John Jacobs: The First Man in a Band of Brothers

President’s Message, Fall 2012

Brenau President Ed Schrader
Brenau President Ed Schrader

I read an historical novel about 15 years ago entitled The First Man in Rome. It accurately and compellingly described the method of civic leadership and governance applied in Rome prior to establishment of Caesar and his descendant line of Emperors. The Roman senate acted as a democratic body, governing the city-state through consensus and votes of the body with all members having equal say and equal vote. When a crisis arose – natural disaster, military threat, famine, a need for new roads or a new way to feed the poor – the senate selected “The First Man in Rome,” who was first among equals, someone who would rise from his peers and lead the city to address and defeat any obstacle. At the end of his time as First Man, the civic leader would return to his role as an equal and go about the business of providing for and supporting his family.

I think you must have my point by now. John Jacobs was the “First Man” in Gainesville on many, many occasions. He rose to lead, to address public needs and to overcome obstacles to the growth and to improve health and quality of life in Gainesville and Northeast Georgia. John led fundraising efforts and garnered popular support for so many civic causes and public service opportunities that it is pointless to try and name them all. But, in the case of Brenau University, suffice it to say that, without John’s long tenure of leadership and support, we would certainly not be the same vital, growing, socially responsible and forward-looking institution that we are today – if indeed we would even be here at all. John Jacobs made sure that his town was a better place to live and play. Who can count the lives that have been improved and saved as a result of his love and his efforts?

Of course, John led the University with critical financial decisions at critical times. Probably more important, he invested strategically of his time and commitment. John Jacobs stood like a lightning rod attracting community support for Brenau. John brought his friends and family along with him on his journeys. He shared a unique and progressive vision of the future with all who would listen. And, he made sure that you listened! Students from many generations, past and future, live and lead extraordinary lives because John helped this school find its way and stay on course. His legacy of changed lives, changed hearts, and a changed world is our inspiration.

John Jacobs receiving his second Silver Star
John Jacobs receiving his second Silver Star

Now, just a word about the rest of the “Senate” in Gainesville. They were the embodiment of a band of brothers. From 1945 until today, a group of talented, worldly wise, and dedicated leaders have given this city its unique character and forward-looking vision. This band of brothers decided to live and prosper in Gainesville, although they could have thrived in any major metropolitan center in the country. Through a sheer sense of what was right and the commitment to see it happen, they propelled northeast Georgia into leadership in education, innovations in business, easily accessible health services and meals for those unable to provide for themselves. They developed a distinctive community culture and advanced the fine arts, which resulted in a sustainable and holistic standard of living that any city or region in the country would envy and try to emulate. I did not know them all, and I am sorry for that. Talented leaders – many of whose names you see on street signs, public buildings and all over the Brenau campus – provided the foundation for our way of life and for inspiring a life-changing vision for coming generations. In most cases, these servant-leaders passed on their selfless passion to their children.

Many members of Gainesville’s band of brothers rose to lead at a time of crisis or to meet a public need, but none more often or more successfully than John Jacobs, the much decorated World War II hero you see in the photo . I know he loved and treasured his friends and co-workers in these endeavors of love and service.

One of the most important pieces of wisdom that John demonstrated for us all was how he lived out life when he wasn’t being called upon to lead. He went about daily providing for his family (financially, morally, and spiritually) with humility. He never acted as if he were any better, or any different, from all the citizens of his beloved community. He was the best among equals. It is my very real and very personal honor to call him friend and mentor.

John Jacobs leaves a tremendous legacy: He changed the world through his hard work, service to others, and commitment to integrity. I do not even want to ponder what Brenau University would have been if John had not been here. He loved Brenau’s students, journalism and place in the community. And we all love him.

Thanks from all of us. Thanks to John Jacobs, “First Man of Brenau.”

You must be logged in to post a comment.