Is community service a product of nature or nurturing? Are people born trying to make a difference in their community, or is it something they are taught, or even better, inspired to do?
After hearing comments last week about Tim Jones’ passion for civic involvement, I am of the belief that it may be a little of both. There are people who genuinely have a vision for their community and who happily dedicate their entire lives to making it a reality.
It’s these people who convince others who may not be as motivated as they are to also get involved. Even as a boy, family and friends say Tim was inspiring playmates to join him in his adventures. They discussed this remarkable trait at his celebration of life ceremony Tuesday.
Tim — who died on June 14 — was a man of many friends from many walks of life. This is one reason he was such a successful fundraiser for the various causes and charities he and his wife, Valda, championed. It also made him a crack recruiter for the Rotary Club. It’s untold how many people are members of Rotary or other civic clubs today as a result of Tim’s urging. He’s the reason my wife, Stephanie, and I joined the Johnson City Evening Rotary Club.
Tim was a constant in a changing world. And this world could surely use more folks like him.
In his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam noted that there has been a substantial decline in communal activities over the past 50 years.
This disconnect from what long had been considered good citizenship, Putnam said, has resulted in declining interest in civic clubs and other voluntary organizations. Groups ranging from the League of Women Voters to the Benevolent Order of Elks have seen their membership rolls shrink dramatically during the past two decades.
But Tim continued to convince even the most cynical among us to get involved. A former colleague of mine (whose popular column still appears in this newspaper on Mondays) reminded me of this last week. Mark Rutledge, who was a Press bureau chief in Erwin and later Elizabethton before moving on to become a columnist and editor at The (Greenville, N.C.) Daily Reflector, recalled the day Tim (then the general manager and vice president of this newspaper) strolled into his office near the Unicoi County Courthouse and suggested he might want to get involved in a new Rotary Club he was helping to start in town.
“Tim thought I might be interested in helping with that effort,” Rutledge remembered. “In fact, that’s exactly how he put it: ‘I thought you might be interested in helping.’ ”
Rutledge joined the club, which he said turned out to be “one of the most enduringly positive influences” from his time at the Press.
“Sixteen years after Tim’s invitation, I remain involved in Rotary,” Rutledge said. “Tim Jones was one of those rare people in upper management who can push you to exceed your own expectations without making you feel pushed.”
So, is community service a product of nature or nurture? For Tim, I think it was just natural.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.