It was a grand event celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the James Blanchard Leadership Forum at the Cunningham Center of Columbus State University. Nearly 1,300 attended, including keynote speakers George W. Bush, his wife Laura and daughter Barbara, CEO and founder of Global Health Corps. Other speakers included Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and bestselling author Daniel Pink.
Goodwin outlined a fascinating history of our presidents while the Bushes described the human side of living in and out of the White House. But it was James Blanchard himself who stole the show with a wonderful history of leadership in Columbus.
“We may be the most generous city in the world,” said Blanchard. “Leadership takes three things – focus, strength and hope.” He proceeded to name Columbus leaders who have made a difference as the town has gone through a renaissance.
Blanchard looked back at when the Springer Opera House was designated the State Theater of Georgia by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter, thanks to local leaders Jim Woodruff and Weezie Butler. Janice Biggers and Brown Nicholson helped establish the historic district downtown. “We recognized historic preservation as an economic tool,” he said.
Then Columbus-Muscogee County became the first consolidated government in the state. “Since the late ’60s we’ve had good government – no scandals, no corruption,” Blanchard noted. Another turning point was race relations. “In response to civil disorder in 1971, Bill Turner, Andy Speed, Bill Feighner, George Ford and A.J. McClung met frequently, brought in the Urban League and overcame issues that critically wounded other cities. No great city can emerge without [good race relations].”
George Woodruff, Bill Heard, Dayton Preston, Gardiner Garrard, Rollins Aldridge, Bob Carter and Jimmy Yancey helped bring Pratt and Whitney to Columbus in 1980, after years of decline in textiles. “Gov. George Busbee called it the greatest economic development event in Georgia history,” Blanchard said.
In 1979, Columbus built its Convention and Trade Center and I-185 opened. “We were no longer the biggest city in the country not on an interstate.” Bill Turner pushed Uptown Columbus, along with Tom Black and Gardiner Garrard. Now Columbus State University has a campus downtown, he added.
Other events that had a big impact on Columbus through the years include the Southern Open in 2003, the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens and, of course, the 1996 Olympic women’s softball tournament. “Billy Payne said ours was the easiest and most successful venue,” Blanchard said.
In the ’90s, the city had the Columbus Challenge to raise $100 million for the RiverCenter for Performing Arts. There are so many companies that support the city – Aflac, TSYS, Synovus and W.C. Bradley, among others, he continued. “Now we have whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee River downtown, and it’s like we’ve gone from analog to digital.”
An additional highlight of the event was when Dan Amos, chairman and CEO of Aflac, was honored with the 2015 Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business. The honor included a $10,000 scholarship provided by the Jordan Co. to Columbus State graduate student Ashley Hobby, who will pursue an MBA at CSU beginning in January.
Photo above: Jim Blanchard speaks to the 1,250 in attendance at this year’s James Blanchard Leadership Forum in Columbus.
Photo courtesy of the Cunningham Center of Columbus State University.