Leave a Rich Legacy

By Eddie A. Jones
AAC Consultant

Remember when you would go to bed at night as a kid thinking, “I can’t wait until I wake up.” Oh, for the attitude of a 5-year-old. That simple uncluttered desire for living that can’t wait for tomorrow. I not only remember that feeling as a kid, but that same feeling has prevailed through most of my professional career. It has been fun to get up in the mornings and go to work. I have truly had a blessed life. When I got into county government almost 45 years ago, I found my calling. I was where I belonged.

Are you in the right place? Public service is not just a job for a paycheck. If you have been elected to a county office and are doing it for any other reason than public service, then you are in the wrong place. Many of you are only in your second year of your first term. If you have not given it much thought up until now, it’s time to think about it and realize that you are in a position of public service. Public service is an honor, and it deserves your commitment.

I’m going to spend my time in this issue of County Lines talking about leading, legacy and life.


County officials should choose to lead in these difficult times.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

It seems like Charles Dickens was writing about our nation’s current fiscal and political calamities when he penned those words in 1859. We are not living in an era like the one described in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, but we are certainly amid great economic and political struggles. These tough times should bring out the best attributes of a true public servant.

During my long tenure as an elected county official, during my years as executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC), and during the last 13 plus years serving as a consultant to the AAC, tough times have really challenged me and made me focus to find solutions.

Today’s political and economic climate calls for leaders who can develop a vision to prepare our counties for the future. We need leaders who can look down the road and discern what is important to future generations, and then articulate that vision to a public that naturally does not like taxes — even though it takes money to provide the government services they want and need. The current rhetoric about taxes fails to recognize that most of the taxes we pay today at the local and state levels are an investment in our future. And many local taxes will be passed by the electorate with a well-laid plan and trusted leadership. Trusted leadership comes with always being open and honest with your constituency — not telling them what they want to hear but telling the simple truth.

Trusted leadership is leadership that keeps the county prepared to be resilient in the tough times and prepared to flourish in the good times. County government leaders who focus only on trying to make everyone feel better today will continue to suffer because they won’t have the infrastructure or the plan in place to succeed. There will always be Red Seas, Jericho Walls, and Goliaths to conquer, but strong county leaders do it. The key to success is more about passion than talent; it’s more about reaching potential than being gifted. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We must do the things we think we cannot do.”

County leaders don’t always get to choose the battle or issue, but you do get to choose how you will respond. In the best of times or the worst of times, people need someone to shoulder the task and lead the way. Maintain the focus. Make the choice. Don’t put it off. Be the leader you were elected to be.


County officials should start their service thinking about the leadership legacy they will leave. Thinking about your legacy will prove to be the impetus for your service and keep you on track. I can remember from the beginning of my service over four decades ago that I simply wanted to “make a difference.” I soon realized that “make a difference” needed further definition. How would I make a difference? Musing upon that question was revealing. To make a difference, I wanted to be an elected official seen as a high-standard example of ethics, strong work habits, knowledge of county government law, accuracy of facts and figures, and fairness. My hope is that Arkansas county government is better for my having passed its way. Was I successful? That’s not my call, but it kept me focused to be the best I could be.

In “Leaving a Leadership Legacy,” Dr. Randy Garner said, “Regardless of what you do as a leader, you will leave a legacy — the important thing is to consider how you would like to be remembered and to work toward those things that ensure the realization of that vision. When you think of your legacy now, it is much more likely that the legacy you actually leave will better match your goal. Legacy leadership is not accidental; it is intentional. It begins with self-reflection on how you see yourself, your role, and the way you want to influence others. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to talk about living your legacy rather than leaving a legacy, since the real challenge is to daily lead our lives in a way that positively influences those around us.”

Think back to the men and women who have shaped and mentored you. They planted seeds in your mind and heart — seeds of faith, hope and love; seeds of enthusiasm, action and service. They invested in your today so that you might pass on a legacy for someone else’s tomorrow. What lasting things will you plant today? What legacy will you leave? Thinking today about the legacy you are leaving for others tomorrow will make you a better county leader today. Building a legacy worth leaving begins today and is made one decision at a time. Make a difference.


Insight into the meaning of life has been a central preoccupation of literature from ancient times. Numerous philosophies and religions have touted the “meaning of life” — not all in the same way by any stretch of the imagination.

For most of us, we regard life as a precious gift from God — precious not only because it is a gift from God, but also because as humans there is a uniqueness attached to that gift. We are created in the image of God. Because we carry within us the divine image, we have unlimited potential. We know that it is God “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

One of life’s greatest challenges is to find your true purpose in life. That covers a lot of territory, but for the purpose at hand, I’m talking about your purpose in life vocationally. Confucius, a Chinese teacher, politician, and philosopher, said many years ago, “Choose work that you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.” I am so blessed to have spent almost 45 years in public service. Public service gives you the opportunity to be what you are, and to become what you are capable of becoming.

If you are currently serving in county government, maybe it is because you have found your true vocational purpose in life like I did many years ago. I truly hope so. Our people need dedicated men and women serving them in the realm of county government — no doubt the closest and most responsive government to the people. Dedication to the task calls for a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.”

Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican who served the state of Maine both as a U.S. Representative and as a Senator said, “Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people.” That requires total dedication and attention to detail and work.

When I say work, I mean work. Don’t be a public servant that allows the old public servant joke have real meaning. Oh, you haven’t heard it? Well, allow me to tell you. It goes like this: “Why doesn’t a public servant look out the window in the morning? … Because then they won’t have anything to do in the afternoon.”

When I first ran for public office, it was with the passion and idealism of a young 25-year-old man who believed government could help make our lives better; that public service was a calling; and that citizenship in this great country demanded responsibilities. There was a greater good. Be dedicated, responsive and timely in your public service.

And if you don’t care about tiny details, you’ll produce bad work because good work is the culmination of hundreds of tiny details. The world’s most successful people all sweat the small stuff.

The simple uncluttered desire for living that can’t wait for tomorrow — that’s the attitude we should all take in our life of public service in county government. Donald Rumsfeld said, “Enjoy your time in public service. It may well be one of the most interesting and challenging times of your life.”

Your public service career should be marked by being:

  • Authentic and transparent;
  • Proactive and responsive;
  • Consistent and adaptable;
  • Empathetic and respectful; and
  • Innovative and creative.

Live a dedicated life of service providing true leadership and thereby leaving a rich legacy, a blessed life, and a rewarding career. They go together just like fried taters, pinto beans, hog jowl, sliced onions and cornbread on a cold winter day. Oh, and collard greens.

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