This year has been fantastic for the Chester family. Gail and I have been living in Athens, Georgia now for a little over three years. We’ve been living the life of academic nomads since 2003 and Athens is our third stop along the way (counting Doha, Qatar and Malibu, California). We’ve learned that the third year in a new place is the year that things settle down and start feeling a lot like home. It’s in the third year that our jobs become more routine, that new friends become old friends, and we decide on ways to get more involved in the community. That’s been the type of year that we’ve enjoyed.
We started the new year in Jacksonville, Florida attending the Gator Bowl with our daughter Amy and her husband to be Jason. It was a miserable trip, being very cold with lots and lots of rain. It didn’t help that our Georgia Bulldogs played a very lackluster game and lost to Nebraska. But the highlight of the trip was the time that we got to spend with our children and we enjoyed a very special dinner together after the game.
Speaking of our children, 2014 was the year that both Amy and Duane got married. Planning for weddings and participating in them occupied most of our extra time this year. Amy and Jason were married in July (it was unbelievably hot in Texas) and Duane and Danielle were married in September. We are so blessed in terms of family. Both Amy and Duane did very well in choosing their lifelong partners. They are all becoming very established in their careers and we are very proud of them.
With two weddings this year, Gail and I spent quite a bit of time together on airplanes and in hotel rooms. In fact, we found ourselves traveling as much or more than we we did when we lived overseas. One of our other new experiences this year was traveling to New York to attend the Peabody Awards. Not many associate the Peabody’s with the University of Georgia but these very prestigious awards have been sponsored by the University’s Grady College since their inception in 1940. It was a working trip for me but we had the opportunity to take in a show and we enjoyed watching Brian Cranston perform the role of LBJ in All the Way. Later at the awards we were pleasantly surprised to find Brian Cranston sitting at a table across from our own. Cranston and his colleagues picked up a Peabody Award for Breaking Bad. We also got to rub elbows with the likes of Charlie Rose, Tom Brokaw, and Ken Burns. It was both a pleasure and an honor for Gail and I to get to participate in this event.
Both Gail and I both continue to enjoy excellent health. During the past year we continued with our previous habits of getting up early each morning for exercise before work. Four o’clock comes mighty early but we are both at the point where we couldn’t function during the day without starting it with some rigorous exercise. We’re not too far away from the fifth anniversary of my becoming much more health conscious and 2014 was the year that I took the next step on this journey. It’s been over a year now since I’ve had any type of sugary snack or dessert. And in three days it will have been a year since I had my last diet coke. Nothing but water or juice for me for the past year. These changes to my diet plus my getting into long distance running (I’ve run over 750 miles this year alone) have left me about twenty pounds lighter. The reward (and price) of living a healthier lifestyle is having to constantly invest in new clothes.
In October I ran my first half marathon, finishing it in a respectable two hours and five minutes (averaging about a little under a 9:30/mile pace). Since then I’ve doubled down on how serious I’m taking the long distance training. Right now I'm running a little more than 30 miles a week preparing for a half marathon on the Warner Robbins Air Force Base on January 17th. Gail and I both are going to run in this event and I am hoping to finish under two hours. Gail plans to do more walking than running but she should easily finish under three hours. We’re both registered for the Chick-Fil-A half marathon in Athens in April and I expect that we’ll both do the Athens half marathon later in October. I’ve also made the decision to commit to the training necessary to compete in the full marathon in Savannah, Georgia that will run in November. I’ve not settled on a goal yet, but I’m wondering whether it’s attainable to try to finish my first marathon under four and a half hours. This time is not even close to what it would take to qualify for the Boston Marathon but not bad for someone who once weighed 40% more than they do today.
For me, it’s also been a very stellar year at work. You can’t say enough good things about the University of Georgia. I’ve been blessed to work for both a president and provost who I truly admire and from whom I learn new things daily. This past year, we’ve finished a major implementation of new databases for admitting and tracking students. The project has been ongoing for over three years and has been an incredible success. It’s provided our students with new capabilities for registering for courses and tracking their progress through their academic programs. For the first time the University of Georgia now benefits from a comprehensive, cradle to grave record of a student's history with our institution. It also provides mechanisms for engaging them as they become lifelong learners and friends of the University.
One of the great prides I have with my work is our ability to hire and develop individuals who later go on and enjoy tremendous career success as leaders in their own right. That means that you have to become very comfortable with eventually losing some of the individuals in whom you've invested considerable time and energy. Over the past seven years three of my direct reports have attained CIO status at major institutions. This track record continued this year as a close friend and colleague also made a similar jump. It was a little discouraging to lose her (and frustrating to watch as she later recruited two of our very capable managers to follow her) but I’ve been amazed at how those remaining have stepped up. We’ve not missed a beat. I would say that the individuals in the pipeline are helping us to perform far better as an organization than we were at this time last year.
One of the more important things for us this year was finding a new church home. Since arriving in Athens we had been worshipping at a church across town, one with leaders and friends that we cherish, but this year we decided that we wanted to worship much closer to our neighborhood. We’ve found that new home in Central Presbyterian Church just down the street from our home. I’m now back teaching Sunday School, something I’ve done off and on for over ten years now, and both Gail and I have enjoyed making new friends along the way. Last night was a very special Christmas Eve service which has started our holiday off on just the right tone.
The past twelve months has been wonderful for my family. It’s been a year filled with blessings, changes, hope, and anticipation for future things to come. I think I’ll shy away from setting any more big goals for the year (training for and finishing half marathons and marathons is enough). But both Gail and I start the new year full of hope and thankful for the blessings that we have enjoyed. We both wish all of our family and friends the same hope and blessings for a wonderful 2015.