As a teacher, coach, principal and school superintendent, Nicky Gilleland put the children of Dawson County first, often going above and beyond for his students.
"He led by example. I've seen him get up in the middle of the night to make sure that the roads were safe for kids. I've seen him drive students home from school in his own car when they missed the bus," said longtime friend and colleague Keith Porter.
Last week, Gilleland attended a luncheon for alumni of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Dawson program under the premise of representing the group's 2004 graduating class.
He soon learned otherwise when he was called to the front of the room and presented the prestigious Lake Gibson Leadership Award.
"I appreciate this and I appreciate Lake and what he's done for this community," Gilleland told his fellow Leadership Dawson alumni Nov. 3.
The award pays tribute to individuals who have made an impact on the community through their leadership.
Porter recalled a day several years ago when Gilleland's courage as a leader shined.
"He's going to kill me for telling this story, but ... one time when he was the principal at the elementary school, they called him to the cafeteria back when there was the anthrax scare," Porter said. "They said there was a white substance on the shelf and he needed to check it out. He walked down there, looked at it real close and put his finger in it to taste it. And said it tasted like sugar."
Gilleland was also instrumental in working to bring Lanier Tech to Dawsonville.
"He was integral in all those discussions, and I believe that is going to be his legacy that he leaves for us," Porter said.
Leadership Dawson co-chair Doris Cook said it was Gilleland who encouraged her involvement in the school system. Cook now sits on the Dawson County School Board.
Gilleland graciously accepted the award and said he is proud "of what we've accomplished here. I think we have a great future ahead of us."
"I love this community and I've never wanted to be anywhere else or do anything else. I hope I can continue to be a part of what happens in this community," he said.
Established in 2007, the Lake Gibson Leadership Award is honors service to the chamber and the community of Dawson Count.
Gibson was in attendance to see the award presented to Gilleland.