It was a veritable who's who of school superintendents and system employees, both past and present and from surrounding counties, at the Dawson County Board of Education on Sunday.
The board held a surprise retirement reception for its more than 30-year employee, Keith Porter, at its development center May 18. Porter has been superintendent of the school system for five years.
The room was packed with friends, family and well-wishers from Porter's past and all of them spoke on his impact to the county.
"Keith is truly dedicated to the students," said Carol Shoemaker, with the local mentoring program. "Without him, the mentoring program wouldn't be where it is today."
Nicky Gilleland, a former coach and teacher of Porter's and the superintendent prior to him, echoed Shoemaker's sentiments.
"Every decision he made was based around what was best for the children," he said. "Keith has had a tremendous teaching career and has touched a lot of people in many ways."
Gilleland also commented on how he learned from Porter.
"There are a lot of ways to describe him -hardworking, diligent, honorable, considerate, honest," he said. "Keith's been a strong, positive influence on generations of children and adults, me included. He's been a role model to people that were supposed to be teaching and coaching him. It's been a privilege and honor to be a part of his life."
But Porter's professional accomplishments weren't the only thing on display during his party. His pastor, Danny Bennett of Coal Mountain Baptist Church, was there to speak about Porter's personal character, as well.
"Whether he is Mr. Porter or Coach Porter, he's always been Keith. He's never changed," Bennett said. "He's always been the same Christian man. Anything good that this man has ever done he gives all credit to God."
In the end, those gathered were not there to say goodbye to Porter, but to wish him well on his next journey in life.
"The board has already had our crying session with Keith, so he knows how we feel about him," said Roger Slaton, chairman of the Dawson County Board of Education. "We are very honored to have worked with him. Keith is going to be missed greatly."
Slaton tearfully remembered watching Porter grow up through the Dawson County school system.
"Keith and I have been close over the years," Slaton said. "His parents raised him and raised him very well, but I've been there to see him grow up, too"
Porter is the son of Dawson County residents Vicki and Gene Porter. He and his wife, Donna, have two grown children, Holly and Logan.
His final day with the Dawson County school system will be May 31.
Damon Gibbs, Hall County Schools' former executive director of facilities, signed a contract for the superintendent position with the Dawson County school system in May.