12/06/2019

January 28, 2019: An Opportunity to Repay My Alma Mater And My Mentor

I owe the University of Georgia more than I can ever repay the institution. 

In my obituary, if you don’t see my involvement at UGA prominently mentioned in the first couple of paragraphs, call the authorities. They are burying the wrong man.

I’ve done everything from driving to Athens from the Atlanta airport after an extended out-of-town trip to speak to a small group of doctoral candidates in the late afternoon, to serving as president of the National Alumni Association to funding a professorship in Crisis Communications Leadership in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications.  I am an expert on crises.  I have caused as many as I have resolved.

A new assignment from my alma mater has me very excited.  I have been asked to participate in a pilot program along with other alumni, serving as a mentor for participating UGA students.  The UGA Mentor Program is set up so that students can connect with a network of Bulldog alumni, regardless of geographic location.

The intent of the program is to ensure that the students who graduate from UGA go on to become leaders in whatever their field of endeavor and that those of us who have been-there, done-that give them some insight into what the world beyond the classroom is going to look like.

I had a mentor – and a great one.  His name was Jasper Newton Dorsey.  Our paths crossed early in my career at Southern Bell when I was way down the management chain.  He was vice president of Georgia’s telephone operations.  That was the top of the chain.

For some reason, he plucked me out of a business office and brought me to the state headquarters to help him turn around the public’s perception of the company, which was not very good at that time.  In the nine years I worked for him, every day was like going to advanced management school.  It was not easy.  Excellence was the norm. 

I was eminently unqualified to be in a management position at Southern Bell or a part of its public relations department.  I had graduated from UGA without having taken a management course or a public relations class.  I ended up a corporate vice president of BellSouth, one of the country’s largest businesses at the time and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Public Relations Practitioners of the 20th Century.”  None of this would have happened had it not been for Jasper Dorsey.  He pushed me to be better than I thought I could be.

He encouraged me to get to work before anyone else and leave after everyone else had gone and in that period learn something I didn’t know in order to become of more value to the company.  I did and used much of that time analyzing financial statements and annual reports.

He once skewered me for giving him a speech in which he discovered three typographical errors.  When I protested that I had been busy on something I thought more important than a speech, he said, “If I can’t trust you with the little things, I can never trust you with the big ones.”  Lesson learned and never forgotten.

Jasper Dorsey also taught me a lot about life.  His mantra was that we were on this earth for only one reason – to leave the world better than we found it.  Otherwise, we had wasted time and space.  Another lesson learned and never forgotten.

I later went to AT&T’s Washington office as director-public affairs, only the second Southern Bell staffer to do so. The first? Jasper Dorsey. He was a graduate of the Grady College at the University of Georgia, as am I. He was president of the University of Georgia Alumni Society. Me, too. He was named the university’s Outstanding Graduate. So was I. He has a room named in his honor at the Grady College. Ditto. He became a syndicated statewide newspaper columnist after retirement.  So have I.  Think this is all coincidence?  Not hardly.

This great man has been gone for almost 30 years but not a day goes by that I don’t remember and appreciate some valuable lesson he taught me.  That is what mentors do.   

If I can impact one young life as Jasper Dorsey impacted mine, I will have left this a better world than I found it.  He would expect no less from me.  And that is why I am eager to be part of the UGA Mentor Program.  Wish me luck.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb