Retiring Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter was overcome with emotion several times during his surprise retirement party Sunday, May 18.
And he wasnt alone.
The words of school board member and longtime friend Roger Slaton were at times barely audible.Slatons son, Barry, was Porters friend at Dawson County High School and his college roommate.
We as a board have already had our crying session with Keith, he said, trying to keep his voice steady. He knows how we feel about him. Keith and I have been close, and its kind of tough to see them grow up and realize youre getting old. If hes retiring, I must be near dead.
If there was a theme selected for Porters party, it was love.
It has been a great honor to serve on the Dawson County School Board, he said. We want you to know how much we love Keith Porter.
Another theme could have been perfection.
Nicky Gilleland, a former Dawson County school superintendent, said he had spoken to the elder women at Coal Mountain Church, where Porter serves as chair of the deacons board.
They gave him an honor that I longed for, one that I know Ill never get, Gilleland said. The ladies got together, and they decided Keith is the perfect man.
Everyone in the audience seemed to agree.
Porter has served the Dawson County School System for 30 years, starting as a drivers ed teacher, then teacher, assistant principal, principal, curriculum director, associate superintendent and for five years as superintendent.
But the greatest moment in Keiths life didnt happen in school, Gilleland said. It happened in an auditorium at a countywide revival ... when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior.
Porter later graduated from the University of Georgia.
He spent four years in that football-crazy town that sometimes changes men and women, Gilleland said, speaking from a podium. Sometimes they lose their values, but it didnt change who Keith was, what he believed in, and what he stood for.
He has been a strong, positive influence on generations of children and adults, me included. He became an advisor and role model to people like me who were supposed to be teaching and coaching him. It has been a privilege and an honor to be part of your life, Keith, and I couldnt be more proud of what youve done for the students.
Dawsonville Mayor James Grogan proclaimed May 18 as Keith Porter Day.
Whereas Keith Porter is a faithful and dedicated of public education for 30 years ... He is recognized as both a professional and leader in our community, he has played a significant role in Dawson County, Grogan said. This is a tribute to his dedication to the many students he has impacted throughout his career.
Porter, 51, graduated from Dawson County High School in 1980.
For 42 out of my 51 years, Ive pulled into a Dawson County Board of Education facility, he said. As I was growing up, I looked to so many of people in this room for guidance and support. How many people can say that? I am so blessed. The Lord has blessed me beyond measure.
Porter signed his first contract at the Varsity in Athens.
Mr. Townley and Mr. Kent came to Athens, he said. Donna and I were getting married in a few weeks. ... As he (Mr. Townley) was leaving, he turned around and said, By the way, I need you to stay down here and get 15 hours so you can teach drivers ed. I did. And I have the gray hair to show it.
Porter also thanked his family.
My dad protected us physically, but my mama protected our hearts, he said. I also remember all the times Donna was raising the kids and I was working at night, and then I went back to school. She did a lot of things during that time, and I appreciate that a lot. I am so proud of my children.
The retiring superintendent said he has great dreams for the Dawson County School System as Dr. Damon Gibbs takes over.
I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to work in Dawson County, Porter concluded. Its not about me or anybody else. Its about the kids.
Porters last day is Friday, May 30.