Friends, family and colleagues gathered last week to bid farewell to Nicky Gilleland, who has worn many hats in the Dawson County School System, from student and coach to teacher and administrator.
Gilleland, who has spent the last three years as superintendent, is retiring June 30.
“Today is a career celebration for someone who doesn’t seek any recognition,” incoming superintendent Keith Porter said during the celebration at Robinson Elementary School.
“He has been a tremendous example to all of us and has left some big shoes to fill. He will most certainly be missed.”
A Dawson County native, Gilleland began his teaching career in 1974. He later spent 18 years as principal at Robinson Elementary School before serving as associate superintendent and superintendent.
Gilleland described his educational career as “the biggest blessing of my life.”
“This is my home,” he said. “I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to be here today. You have given me opportunities that some people can only dream of.”
Herbert Robinson, a school system veteran for whom the elementary school is named, hailed Gilleland as a “top-notch educational administrator.”
“Our school system takes a back seat to none because of Nicky and those who have worked with him,” said Robinson, who has known Gilleland all his life.
Robinson shared stories of the soon-to-be retiree as a “barefooted young boy who made a playground out of my backyard, tracked mud into my house and ate my cookies.”
Gilleland received several parting gifts, among them: a proclamation from the city of Dawsonville that declared May 27 as “Nicky Gilleland Day” and a handcrafted podium with a plaque that will be placed in Dawson County High School.
He also received a check for $2,000, raised by the community, for a family vacation this summer.
Gilleland and his wife, Darlene, have two adult daughters, Nichole and Amanda.
The Dawson County commission is scheduled to honor Gilleland on Thursday.
“It is a privilege to be here to honor such a great man,” said Cecil Bennett, chairman of the school board. “On behalf of the board, we appreciate everything you’ve ever done for us and you will be missed.”
Lisa Perry, the school system’s director of personnel, presented Gilleland with a scrapbook filled with pictures of both his student and professional careers, as well as pages decorated by each school and signed by many of the attendees.
County historian Charles Findley emphasized what has made his lifelong friend a “great person.”
“I’ve always worked with Nicky [Gilleland], never for him,” Findley said. “No one has ever worked for him. That’s what makes him so great.”
Gilleland, who announced his retirement in early January, said he was grateful for the opportunities and support he received during his career.
Bennett said Gilleland and Porter, a county native and current associate superintendent, have “always worked well together.”
“We are lucky to have a man of his ability to step right in and keep going with what Nicky [Gilleland] had done,” Bennett said.
Porter has spent 25 years with the school system, including as teacher, principal and curriculum director at the central office.