Before folding his final hand and retiring from the University System of Georgia, Chancellor Hank Huckaby came to Columbus to accept an award that honors the leadership of retired banker Jim Blanchard.
Huckaby has led the state’s colleges and universities since 2011. Before that he was a legislator, a campus administrator and the primary architect behind many state budgets.
And it began in American Government 101.
In 1960, he was a city boy, reared in Hapeville in the noisy flight pattern of the Atlanta airport. That fall, he found himself in an isolated junior college on the side of a hill in Young Harris, Ga.
Government class could be a snoozer, and he was there because he had to be. Just before class the professor arrived — which would be his habit every morning.
Zell Miller had the swagger of a Marine and wore a flattop to match. This was his second year of teaching at his alma mater.
Huckaby learned about leadership that term, and a class that might have been dry and lifeless turned into a training ground for his future — all because of that cocky guy with the military haircut.
“He had a style about him,” Huckaby remembers. “He’d come in five minutes before class started and would outline his lecture on the blackboard. He never used a note. He would take the roll, start lecturing, and cover everything that was on the board. He was demanding. But you could do well — if you studied.”
Miller became a temperamental legend. He was a state senator, a longtime lieutenant governor and a two-term governor who retired as a U.S. senator. Men and women like Huckaby went along for the ride.
Huckaby retires Dec. 31. His interim replacement will be Steve Wrigley, another Miller protégé. Wrigley was in the room when the HOPE Scholarship was born and has been a key player in education ever since. He would be a worthy successor.
As his biographer, I got to know the sidekicks who grew old with Miller. He’s home now, and he doesn’t get out of the hills much. But you know Zell’s proud of Hank Huckaby and the others he taught so well.
Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org