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Martha Nesbitt honored as a commanding '4-foot-something' figure in Gainesville
Former college president presented Quality of Life Award
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Dr. Martha Nesbitt, right, is given the Quality of Life Award by Phillippa Lewis Moss, the Community Council on Aging director, on Thursday during a ceremony honoring Nesbitt in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

Family, friends and co-workers paid tribute to Martha T. Nesbitt Thursday night for her dedication, involvement and variety of contributions to higher education and the community. 

Nesbitt, who retired as president of what was then Gainesville State College in 2012, was recognized as the recipient of the 2017 Community Quality of Life Award during a presentation in at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. The award ceremony was hosted by the Gainesville-Hall County Community Council on Aging.

Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the council, called Nesbitt “a person committed to excellence.” 

“Martha T. Nesbitt is the smallest giant I have ever met,” said Moss, reciting what she would write in an introduction of a book about Nesbitt. “At 4-foot-something inches, she towers over larger women in both presence and grace. She is a commanding figure, not because of what she demands, because of what she surrenders. 

“Martha can run circles around the average person several times literally and figuratively. … But it is her ability to blend in like a blade of grass in the wind that makes her strong. Knowing when to stand tall and when to yield is an art of survival, of endurance and success,” Moss added. “Fighting against a hurricane, as we saw as recently as this week is futile, but learning to conserve your energy for those times when you can really make a difference and then striking when the opportunity presents itself is a statement to Martha’s unique leadership style.”

In video messages, members of her family, longtime friends and co-workers at the college and various boards and organizations where she has served used words like “feisty,” “inspiring leader” and “someone who defies the stereotype of aging.” Some recalled personal experiences that made them laugh or gave them respect for her.

Steve Watson, council chairman, said Nesbitt has encouraged others.

“Zig Ziglar said, ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never know,’” Watson told Nesbitt in front of the crowd at the end of the evening. “You did that for so many people. You put the try into a lot of people and they ended up doing things and this community is a result. We’re very grateful for what you have done for us and with us.” 

In her response after receiving the award from Moss, Nesbitt said she was “really a bit overwhelmed.”

“I am deeply honored to receive this award this evening,” she said. “The quality of life in a community is determined by its people. There are many people in this community who deserve this award whether they be native Gainesvillians, longtime residents or those who come in more recent years. The quality of leadership in this community is truly amazing. My husband and I had not been here very long before we decided that this would be our home after I retired… How blessed I am to be part of this community.”

Nesbitt served as president of the college from 1997 until her retirement in 2012. During her tenure, the college grew from a little more than 2,800 students to about 8,000. The Martha T. Nesbitt building on the UNG-Gainesville campus is named in her honor.

In retirement, Nesbitt has been active in various community boards and organizations including the Northeast Georgia Health System, the Lakeview Academy and the Elachee Nature Science Center.

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