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A Legacy of Leadership for Women

Posted: November 4, 2015 4:47 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2015 4:39 p.m.
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A Legacy of Leadership for Women


      She always had a strong mentor. Throughout a successful career with Georgia Power Company, and a lifetime of community service, Lynda Brannen Williamson was grateful for the strong women in leadership positions who were generous in offering her guidance and advice. She never forgot how much the positive encouragement and wise counsel of her network meant to her, especially in her own development as a community leader.

     The daughter of Statesboro natives, the late Irvin Alexander Brannen, Jr. and Kay Waters Brannen, grew-up in Metter, GA. She graduated from Agnes Scott College with a BA in Economics in only three years and married Hughes Williamson. She later obtained an MBA from Georgia Southern University. She started her career at Georgia Power Company in 1985. She was also part-time professor of Economics at Georgia Southern University, owner of her own company, Design Lab, and founder of Alexander Development Group. She and Hughes had two sons, Matthew and Jonathan.

     Lynda was a central figure of leadership in the community. She was the president of the Rotary Club of Statesboro, a member on the Board of Directors for Sea Island Bank, chairman of the Metter-Candler County Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the church council for Statesboro First United Methodist Church. She was also involved in the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, Statesboro Service League, the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce, the American Cancer Society, and Georgia Southern’s COBA Leadership Board.

     When she was diagnosed in 2012 with peritoneal cancer, a rare form of cancer involving the lining of the abdomen and surrounding organs, Lynda steadfastly faced the disease with a strong spirit. She continued in her leadership roles throughout the community with a positive attitude, mentoring young women as she had been mentored.

      As the disease progressed, Lynda’s friends wanted to honor her by developing some type of legacy in which she would have a voice. Friends Jan Johnston and Lisa Lee talked about what they could do to create a legacy for Lynda.

     “We wanted to do something, but we weren’t sure what exactly,” Lee said. “We didn’t think a scholarship in her name was enough. We wanted to do something to encourage or influence young women to ‘live like Lynda’.”

     According to Lee, Johnston “ripped up” the first plan and helped develop a new one that was more business-like. Then they approached Lynda with the idea.

     “We wanted to help do this with her,” Lee said. “We told Lynda – whatever you want to do, we’ll do – this is your legacy. We want you to have a voice and decide what it will ultimately be,” said Lee.

     They met on a Thursday, and by the following Tuesday, in Lynda’s characteristic way, she had formed an idea, typed out an action plan, and come up with a name. She also later approved promotional materials, designed the logo, and chose the colors.

     “Lynda wanted to pay if forward, develop servant leaders, inspire young women, based on mentors in the community,” Lee stated. “Everything was her idea,” Lee said, “She laid the groundwork. Came up with the bylaws and hand-picked the Board of Directors. We were envisioning – How? - developing the programming - when she died. When we started this, we had no clue we’d only have three months to do it.”

     Lynda passed away on November 2, 2014, and now, one year later, her dream to offer young women development opportunities is being manifested in the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation with a mission “to give young women guidance, mentorship, and a path by which to maximize their potential, professionally and personally, thus serving as an example to others.”

     An opportune meeting between Lee and Matt Bishop of the J. W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia further developed the scope of the foundation. Bishop related, “Lynda Williamson was one of the most powerful and influential women I have ever met, if every community had a Lynda…” The idea for a collaboration between the Leadership Academy and the Fanning Institute “to encourage and prepare women to take leadership roles in Southeast Georgia” was born.

     Fanning Institute faculty members Martiza Soto Keen and Carolina Darbisi designed a program especially for the LBW Foundation to focus on leadership from a woman’s perspective. According to Keen, whose academic research has centered on women in leadership roles, “Men and women have different leadership styles. Generally speaking, women communicate through establishing a rapport with others including feelings and ideas, while men often prefer to communicate with the reporting of facts. We have created a program which allows young women the opportunity to explore how women lead in various situations, what pitfalls they may face, and what strengths may be used to the best advantage in all aspects of life, not just business.”

     The nine-month program will prepare 16 women from Bulloch, Candler, and Screven counties, who were nominated for the program, to maximize their potential both professionally and personally through servant leadership in their respective communities.

     The monthly sessions will feature interactive learning experiences in which attendees will address the issues that women in leadership roles encounter. The women will meet in classroom settings and work separately and in groups. Participants will be assessed on individual leadership style, career development, work-life balance, and the tools needed for effective leadership.    

     Members of the first Leadership Academy class have already demonstrated leadership potential and a desire to serve in their communities. They represent a cross-section of business, industry, education, agriculture, journalism, and higher education from the area.

      When they graduate, they will be challenged to not only serve as community leaders, but to provide the mentorship necessary to foster the next generation of leaders. The young women in today’s class will be the mentors for tomorrow’s young women lending the strength and wisdom they have gained through this innovative program.

     In the words of Lynda Brannen Williamson, what the next 25 years of the LBW Foundation’s Leadership Academy will bring: “It is 2039 and women are connected globally through relationships and resources fostered by a formal mentoring network. This is a multi-generational concept that gives women the confidence and support to pursue their dreams. Servant leadership remains the primary goal and looks like a circle of hourglasses symbolizing a pyramid effect similar to a strand of DNA. We are all pearls on a chain.”

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