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VOL. 133 | NO. 23 | Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Dunavant Set Gold Standard As Public Servant

By Michael Waddell

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For the late Bobby Dunavant, who worked as Shelby County Probate Court Clerk for 40 years from 1954 to 1994, qualities like being honest, accessible, generous, empathetic and highly attentive to detail made him beloved by friends and colleagues throughout his life.

David Leake, an attorney with The Winchester Law Firm PLLC and founder of the Dunavant Public Servant Awards, met Dunavant early in his career more than 45 years ago when he entered into private practice.

“He was an icon of public servants in my opinion,” said Leake, who founded the Dunavant Awards in 2004 following Dunavant’s passing in early 2003. “He was always concerned about the clientele that he served, mostly lawyers and judges in the probate system. He was just a unique individual.”

Despite his long tenure at his job, Dunavant did not have a private office. He always worked out front at a desk just like all of the other clerks.

“If someone needed help, he would be right out there helping them. He wouldn’t wait for another clerk to wait on you. He knew how valuable attorneys’ time is, so he wanted to get you in and out of there as fast as he could,” Leake said.

What: The Rotary Club of Memphis East recognizes the importance of public service by honoring two public servants each year – one elected official and one non-elected.

When: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m, Wednesday, Feb. 28

Where: Holiday Inn-University of Memphis

Nomination Deadline: Feb. 1 (Nomination form can be found here: http://www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org

Keynote Speaker: Carolyn Hardy, chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle and president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments

Reservations: A table for 10 can be reserved for $400 and individual tickets are available for $50. 

Contact: Lee Hughes, lmhughes@costconsulting.net

Because Dunavant studied his job and read the statutes, he was very helpful to young attorneys in dealing with judges for the first or second time.

“He would bend over backwards to see that you learned while you were going before the judges in the courts, which can be intimidating,” Leake said. “He was very popular and was reelected for a number of terms because of that.”

“He was the epitome of a public servant for decades,” said Rotary Club president J. Mark Griffee, shareholder and partner with Black McLaren Jones Ryland & Griffee P.C. “He was particularly helpful as a mentor to young attorneys such as myself who were just learning the ropes.”

Forming the Dunavant Awards was a way to recognize public servants who do a great job year-round for the community but get little to no recognition, while also promoting good government through the example of award winners.

“My dad always felt like even though he was an elected official he was there to serve the lawyers and the people who were served by that court,” Mike Dunavant said. “That court is a court of record, and people come there usually after something like a death has happened and you are probating a will. You must have some sympathy for people, understand the position they’re in, and put yourself in their shoes from time to time.”

For the past 15 years, two local public servants – one elected official and one non-elected – have been honored each year by the Rotary Club and the Dunavant family. The awards are based on nominations from the public.

“I think he would be shocked that the awards have lasted this long,” said Dunavant’s son Mike, who also works as a public servant as manager of financial services in the Shelby County Finance Department. “Even though he knew that what he did was important, he didn’t think of himself as important. He wasn’t in it for himself.”

This year’s event, co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and The Daily News, will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis on Central Avenue.

Last year’s award recipients were Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner and Memphis Public Libraries Director Keenon McCloy.

Other past honorees include Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland when he was a Memphis City Council member in 2012, and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell in 2010.

Nominations for the 2018 Dunavant Awards, which are due by Thursday, Feb. 1, are open to the public for any nominee who serves the citizens of Shelby County. The nomination link can be found at www.rotaryclubofmemphiseast.org.

The event is expected to draw 400 to 500 attendees. Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments and chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, will be the keynote speaker.

A table for 10 can be reserved for $400 and individual tickets are available for $50. Contact Lee Hughes at lmhughes@costconsulting.net for tickets.

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