Three longtime Alabama leaders who devoted decades to the state were inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame Tuesday, Sept. 24.
Former Samford University president Thomas E. Corts, publisher Emory O. Cunningham and educator and author Eugene B. Sledge join 52 previous inductees in the elite roster of men "whose lives have impacted the state, the nation and the world."
Honorees must have been deceased for at least two years. Plaques recognizing all honorees are housed in Samford's Harwell G. Davis Library.
During an induction luncheon and ceremony at The Club in Birmingham, each new honoree was cited for achievements in their personal and professional lives.
Dr. Corts, who was president of Samford from 1983 to 2006, was a higher education leader who also invested himself in public policy reform efforts.
A man who quietly lived out his faith in everything he did, Corts also had a keen sense of duty to family and civic matters, said his son, Birmingham businessman Christian Corts, citing his father's early support of the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. And, after retirement from Samford, he gave leadership to Alabama's two-year college system and accepted a U.S. presidential appointment to lead an education initiative in developing countries.
But it was his father's traits of humility and kindness that he most admires, said Corts. "He treated everyone from the chairman of the board to an hourly-wage employee with dignity," said Corts, who also values his dad's emphasis on R-E-M: relationships, experiences and memories. "These are the things that give meaning to life, he would say."
Corts, an Indiana native who grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio, died in 2009 at age 67.
Cunningham was remembered for building Southern Progress Corporation into a media dynasty by "shrewdly nurturing deep community roots and treating customers like neighbors," said longtime friend, retired Lee County Circuit Court judge and attorney John V. Denson II.
The publisher's vision and courage to launch Southern Living magazine in 1966 helped showcase positive aspects of southern life at a critical time in the region's history, he said.
"Emory saw the trends of people moving from farms, first to the cities and then to the suburbs, and the change in lifestyle that was prevalent throughout the south as it grew and became known as the sunbelt as opposed to the rust belt in the north," said Denson. During their time as members of the Auburn University board of trustees, Denson said, he came to recognize his friend's intense interest in education, a commitment that merited him honorary degrees from both Auburn and the University of Alabama.
A native of Kansas, Ala., in Walker County, Cunningham died in 2000 at age 78.
Dr. Sledge, who taught biology for decades at the University of Montevallo, was remembered by his eldest son John Sledge as a military man, scholar and reader.
Drawing from columns he wrote for The Mobile Press Register, Sledge recalled how his father chronicled his World War II experiences in the 1981 memoir With the Old Breed. The book traced the actions of a young Sledge and his fellow U.S. Marines at a battle on Peleliu in the Pacific.
"Of the 235 men in Dad's company, only 85 were left unhurt at battle's end. Peleliu seared itself into my father's consciousness and he lost faith in the claim that man is basically good. But… Peleliu also taught him that human beings could do extraordinarily noble things," Sledge wrote in a column before his father died at age 77 in 2001.
In another column, Sledge noted his father's literary habits, which could involve reading scholarly biology tomes at home and fiction in his university office. "It was all of a piece to him, and he was never without a volume in hand at work or at home, indoors or out, fair weather or foul."
The columns are reprinted in John Sledge's book, Southern Bound: a Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart.
The induction luncheon was co-sponsored by the Alabama Men's Hall of fame and the Women's Committee of 100 for Birmingham, Inc. Hugh Maddox, retired senior associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is chair of the Men's Hall of Fame. Dr. Carolyn Green Satterfield is president of the Women's Committee of 100.