He is Still with Us

by W. Todd Groce, Ph.D.

Like many of you, I remember the day I met Vince Dooley. In the fall of 2003, I was part of the graduating class of Leadership Georgia. The speaker at the graduation ceremony was the legendary Coach Dooley. My ears perked up when during his introduction I heard that he held a master’s degree in history.

Immediately after the program, I rushed to the podium, introduced myself, and thrust a membership application in his hand. “Coach, with your interest in history, you need to be a member of the Georgia Historical Society.” To our everlasting good fortune, he agreed.

Little did I know the impact that first meeting would have on GHS—or on me, personally. From that chance encounter, Coach would go on to become Chairman of our Board and make us the guardian of his documentary legacy when he donated his papers to GHS. He launched the largest capital campaign in our institution’s history, expanding the campus and doubling our endowment. Today a fellowship program and two endowment funds at GHS bear his name.

Most importantly, he made his friends our friends. I quickly learned that there was no one at the state capitol—from the Governor on down—who would not agree to a meeting if you brought along Vince Dooley. By associating himself with us, he expanded our sphere of influence and raised our visibility to new heights. If he believed in us and our mission, then others did, too. The relationships Coach engrafted on to GHS would become some of the most long lasting and consequential in our institutional history.

But his impact went beyond just networking. I learned so much about leadership, integrity, graciousness, and commitment, lessons that I now try to pass on to the next generation. While I could never have played for Vince Dooley, having him as board chairman was like being coached by him, a point I made when he stepped down from office. He thanked me and then said to the whole board, “You’re right about one thing, Todd—you could never have played football for me!”

We often think of charisma as something overwhelming. But Coach possessed a quiet charisma and a sense of humor that drew you to him like a magnet. He easily and genuinely connected to people and made you feel special. It was always about you, never him.

Coach loved to tour battlefields, a passion he and I shared. He once asked me which were on my bucket list, and I said those from the First World War. He replied that when I retired, we would go together. I reminded him of that invitation when we said our goodbyes just ten days before his death.

One day, I will get to those battlefields in France. Coach Dooley will be there with me in spirit. The lessons he taught me made me a better leader, just as the time and resources he gave to GHS made us a better institution. You need only look at what we built over the past decade to realize that Vince Dooley is still with us—and he always will be.