Big Sandy Community and Technical College President/CEO Dr. George D. Edwards, center, is flanked by family and well-wishers as a clock tower on the Prestonsburg campus was named in his honor on Saturday, November 15. Hundreds of well-wishers attended a community reception for Big Sandy Community and Technical College President/CEO Dr. George D. Edwards on Saturday, November 15, on the Prestonsburg campus.

Dr. Edwards, the founding president of BSCTC, announced his retirement in August. He will leave the college in the coming weeks and work on special assignment with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) through June 30, 2015.

Chancellor Dr. Jay Box, who will assume the role of KCTCS president on January 16, 2015, said he first met Dr. Edwards in 2002 when he was a part of a team doing a reaffirmation visit at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. Dr. Box asked Dr. Edwards about the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, specifically a presidential vacancy at Hazard Community and Technical College.

When I was hired at Hazard, one of the first visits I had at the Hazard campus was George Edwards, He congratulated me on my selection, and he told me he was here for me and that his door was always open. He meant that.

Dr. Box said he has always been impressed with how well Dr. Edwards fit at Big Sandy.

Leadership is a whole lot about how well you fit at your college and in your community, said Dr. Box. George has always done that with his laid-back style of leadership. Hes very quiet and always sincere. Hes gained the respect of his employees and students love him. Thats the kind of leadership that makes a difference at a community college.

The ceremony was filled with poignant moments as well as some humor. Keith Caudill, executive director of the Mountain Arts Center and an alumnus of the college, served as the emcee. Freddie Goble, portraying the popular character Munroe from the Kentucky Opry, crashed the ceremony when he conspired with Caudill to apply for Dr. Edwards vacancy.

I spent four years at Harvard, I told Dr. Edwards, said Munroe. Caudill responded that he was unaware of Munroes studies. I didnt study at Harvard, they studied me, replied Munroe.

Sen. Johnny Ray Turner was on hand for the ceremony. He presented Dr. Edwards with an official citation recognizing his service.

Dr. Edwards and Joyce have done an outstanding job leading this institution, said Sen. Turner. Its bittersweet because Dr. Edwards came here the same year I was elected to the Senate and since that time we have become good friends.

Former Governor Paul E. Patton, chancellor of the University of Pikeville, said he was proud of the work that has been done at BSCTC.

Dr. Edwards has done an outstanding job, said Patton. The rate of high school graduates attending college in eastern Kentucky is the highest in the state at 62.5 percent and thats directly related to work that the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is doing.

Ken Walker, vice president of KCTCS, said one of the best decisions ever made by KCTCS was the hiring of Dr. Edwards.

George has a quiet manner, but when he speaks, people listen, said Walker. This college will miss you, this system will miss you but this system is better off because you have been here.

Karen Sellers, chair of the BSCTC board of directors, announced a special tribute that was read on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Senator Mitch McConnell on Friday, November 14. She said it has been a pleasure to work with Dr. Edwards.

Dr. Edwards leadership has brought higher education to the forefront of the conversation in eastern Kentucky, she said. His leadership and open communication created an environment of cooperation for faculty, staff and students.

Dr. Bruce Ayers, retired president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, recited a poem he wrote about Dr. Edwards: There once was a man I knew, who was bold, courageous and true. A man for all seasons who knew all the reasons to do what he wanted to do. Oh, he could jump, he could holler, he could scream, he could shout, but usually Ol George would wait you out. Choosing instead to beat you with charm, a soft-spoken word was sure to disarm. And when he was ready, his charisma in full bloom, Ol George would sneak in and lower the boom. A laugh was his left, a cackle his right, you usually went down without daring to fight. For who would take on this prince of a man, although defeated, you left as his fan. Singing his praises, despite taking his blow, you shouted aloud What a great CEO. Ol George Edwards, yes, well long sing his praises and relate his stories when hes pushing up daisies.

Dr. Henry Webb, superintendent of Floyd County Schools, said Dr. Edwards has made a lasting impact in the P-12 community.

There has been a lot of growth in P-12 in our region throughout the years, said Dr. Webb. I can tell you unequivocally that it is largely in part because of the partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College. Ive always sat back and watched Dr. Edwards as hes grown leaders in his organization. I want to thank him on behalf of the kids in Floyd County. Hes never said no to a good idea. Our region is better because of the work of Dr. Edwards.

The ceremony had a few surprises as well. Joshua Ball, director of college relations at BSCTC, debuted a video tribute to Dr. Edwards featuring interviews with employees, alumni and dignitaries. Dr. Edwards grandchildren Alexis Kern, Tyler Cross, Nicholas Cross and Charlotte Edwards helped unveil the new George D. Edwards Leadership Program.

When Dr. Edwards announced his retirement, we began to reach out to some of the former students in our Honors program, said Ball. The Honors Program was created by Dr. Edwards in 2005 to provide academically gifted students the opportunity to explore their individual leadership potential. One common theme come out of these conversations: The importance of learning leadership skills at a young age.

The program, the first of its kind in the region, will be administered through the BSCTC Office of Institutional Advancement.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Julie Paxton, chair of the Big Sandy College Educational Foundation, Inc. announced the dedication of a recently constructed clock tower on the Prestonsburg campus in Dr. Edwards honor. The tower is particularly special to Dr. Edwards because it was constructed by students in the colleges masonry program.

This tower is special to Dr. Edwards not because it bears his name, but because it was built by students, she said. May this be a lasting tribute to a man of great character and vision.

During a reception at the East Kentucky Science Center, Dr. Nancy B. Johnson, provost at BSCTC, announced the naming of the exhibit hall as the Dr. George D. and Dr. Joyce Edwards Exhibit Hall.

I have seen this man laugh easily and enjoy happy times. I have seen him cry from touching stories of our students and the difficulties they have overcome to complete their education. He is without a doubt one of the most sensitive and caring individuals I have had the good fortune to work with in my career. I will miss the quick humor, the humming of a familiar country song, the twinkle in his eye as he shares yet another play-on words, and the love he has for these mountains and the people they protect.

Dr. Edwards summed up the night by focusing not on his accomplishments, but on the accomplishments of the institution.

I take little credit for the success we have achieved at the college, said Dr. Edwards. I have merely supported the work of some excellent folks with great ideas who just needed a little budgetary support, a little encouragement, and a little freedom to move forward with creative thoughts and dreams.

Dr. Edwards said he wondered what his legacy may be.

I hope I am remembered as a simple man with a simple plan, he said. That I was compassionate, humble and honest in my dealings with folks. I hope I have practiced those lessons of treating people with respect and dignity, being open to differences in people and their ideas, being helpful and supportive to those who want to grow and develop, being one who listens more than he talks, and one who wound up being half the man his daddy was. Very soon, Joyce and I will drive away from eastern Kentucky, but a big part of our heart and soul will remain here. I will always consider our time here as the best times of our life. Well come back often, but our visits will come from a different perspective. Instead of being a faculty member, a director, a dean, vice president, president or CEO, well now cherish being called good friend, mom and dad, Joyce and George and mamaw and papaw.