t want to embarrass yourself in front of them. You could ask him anything and he would help you get prepared to make your presentation in the courtroom.”
Dunavant retired in 1994 when he chose not to seek re-election. He died in 2003, which is when the awards in his name were organized.
The list of past award winners indicates that controversy doesn’t necessarily rule out leaders from consideration.
Most have at some point been at the center of controversial issues.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich was honored as the non-elected official for 2010 and was presented the award shortly after her appointment to the elected position in 2011.
Current Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell was the elected official honored for 2010.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was honored when he was Shelby County mayor.