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SMITH COLUMN: Magill gave it all to Georgia

At a gathering of Georgia alumni at the Quail Hollow Country Club, organized by John Mangan, a doting alumnus who was the epitome of the concept of the student-athlete during his days in Athens — he played hard (All-American tennis letterman with three SEC championship rings under the sage eye of the remarkable Dan Magill) and studied hard (prestigious degree from the Terry College of Business)—there was an old home atmosphere that speaks to the heart of yesterday’s America: 

Let’s take our degrees to a neighborhood, rise in our profession, enjoy life, and do some good for our communities which should bode well for the world. 

Let’s take care of our families, let’s honor flag and country. Let’s embrace the work ethic and give of ourselves for a better society and forever remember alma mater.

Quail Hollow was founded by a UGA alumnus, James J. Harris in 1959.   One of golf’s four majors, the PGA, was held at the club in 2017 and is coming back in 2025.

The President’s Cup will take place here in 2022.  Jimmy Harris would be button-popping proud of that.  And so would a certain graduate of UGA’s landscape college, George Cobb, whom Harris hired to design Quail Hollow. 

Johnny Harris, the eldest of Harris’ sons, and a mover and shaker in Charlotte and in golf circles, was a confidante and business partner of Arnold Palmer. Johnny’s alma mater is North Carolina but he felt moved to accept Mangan’s invitation to make an appearance and comingle with the Red and Black aficionados.

“I know my dad would be upset if I did not join this party,” he told the many UGA advocates with whom he visited.

The Harris family, including Johnny’s brother, Cammie, and his late sister Sara Bissell, have long been supporters of Georgia. For years, Jimmy Harris and his foundation provided funds to pay the tuition of graduates of three principal Athens high schools — Clarke Central, Cedar Shoals and Athens Academy — provided they enrolled at Georgia.

The Harris Foundation made a major gift to the Butts-Mehre Building on campus. The University of Georgia has benefited from this family’s generosity for years, owing to the loyalty of a patriarch who deeply understood the principle of giving back to one’s alma mater.

There were no speeches except for Mangan’s call for dinner which was perfect for the occasion as the evening shadows encroached on the lush fairways of Quail Hollow. There was barbecue on the menu, there was a band given to country music persuasion, everything befitting an advisory of the past — a good time was enjoyed by all.

Included on the guest list was a clique of former Bulldog tennis lettermen, teammates of the host. I knew it would not be long before one and all would invoke some reference to their dogged Bulldog torchbearer from the past, the aforementioned Daniel Hamilton Magill Jr.

There were recalls of vignettes from the past when their coach made them work their backsides off, but he also lifted their spirits with his ribald humor, sage advice and love of university. They mimicked his voice, intoning his words with the same inflections that characterized his caustic preachments.

Magill left this world seven years ago, but will forever be remembered for his undying love of the University of Georgia and for his unceasing affection for the institution.

The man’s sermonizing was fit for his time and they are fit today. He always reminded alumni that the strength of UGA was in its people. “We are the majority party in the state,” was his common refrain.

There was a uniqueness about Magill that centered around the fact that no graduate ever demonstrated greater loyalty to his alma mater. He was not a man with resources to give to his university, but he gave something greater. He gave Georgia himself.

Love of alma mater is the gift that keeps giving intact. Fortunately, for our society, scenes such as the one the Mangan’s hosted last weekend take place across the country throughout the year and not just the opening of football season.

The good news for our beleaguered nation is that such loyalty and passion is not exclusive to the University of Georgia.