Friends, supporters, and elected officials from across the Coastal Empire celebrated Saturday night the civil service and leadership of Hinesville’s first African-American mayor.
The event at the Liberty County Community Complex was organized by Dr. Alicia Kirk of the Kirk Healing Center for the Homeless, who is a friend of former mayor Jim Thomas.
The event was emceed by Tasha Martinez, a volunteer and member of the Board of Directors at the Kirk Healing Center.
Retired Lt. Gen. William Webster, who served at Fort Stewart several times since the 1980s, spoke via videoconference about working with Hinesville.
Current Hinesville Mayor Allen Brown said he has known Thomas for many years and supported him throughout his mayoral term.
“He’s always been a friend to me and I’ve considered him a valuable resource now because, guess what, the city, since I was mayor, has changed a lot,” Brown said.
“So I consider him a friend. Even though I served eight years, I still look at him as a mentor because he’s been in the more modern times,” Brown added.
Brown said he hopes to continue to consult with Thomas and see him be involved in the community, such as serving on boards.
Attendees went through a long banquet line for dinner and settled in for the rest of the evening of speeches and presentations.
Cathy Hill, vice president of Georgia Power and the evening’s keynote speaker, focused her speech on eight lessons of leadership from Nelson Mandela’s life as observed by his biographer, Richard Stengel.
These lessons included, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s inspiring others to move beyond it,” and, “Lead from the front, but don’t leave your base behind.”
Hill also came up with her own list of lessons of leadership she had observed from Thomas, including two from the military’s 11 General Orders Thomas would have learned during his military career.
One lesson was, “Leaders establish a strategy that begins with hopefulness.” Another was, “Leaders tear down walls, cross over rivers, build bridges to bring people together,” in reference to his work serving as chairman of the Coastal Regional Commission and efforts to bring communities together to show support for keeping soldiers at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.
“Mayor Thomas, thank you for what you have done to pass on to the sentries who are here to relieve you,” Hill said. “Thank you for ensuring that the orders are clear. Thank you for the legacy that you are leaving. Thank you for passing it on to the next generation, those who are seeking leadership and who’ll be able to learn from your lesson on leadership.”
Several awards and accolades were presented to Thomas by different community organizations and leaders.
The Rotary Club of Hinesville presented a certificate declaring Thomas a Paul Harris Fellow.
Henry Paul Stuart, deputy commander of Fort Stewart, presented to Thomas, on behalf of Maj. Gen. James Rainey, commanding general of 3rd Infantry Division, a statue of a bulldog, the mascot of the Marne Division.
A transcript of a speech by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., was read, recognizing Thomas on the floor of the House of Representatives.
At the end of the evening, Thomas and his wife, Claudia, walked on-stage to thank attendees for their support and the words spoken of him that night.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said his relationship with Thomas is “very dear to me.”
“I’ve known him now over 30 years,” Williams said. “He’s done so much for this community and continues to do so. Wonderful person, think the world of him. Just so glad we as a community can come together, just say thanks tonight to he and Claudia.”
“The way he led this city for eight years will stand the test of time because it will be bearing fruit for generations to come,” Williams said of Thomas’ legacy.
For Thomas, the evening was a time to talk to those who had supported him over the years.
It was “wonderful, just absolutely wonderful,” to be honored by supporters and friends, Thomas said.
The event also made him reflect on his time as mayor.
“It makes me wonder and it makes me just consider how this city ran and the great help that I got from all of the people that are here,” he said. “Because these are the people that helped, did it. No one can do it, no mayor can do it by himself.”