Don Grantham remembers his time in Athens fondly.
In both Athens, actually.
The former Augusta and Richmond County commissioner finished his college education in Athens, Ga., at the University of Georgia – but began a world of experience on a trip to Athens, Greece, as chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority with then-Gov. George Busbee to open an office in the ancient Greek city.
The international trip was part of his indoctrination into relationship-building, international outreach and a decades-long career in public service that recently won him the highest praise possible here at home: the Lester S. Moody Award of Excellence, the highest honor from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Grantham, 78 and still a member of the State Transportation Board, was ambushed with the prestigious award at the chamber’s 109th Annual Meeting late last month. He didn’t see it coming, even as longtime friend and former transportation board Chairman Bill Kuhlke was came out of nowhere to introduce him.
“I was very much humbled and shocked,” he told us later. “It made me a feel a part of (Moody’s) legacy, so to speak. I felt like, well, maybe all this is not in vain.”
As The Chronicle’s Damon Cline noted, the award’s namesake “led the chamber for 38 years and is remembered for his lobbying efforts to create and bolster some of the region’s major economic engines, including Savannah River Site, Fort Gordon and the Clarks Hill Dam and Reservoir.”
And while Grantham humbly waves off any comparisons, he is undoubtedly a worthy recipient.
A co-founder and longtime CEO of wholesale lumber company Forest Sales, Grantham served on the chamber’s executive board even before being plucked for the Georgia Ports Authority by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter – and being reappointed to two terms by Gov. Busbee. Grantham served on the old Richmond County Commission before enjoying two terms on the post-consolidation Augusta Commission from 2004-11.
“The Ports Authority board offered me the major stepping stone into my being involved in what you might call giving back,” he said.
As the current 12th District representative on the transportation board, he helped create awareness and momentum for the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. It was controversial at the time, and in fact was only approved in three regions of the state. That it passed here looks like a godsend in retrospect, with all the major road work needed here to accommodate today’s explosive growth, particularly in Columbia County – where voters gave it a thumbs down.
Grantham acknowledges that some vocal opponents of the so-called T-SPLOST now admit to him it was a good idea.
He also has a front-row seat to the massive and exciting Savannah Harbor Expansion Project – which state transportation officials are deeply involved with. Not only are the port and other waterways a key part of the state’s transportation infrastructure, but roads and highways must be made to accommodate increased commercial traffic from a deepened port.
Asked what area road projects he finds most exciting, he quickly names the Riverwatch Parkway extension – because it further cements the connections and relationships between Richmond and Columbia counties.
This is a man who knows a little something about connections and relationships. After all, he’s been there for many of ours personally.