Glen's passed the baton; what will we do with it?

By Staff
Oct. 10, 2001
That's how the American Heritage Dictionary defines "gentleman." The authors could have saved some time and ink by reducing that to two words, "Glen Deweese."
Since our community and state lost one of its most cherished leaders, much has been said and written in tribute to this wonderful man. There's nothing really new that I can relate, except maybe the perspective of a relative newcomer to Meridian. You see, I was one of the unlucky ones. I was privileged to know Senator Deweese for only three years.
Moving to a new place can be exciting, but it is also stressful. As Professor Harold Hill might have exclaimed in The Music Man, "You gotta know the territory." A newcomer doesn't know his way around, geographically and culturally, and it's easy to unwittingly step on some land mines. And everybody, unless you're some redheaded troll lurking neath a stone bridge, has the need to be accepted.
I know all that to be true because in the course of trying to build a career in higher education, I have moved all over the South, working in Tennessee, Texas, Florida and Mississippi. My wife, Claudia, who has been exceeding supportive and patient in that 30-year adventure, tells me the next time I start talking about moving, I'll be talking to myself.
Anyway, upon my arrival in Meridian, Glen Deweese immediately took me under his wing. He went out of his way to make me feel welcome even came up to my office one day just to offer his support, promising, "Any way I can help you, just let me know."
Thereafter, every time I encountered Glen, he never failed to offer words of encouragement. "I'm hearing good things about you," he would say. Or, "We're so glad you moved here," or "You're doing a great job."
Of course, not everybody would have agreed with Glen's assessment, but that's not the point. Rather, it's that Glen routinely took the time to uplift another human being. And I know he did that with lots and lots of folks, not just me.
When times got tough budgetarily with the State Legislature, Glen would call me and say, "Hang in there, Scott. These things run in cycles, and a better day is coming." (And, by the way, if it hadn't been for Glen's leadership in the Legislature, times would be a lot tougher than they already are for the community colleges.
He led the fight to gain state appropriations for each college district some years ago at a time when funding was limited to local support.
In addition to his thoughtful words in person over the last three years, Glen wrote me at least four letters to reiterate his support and encouragement. The last one arrived the first week in September. Even when he was very, very sick, Glen took the time to show kindness to others.
Quoting from that letter, Glen wrote, "Scott, I've had a great life. God has been good to me, and I've enjoyed every minute of my life. I sincerely believe when you prosper, you first need to give to your church, then you need to give back part to the community that helped you along."
What a wonderful prescription for living! Would that all of us could hold true to such a philosophy.
Glen also wrote some kind things about my family and me, which, again, represented his usual practice. He never failed to seize upon an opportunity to make you feel special.
And having Glen Deweese as my friend did make me feel special. Last week, I met with the other 14 community college presidents in Mississippi. We all wanted to do something in Glen's honor, like a resolution or a plaque.
But another dust-collector isn't the way we can best honor Glen.
Rather, we can all continue to work together to make the vision he held for Meridian and Lauderdale County a reality.
In speaking with Glen one-on-one and in hearing him articulate that vision many times in meetings of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, I know that Glen genuinely believed in the Meridian area's potential. I know that he believed great things could happen if only leadership developed a singularity of purpose and a logical sense of priorities.
I guess it's kind of like a relay race. Glen and other astute leaders have run a strong leg. They have set the table with things like the Riley Education Center, the new industrial park, potential tenants for the Delco-Remy building, downtown development projects, and the Southern Arts &Entertainment Center. Glen has handed us the baton, and now he's looking down from Heaven cheering us on.
Can we finish the race? Run strong all the way through the tape? One thing's certain if we have just half the optimism, energy, passion and vision of Glen Deweese, then it's a foregone conclusion.
Dr. Scott Elliott is president of Meridian Community College.

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