Samford University faculty, staff, trustees, overseers and other friends gathered to recognize retiring President and Mrs. Thomas E. Corts April 20 for their "incalculable impact" on Samford and its people.
The Cortses were saluted for their 23 years at Samford, a period marked by numerous milestones in the University's history. More than 600 attended the elegant dinner at Birmingham's Sheraton Hotel. Included were the presidents of 10 Southern Baptist universities around the nation, the mayors of Homewood and Vestavia Hills and representatives of Birmingham, Jefferson County and the Alabama Senate.
Alabama Governor Bob Riley sent a taped message praising Dr. Corts' leadership of Samford and the Alabama constitutional reform movement. The message appeared on four giant screens around the Sheraton ballroom.
Alumni and friends of Samford representing the past half-century appeared on the program-former Alabama Governor and Samford faculty member Albert Brewer, retired Samford Provost William Hull, alumni Betsy Rogers and Eric Motley and Trustee John Pittman. Rogers, who holds four degree from Samford's education school, was National Teacher of the Year in 2003. Motley, a 1996 graduate, is director of the Office of International Visitors for the U.S. State Department.
Dr. Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, caught the spirit of the evening in his opening prayer, noting, "We are thankful for the lives and contributions of Tom and Marla Corts. Together they have made an incalculable impact on our lives and on our beloved university family at Samford."
Samford University Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Stevens reminded the audience of campus progress made since Corts announced his retirement date in April of 2005. "Everywhere you go on campus, there are holes, equipment, construction workers . . . it is impossible to miss the good things that are happening at Samford."
He mentioned the new music recital hall approaching completion, new parking areas and heating plants, a new tennis center underway and site preparation for the Pete Hanna Arena (see separate story).
"All of this is possible because of the visionary leadership of Tom Corts . . . and the generosity of so many people," said Stevens.
After announcing the board's action to name the new arena, Stevens said the board recognized that Corts holds a distinctive place in the life of Samford. "As a token of the perpetual affection of the Samford community, the trustees voted unanimously to recognize Dr. Corts as Samford's President Emeritus, effective June 1," Stevens said.
Elouise Williams of Birmingham, a member of the Samford University Board of Overseers, said the Corts era reminded her of astronaut Neil Armstrong's words as he set foot on the moon: "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." She said, "Dr. Corts, as you set foot on Samford's campus in 1983, that step began a 23-year ministry representing a giant leap for the mission of Samford University."
Corts, currently Alabama's longest serving university or college president, will retire May 31. His years of service have been characterized by progress in academic programs, dramatic growth in endowment, construction of more than 30 new buildings, and increased recognition for Samford both regionally and nationally.