Pearls Of Wisdom

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

In the previous “LBWA” column, I wrote of my encounter with a recreation legend, John H. Davis (he led the first Georgia Recreation Commission, which later became the Georgia Recreation and Park Association; he was President of NRPA in 1975 and worked there for 10 years, etc.). He had called me after reading the column, and when I realized his important place in recreation history, I asked him to send me a letter with some of his thoughts about today’s recreation.

I would like to share some of his thoughts--what he called “random thoughts”--because in this complicated and diverse recreation industry, we need to refocus on what is really important. He wrote:

• “During my 40-plus years in the public recreation field, I witnessed some of the worst facilities one can imagine. I suppose that is why I am so compelled to advocate excellent maintenance. Well-planned and maintained facilities serve as a magnet in attracting more people to use them.”

• “Great public relations … some citizens never use our facilities so all they see is what they observe while driving by. But they are taxpayers, and it is incumbent on us to put parks and recreation in a good light. It impresses people to see their tax dollars well spent.”

• “Jim Oates, the retired Director of Parks and Rec in Dothan, Ala., was the pickiest person for maintenance I have ever known. If two or more persons were mowing grass on an athletic field, he insisted that all mowers’ cut level be exactly identical, for example.”

• “Attractive fields with beautiful grass serve as an invitation to play, and will add to the usefulness of any facility,” adding that participation would grow because of it.”

• “The more participation you experience, the stronger the community becomes. As people execute well in any given recreation activity, their self-confidence increases. I have had many successful business and industrial managers state that such people become better employees. They feel better about themselves, and new friendships are formed.”

• “Clean restrooms are essential! Visit Six Flags Over Georgia. You will find their restrooms are immaculate, well-designed, with plenty of space and well-lighted. However, it is costly. The restrooms I just described require sufficient staff to work continually to perfect cleanliness and keep them well-stocked.”

• “The national and local situation today places tremendous tension on people. Recreation service becomes even more important in times like these, to provide people opportunities to unload their worries through vigorous, or even passive, activity. That is why all of us in this field must never give up when there is talk of cutting our budgets. Keep up your good work in advising and interpreting the value of what you do. You can never know who is listening.”

Rules To Live By

Reading his letter was like reading a dispatch from Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who is traditionally believed to have authored The Art of War, a short but required book in military studies. Sun Tzu was able to boil down complicated military strategy into simple concepts that the troops could understand and apply. For example, he said, “It is the rule in war: if ten times the enemy's strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, divide them; if equal, engage them; if fewer, evade them; if weaker, avoid them.”

In similar fashion, in a three-page hand-written letter, Davis postulated a few simple but powerful concepts that are as potent and vital today as when he started in the field:

• Clean, well-maintained facilities encourage wider use and promote recreation as a good tax-dollar investment.

• Recreation professionals must tell their citizens why it is vital to fund and support healthy public-recreation programs.

• In today’s fiscally constrained climate where people are under enormous stress, affordable public-recreation service becomes even more imperative.

Hearing this from a recreation war horse like Davis strengthens my resolve to follow his philosophy. It parallels my experience in this field, and I’ve discussed some of these points in past columns. If recreation professionals don’t emphasize the essential importance of the services we provide to the very fabric of life in America, who will?

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail