Three Secrets of the Most Remarkable Servant Leader I’ve Known

Bob and I are in Jacksonville, Florida, today and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. We are here to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend, a role model, and the most remarkable servant leader I have ever met.  We are celebrating her 100th birthday.  She was the first female university president in the state of Florida, serving as President of Jacksonville University (JU) from 1979 to 1989.

She set another record recently – on December 12, 2015, she claimed the title of oldest commencement speaker when she addressed that year’s graduating class at JU.

Bob met Dr. Frances Bartlett Kinne when he was student in her Humanities class at JU in 1960, and that experience was life-changing. He says, “She was so passionate about the subject that she was teaching that it was infectious. Humanities, which prior to this time I had viewed with some detachment, became my favorite course in college. Dr. Kinne was passionate about learning and growing and my year in her class was transforming for me.  Her passion for both her life’s work and for helping others grow ignited in me a strong desire to do both and the respect she showed me personally cemented this resolve.”

I met Fran a decade or so after Bob and I were married and was, as everyone is, permanently entranced.  I believe that we learn most from role models, and she is best textbook on life and leadership I’ve ever encountered.  Three secrets I’ve uncovered…

Secret number one: Never stop working.

If you ask Fran the secret to a long life, that’s what she says. Fran has served as Chancellor Emeritus at JU since 1994, and that has NOT been an honorary title. When she received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 12th Annual Women of Influence Awards in Jacksonville in August of 2017, the JU magazine wrote, “Dr. Kinne continues active service to Jacksonville University as Chancellor Emeritus. While at some universities that is nothing but a ceremonial or honorary title, that has never been the case at JU. She continues to be a valued contributor at meetings of many committees and task forces, both at the Board of Trustee governance level and at the working management levels of the University. She also continues to be an active member of the Board of Trustees at Drake University, where she earned both her Bachelor and Masters Degrees. She is regularly seen at events on the Jacksonville University campus, whether she has some official function to perform, or just to watch a Fine Arts performance or athletic event.”

She has also written hundreds – likely thousands – of letters of recommendation for students over the years, and continues to get requests. She continues to work and continues to serve.

Secret number two: Never give up.  

You don’t get folks like Bob Hope, Winston S. Churchill, Charlton Heston, Arthur Fiedler, Billy Graham, and Linus Pauling to come to a small college campus without a heavy dose of persistence, and perhaps an even heavier dose of optimism.  Margaret Thatcher returned her called because she finally realized that Fran was simply not going to stop calling.

Fran has a relentless focus on what can be done. Her first husband, Col. Harry L. Kinne, Jr., died of brain cancer (he had been present at atomic testing sites) while she was president of JU. Fran speaks occasionally about how hard it was to lose the love of her life two years into her presidency, but her commitment to moving forward never waned. She found that she could no longer use the local River Club to entertain, since only men could be members. The rules soon changed. Her husband had been treated by a marvelous surgeon at Mayo in Rochester, MN. Within a few years there would be a Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. When her second husband (who had also been exposed to radiation at atomic testing sites) became ill with the same type of brain cancer, renowned surgeon Robert Wharen, who had assisted in Col. Kinne’s surgery, was in Jacksonville to perform the operation.

Secret number three: Remember that life is not about you; it’s about others.

I first met Fran in a nondescript meeting room at a Ramada Inn in the mid-1980s, but I remember the evening vividly. The get-together was for Atlanta alums, and I was there with Bob. She was charismatic and articulate, but what made her truly memorable was her warmth – she seemed to truly love every person in that room. Bob says that when he was a student in her class he thought he was her favorite student; later he realized that everyone thought that.

I remember being in a car when Fran was driving fifteen or so years ago. We were exiting a parking garage and Fran chatted for a few minutes with the parking attendant at the gate. After we left she said, “I am so glad to see him smile. It took me a long time to get him to warm up, but now we are friends.” Always focused on education, she added, “We’ve talked about where his children could go to college.”

Most of us give great lip service to servant leadership – Fran lives a life of service moment by moment. And she LOVES it! In 2008, at our annual Leadership Character Awards, we gave a Leadership Character “Inspiration Award” as the person who had most inspired our Leadership Character Model. She gave a short keynote that day on leadership, and I remember the theme – the importance of humor. Fran is never without it.  She was one of the first two female members of Jacksonville Rotary, and its first female president. When introducing two bankers she said, “It is such an honor to introduce two distinguished financiers, who are known around the world for their banking expertise. The only thing I am going to be known for is being the first member of Rotary International to have a hysterectomy.”

Classic Fran. Happy, Happy Birthday!

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.