I have said it before but it bears repeating: If I don’t qualify for heaven (a distinct possibility), my preferred alternates are: a. Athens, Ga., on a crisp fall Saturday afternoon; b. Athens, Ga., on a warm spring day; or c. Athens, Ga., on any day.
As you no doubt know, Athens is home to my alma mater, the University of Georgia, the oldest state-chartered university in all the land.
Last week, I was in heaven. I was in Athens. I was there for a convening of the North Georgia Methodist Annual Conference which didn’t quite attain heavenly status because the seats got hard after a couple of days of listening to reports and resolutions. But that’s OK since I was surrounded by Christian men and women that I can assure you are going to heaven and who will try to pray the rest of us in with them. (I didn’t mention to them how I feel about Athens. I would like to keep all my options open.)
At the conference there were a lot of speeches, some polite debate, an abundance of foot-stomping, hand-clapping music, prayers for the poor — both in spirit and in fact — and the ordination of new ministers including — are you ready, Baptists? — a number of (gasp!) women. I kept waiting for rumbles of thunder and a lightning bolt or two, but then I remembered that God likes women preachers. I do, too. That’s one reason I’m glad I’m a Methodist.
If you think your job is difficult, try chairing a three-day meeting of a thousand or so people, including preachers who like to preach, opinionated lay people who like to opine and an agenda that includes everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. Then try to keep things running on time and not bore everybody to oblivion in the process.
That was the responsibility of our presiding bishop, Dr. Michael Watson, and he did a bang-up job. He kindly and patiently let everyone have their say but I got the feeling that after all the speech-making was done, we ended up just about where he wanted us to.
During one of the lunch breaks, I walked the campus of my beloved alma mater. I thought of my student days at UGA and of all that has transpired between my university and me in the intervening years. I have been privileged to be president of the National Alumni Association, to have a room named in my honor at the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications and am the proud possessor of a number of undeserved but greatly appreciated recognitions from the institution.
Alas, there were a few years when I did not feel welcomed on campus because of a thin-skinned administration that didn’t like some of my opinions and evidently got its public relations advice from a turnip. Suffice it to say that administration is now gone with the wind and I’m still here churning out opinions. So much for listening to a turnip.
I dropped by the journalism school where I have made a financial commitment for a professorship in Crisis Communications Leadership. One of the things I learned during my corporate career was that reputations are made and broken in the court of public opinion. Yet, too many times it is the lawyers who dictate the strategy in a crisis situation.
That is because, in my not-so-humble opinion, public relations people haven’t earned a seat at the table to give external counsel at the same weight as legal counsel. I intend to see that changed with the next generation of practitioners.
I want the Grady College and the Yarbrough professor, Dr. Bryan Reber, to become a national resource for organizations that find themselves in crisis situations and for the media who are curious as to how effectively those organizations are communicating with their publics. There are only three things certain in this world: Death, taxes and some clueless corporation, nonprofit or politician creating a crisis for themselves because they are tone-deaf to public opinion.
As I left the campus and headed back to the preaching and praying, I thought about how much I love the University of Georgia — always have, always will. I’m not sure what I have done with my years on this earth has merited me a shot at heaven but if it is not to be, I will gladly accept my hereafter in Athens, Ga., and on any day of the week. It is heaven on earth.