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Passing the Torch

Aug 11, 2010
by Laura Smith

Long-time Flagler Trustees Retire from Board Lawrence Lewis would be proud.

Back in 1971, Lewis, the founder of Flagler College, hand-picked two energetic community leaders, John D. Bailey Sr. and Frank Upchurch Jr., to take seats on the college’s fledgling Board of Trustees. Ten years later, the board welcomed the addition of Lewis’ daughter, Louise Foster. This year the three trustees, who have given a combined 107 years of service and leadership to Flagler, have retired from the board.

It’s a bittersweet transition for all three. Upchurch and Bailey feel the significance of the moment, having dedicated nearly 40 years each to the growth and direction of Flagler. Foster, with nearly 30 years of service and the emotion of strong ties to the college, sees the transition as another chapter in her family’s long marriage to Flagler.

“It’s a jewel of St. Augustine,” she said. “My father loved the college; he saw it as a way to give back to St. Augustine. It’s been very gratifying to continue his vision.”

Though Flagler was founded in 1968, the organization struggled in its first three years. In 1971 Lewis established the Board of Trustees and brought Bailey and Upchurch on to help establish a more viable direction for the school. Together, they recruited Dr. William Proctor, who served as the president for 30 years. Together, they established the direction, the vision, the organization and the trajectory that would propel Flagler on a path of steady growth and continued academic success.

Bailey was a World War II veteran and a seasoned insurance executive when Lewis approached him about taking a seat on the board.

“Lawrence wanted a local board, people who knew the city and would help earn the trust and the support of the community,” Bailey said. “We knew if we could convince the town of the value of the college, we would be able to save these beautiful buildings and create something that would last, something that would give back.

“I believe it’s our duty to do everything we can to improve the town we live in. Flagler College has been such a big part of my life and my personal vision,” he said. He paused a moment, his voice low with emotion. “It’s a little tough, taking a step back.”

Upchurch can relate. Now retired, the attorney, judge and World War II combat veteran’s eyes light up when the conversation turns to one of three topics: his family, his life as an aviator and Flagler College. He, too, finds it hard to let go of his professional tie to the college as a member of the board.

“Lawrence [Lewis] was a great friend. Basically, anything he wanted me to do, I’d do it,” he remembers, laughing. “When he came to me with the proposal for the college, I was immediately on board.”

The growth of the college has been almost miraculous, Upchurch said. “To remember where it was that first day, when the offices and classrooms were just dusty old buildings, when we had so much work ahead of us, and to see where it is today, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

“John [Bailey] and I argue about who’s been on the board the longest,” Upchurch said. “We’re definitely the two who were there in the first days, along with Lawrence and Judge Howell Melton. We’ve seen quite a bit, you could say.”

Foster joined Upchurch and Bailey on the board in 1980 until 1999, and was then reappointed to the board in 2004. The daughter of Lawrence Lewis and the niece of Lewis’ sister, Flagler benefactor Molly Wiley, Foster has fond memories of Flagler College — both before and during its life as a college.

“We used to come to the Ponce when it was still a hotel,” she said. “We spent so much time there — when I was a teenager we’d almost have the run of the place, as it would be nearly empty in the summer. It’s a special, special place. I’m proud that my family was a part of the college’s founding, and so pleased that I was able to serve on the board for as long as I did.”

And the best thing the board has ever achieved? Hands down, according to Upchurch, “The best work we ever did was in selecting two incredible presidents. Bill Proctor and [current president] Bill Abare have made the job of the board an easy thing,” he said.

The vision of the trustees will be maintained in coming years through the works of their children, also members of the Board of Trustees: John D. Bailey Jr.; Mark F. Bailey; Frank D. Upchurch III; and Horace A. “Bo” Gray IV, Foster’s son.

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