The Making of a Georgia Trustee

by W. Todd Groce, Ph.D.

“How do you become a Georgia Trustee?”

This is a question I am frequently asked. People often want to know the qualities we look for when selecting the Trustees. The short answer: We look for James Edward Oglethorpe. Not literally, of course. But the folks who are inducted into this elite organization and receive the state’s highest honor must share the vision of the founder of Georgia and the group of Trustees he represented.

We all know the story. On February 12, 1733, Oglethorpe and the first Georgia colonists landed at a site on a river bluff where sits today the city of Savannah. Oglethorpe arrived with a dream. Motivated by the motto of Non Sibi, sed Aliis—“Not for Self, but for Others”—he wanted to create a colony free from the ills of modern society. Georgia would be a place where the less fortunate of England would be able to find a fresh start without the old impediments to economic opportunity: large landholdings, slavery, religious rancor, drunkenness, and legal disputes. It was an experiment in reform, and Georgia would be his laboratory.

The experiment only partially succeeded. After a few decades, the colony didn’t look quite like the place he had originally envisioned. Despite Oglethorpe’s best efforts, human nature asserted itself, and Georgia soon resembled the rest of British North America. But this in no way detracts from the nobleness of the effort and the honor of the founder and his vision. And of all the things he planted here, the motto which guided his actions, “Not for Self, but for Others,” proved the strongest and most enduring.

Whereas other colonies were founded for religious purposes or profit, Georgia alone was formed primarily for philanthropic reasons. Oglethorpe insisted on this philanthropic mission and did his best to carry it out. He not only got the young colony on its feet, but he also engrafted a vision that persists to this day in the life and work of those who are selected for this special honor.

Since the re-establishment of the Georgia Trustees by Governor Sonny Perdue’s executive order nearly fifteen years ago, the men and women who have been given the title Georgia Trustee have, in their own way, reflected in their lives, their contributions, and in their vision for a better world, the life and legacy of James Edward Oglethorpe. In many ways, he is the quintessential Georgia Trustee, the standard by which all others are measured. Each time we induct a new Trustee, we honor him and recommit ourselves and our state to the noble principle upon which he and the original Trustees lived and led: “Not for Self, but for Others.”

And that is how you become a Georgia Trustee.