Ask Dr. Eric Jack what makes a person successful, and you will quickly understand the character of the man. Jack, who was recently named president elect of the Rotary Club of Birmingham for 2018-19, answers the question by recalling the qualities of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. He speaks of everyday people who sacrifice to serve their families and communities, as well as leaders, followers and frontline employees.
“Everybody has something to contribute,” he said, but ultimately success comes down to one thing, “one’s willingness to serve to others.”
“In some sense, I think service is the price that we pay for the space we occupy on this planet.” – Dr. Eric Jack
The Rotary Club of Birmingham is the largest Rotary in the United States. Jack, who serves as dean and professor at the Collat School of Business at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will succeed club president Betsy Holloway, whose 2017-18 term ends on the last day of June.
From humble beginnings, to opportunity, to giving back
Jack’s life story embodies American ideals while at the same time standing out for its uniqueness. He was born in 1956 in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, where his family was very poor despite the oil-rich island nation being the third richest country in the Western Hemisphere, behind the U.S. and Canada, in terms of GDP.
In search of opportunity, his mother, a single parent of nine children, immigrated to Venezuela and eventually to the U.S. by working for some Americans. Jack ended up in a children’s home run by Catholic nuns. Over time, through chain migration and by helping each other, he and all of his siblings were able to follow their mother to the States.
“I joined the Air Force after a period of time in the U.S., and the rest is history. I had a great experience in the U.S. Air Force, four years enlisted. I was able to get an Air Force scholarship to go to Georgia Tech and served as an Air Force civil engineer.” – Dr. Eric Jack
After 21 years in the Air Force, Jack had the opportunity to retire and choose a second career. He returned to school to earn a doctorate in operations management from the University of Cincinnati, where he taught for one year. Then he joined the faculty of UAB in 2001.
“I was motivated to teach because a teacher made a difference in my life early on. Now I have the opportunity to help young people think about their future and their careers. That’s what I do in this role (at UAB), first as an educator, second as an administrative dean.” – Dr. Eric Jack
The Rotary Club of Birmingham, where civic-minded people roll up their sleeves to do good
Jack became a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham for the same reason he became an educator: to make a difference. “We’re men and women in the business community who are rolling up our sleeves to do a lot of things in the community to try to make it better,” he said.
Locally, the Rotary Club of Birmingham contributes to the betterment of our education system, civic spaces and communities through an array of projects, including
- The Rotary Trail, a revitalization project dedicated in 2016, which transformed an abandoned rail line into a city green space.
- Mentoring programs for 11th and 12th graders in Birmingham City Schools’s seven high schools.
- The Pre-K Learning Initiative, which provides funds and strategic leadership to improve learning opportunities for Pre-K children.
Jack has been deeply involved in these projects throughout his time as a Rotary member. He also mentors young professionals in the Rotaract Club of Birmingham, an organization that serves as a membership pipeline to Rotary.
Wondering how the Rotary Club of Birmingham came to be the largest Rotary in the United States?
Jack has a theory about that: “I think it’s because the needs of the community are so great that people of civic-minded responsibility find a place – in what we could call the civic commons – in which, despite what side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, we can have something to say and do about the needs of the community,” he said.
Members of the Rotary Club of Birmingham have a global impact as part of the larger organization, Rotary International, whose humanitarian work is carried out by 1.2 million Rotarians working through a network of 35,000 clubs located around the world, according to Susan Jackson, the club’s executive director.
The Rotary Club of Birmingham can claim two former members – Frank Spain and Roy Hickman – who served as presidents of Rotary International in 1951-52 and 1971-72 respectively.
Rotary International leverages this network to take on long-term global tasks, such as partnering with UNICEF, governments of many countries and, most recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio. Today, only two countries remain polio endemic.
Passing the yearly Rotary torch
Current president Betsy Holloway has had a successful year at the helm of the Rotary Club of Birmingham.
Holloway, who entered the presidency July 2017, can count the following among her accomplishments as president:
- Member participation in service projects increased from roughly 300 to 400.
- The club became designated as a Rotary International Peace Builder Club.
- Two new playgrounds were built at two new Pre-K sites in Birmingham.
- Club members, including Holloway, traveled to Sri Lanka to launch the beginning of a Rotary International project to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern.
Holloway has a busy two months ahead as she completes her 2017-18 term. “Rotary-initiated recovery and rebuilding projects in areas damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria will be underway within the next few days,” Jackson said. The effort will help affected families in Rockport, Texas, and Albany, Louisiana, obtain furnishings and household items; provide solar-powered light for Puerto Ricans; and replace lost crop trees in Haiti.
The leadership torch will pass to the steady hand of Dr. Eric Jack on July 1.
“Dr. Eric Jack is a strategic thinker with the proven ability to lead this large service-driven membership organization in making a positive difference in the Birmingham area and beyond,” Jackson said. “He exemplifies the tenets of Rotary’s 4-Way Test, which stands for high ethical standards in all aspects of life, and he is committed to unifying the club around its service goals.”