JACKSON, Tenn. – Dec. 20, 2008 – Union University honored Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist and Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris with the Robert E. Craig Service Award during commencement exercises Dec. 19 at West Jackson Baptist Church.
The 184th graduating class from Union included 268 graduates who received their degrees. Union President David S. Dockery said the night “puts a period on a long and challenging year” at Union.
The Craig Service Award is named after Union’s 13th president, who led the university for more than two decades and was responsible for reestablishing Union with the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Craig was also responsible for relocating the university campus to north Jackson.
“Jerry Gist and Jimmy Harris are marvelous leaders for our community and longtime faithful friends of Union University,” Dockery said. “Moreover, this past year their support for Union in the aftermath of the tornado and throughout the recovery period has been remarkable in every way.
“The university community wishes to express our deep appreciation to both men for their extraordinary service by granting to each of them the Craig Service Award, the highest service award given by the university.”
Gist first worked with the city of Jackson in 1977, when he was executive director of the Recreation and Parks Department. He later served as executive director of public works and Madison County mayor, and was elected Jackson mayor in 2007.
A U.S. Army veteran, Gist holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in public administration. He also is a graduate of the Harvard School of Government.
Harris, a native of Henderson County, graduated from Lexington High School, then the University of Memphis with a degree in engineering technology. He has owned and operated several businesses since 1973, and has been in the real estate development and management business in Jackson since 1987.
He was appointed as Madison County mayor in 2007, and was officially elected to the position in August.
Michael Arrington, executive director of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities, was the keynote speaker for the graduation. He encouraged the graduates to use their Union education to serve society.
“If you want to live the life of a servant leader … then you must not be concerned with your own status, your own prestige, power, wealth, or even your own well being,” Arrington said.
Self-promoting agendas are increasingly common in today’s world, Arrington added.
“That’s why the world so desperately needs the kind of servant leaders who call Union University their alma mater,” he said.