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VOL. 131 | NO. 259 | Thursday, December 29, 2016

Awards Recognize Highest Ideals of Public Service

BY K. DENISE JENNINGS, Special to The Daily News

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Public service is a worthy legacy, and one that the Rotary Club of Memphis East wants to recognize and encourage in the next generation.

The annual Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards recognize one elected official and one non-elected public employee who have exemplified the virtues of former Probate Court Clerk Bobby Dunavant, for whom the award is named.

James Lewellen

The Rotary Club of Memphis East, whose motto is “Service Above Self,” encourages the citizens of Shelby County to think about public servants they know who are honest, unpretentious, accessible, energetic, involved, generous, empathetic and attentive to detail, all of the things that defined Bobby Dunavant as a person and a public servant. The nomination link can be found at www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org.

Past winners of the Dunavant Awards, many of whom knew Dunavant personally, reflect on what it means to be recognized in this way.

“None of us undertake the work for recognition, which makes that kind of recognition all the more special,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who was a recipient in 2016 and who also counts Dunavant as a mentor.

“It’s symbolic of a community that cares when we’re honored that way,” Norris said. “I hope it just provides encouragement for others to give back to the community as well. That’s really what our country and communities were founded on … unselfish service for the right reasons.”

Collierville Town Administrator James Lewellen, who won the award in 2014, said, “I consider it the highest form of recognition I’ve ever received.”

Lewellen says the purpose, the past winners and the ceremony itself all make the Dunavant Awards very prestigious and something that stands out in the body of work of a public servant.

The awards recognize people who are carrying out programs and services that shape and improve the lives of others, and he notes, “We need more people interested in those fields of work.”

“Many times it’s people who work behind the scenes that are recognized with the award and it’s meaningful to recognize the importance of a legacy of work by Dunavant and others like him,” Lewellen said.

Bill Boyd, former Memphis City Council member and 2008 Dunavant Award recipient, said the award is doubly special to him because he grew up with Dunavant. They met at Southside High School as young boys and played on a state championship baseball team together, later parlaying those talents into winning the Shelby County Horseshoe Championship as teammates.

“We grew up together. Our careers kind of paralleled each other, and we served along side each other as Shelby County elected officials,” Boyd said. “He was the Probate Court Clerk and I was the Assessor of County Property.

“I respected Bobby as an outstanding example of all in the position of public trust. He was honest, fair and hardworking. I think that it’s very thoughtful of the Rotary to make that award,” said Boyd, who is currently president of the Kiwanis Club.

Lisa Geater, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s chief of staff, has worked at City Hall for 28 years and said she’s always believed that her job comes with high expectations of public trust and a weighty responsibility to serve the citizens of Shelby County.

“For someone to see that’s been a guiding force in my career is a pretty amazing honor,” said Geater, who was bestowed the non-elected public employee award last spring. “I’ve always thought this award was significant because it sought to honor the very best ideals of public service. We always see the headlines and hear the news about where government falls short … but we get so much right and our employees do so much good.

“To know there’s an organization out there that honors that is a big deal to me.”

Former Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, a 2004 Dunavant Award winner, agrees.

“It means a lot to the recipients. I knew Dunavant when I was in private practice and he really exemplified what a public servant is supposed to be,” Gibbons said.

Nominations for the 2017 Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards are open to the public and for any nominee who serves the citizens of Shelby County. The date for the awards ceremony will be set for mid-spring and announced sometime in January.

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