Tommy Hailey's last day on the job is Friday. "When I came in, my goal was to leave it in better shape than it was when I came in and I think I can proudly say that's happened," Hailey said. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- When Tommy Hailey walks away from his position as director of the Newton County Recreation Commission on Friday after nearly 24 years, he'll be doing so with mixed emotions. Hailey knows he won't be using his retirement as an excuse to sit around the house. He's got plans to work part-time, continue to volunteer in the community and play more golf. But even though he'll be staying busy, he said it will be an adjustment not to come to work at 8 o'clock in the morning, and most of all, it will be hard to say goodbye to his friends and colleagues.
"It's been a great run, it really has," he said.
It's the relationships he's built with "the best staff in the world," the Recreation Commission board, elected officials and the community at large that mean the most to him.
But he's also proud of building and maintaining the department's award-winning facilities and bringing loads of tournaments to Newton County.
The Recreation Commission went through four directors in five years prior to Hailey's arrival in 1989. Hailey was recruited by his mentor, the late B.C. Crowell. When he got here, he discovered some facilities were unkempt. Hailey said the staff's hands were tied at that time due to budget constraints, remembering that the first time he asked for a commercial lawn mower, he might as well have been asking for a pot of gold. But eventually, he convinced county officials that an upgraded mower would actually save money. Hailey has always been focused on the appearance of Recreation Commission fields and facilities, believing a first impression is the last impression, and folks will remember a shoddy field.
This commitment to having top-notch recreation sites has resulted in numerous awards recognizing Newton County facilities and parks from the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association and the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials. Newton County Recreation has won at least 50 awards since 1997 under Hailey's leadership, for facilities, staff, volunteers and for Hailey himself.
"Tommy did an excellent job and I hate to see him leave. He built a recreation department that is admired by the whole country," said Dr. Bill Dobbs, who was mayor of Covington when Hailey was hired. At that time the city and county jointly ran the Recreation Commission.
There have been nine parks and three facilities built during Hailey's tenure, and numerous renovations to existing parks. Hailey had hoped to see one more field completed before his retirement -- the Miracle League Field, under construction in City Pond Park -- but that won't happen. It's a project he's championed from the beginning, and he'll see it through to the end, having now been asked to serve on the Miracle League nonprofit board. Hailey said the hiring of Tamara Richardson to head up the Miracle League project stands out as one of his best decisions during his entire time with the Recreation Commission.
Hailey has also been heavily focused on drawing tournaments to Newton County. The Recreation Commission has hosted more than 400 during his 24 years there.
Of especial note, Newton has hosted five Dixie Boys World Series, more than any other community, and three fast pitch and two slow pitch International Association of Softball tournaments.
Recreation Commission member and long-time Hailey friend Flemmie Pitts noted that Hailey's connections from his days playing semipro softball have resulted in him being able to book large tournaments. Some of those tournaments can draw up to 100 teams from multiple states.
Tournaments bring money to the local economy, and provide local teams, as hosts, the chance to play as well, Hailey said.
Several of Hailey's employees -- Kale Curtis, Matt Taylor, Anthony Avery and Dwayne Mask -- talk about the tournaments, maintenance of facilities and the Miracle League as perhaps his greatest accomplishments, but personally, they'll always remember his concern for their families and insistence that they put family life first.
"He's a wonderful boss. He's always got an open door policy," said Curtis, who handles special events and marketing and first started working for the department during summers when he was in high school and college. Several other current employees also started their careers there while still in college and later came on full time. One of the things Hailey is most proud of is building a competent staff.
"We retain employees and we have to retain them for a reason. They love what they're doing," he said.
Hailey acknowledged that one of the biggest responsibilities of his job is public relations. "If someone comes in and wants to talk about something, my door is always open," he said.
Danny Stone is chairman of the Recreation Commission and has known Hailey for about 25 years, when Hailey coached his son in baseball at Truett-McConnell College. He is also a former county commissioner.
"While I was on the Board of Commissioners, from our perspective, recreation was one of those things we knew we had the leadership in place to take care of itself. It wasn't something we had to be concerned about on a day-to-day basis. Tommy and his staff were there to take care of those needs and facilities, and he has done a great job of doing that," Stone said.
Hailey said his philosophy has always been to treat people the way you want to be treated, to be fair and consistent and not show favoritism. He's not only his employee's boss, but also their friend, he said, but that doesn't mean they're not held accountable. He's quick to credit a team effort for the Recreation Commission's accomplishments during the last 24 years.
"I often say I can't do my job without them doing their job," he said.
Hailey was born at Porterdale Hospital in 1953 and graduated from Newton County High School and from Gordon State College. He then went on to a successful semi-professional softball career in the '70s until the late '80s. Hailey first played with the local Almon Gullystompers, then Covington Stars and Newcombe Springs teams, then played men's major softball for the Lighthouse team, based out of Atlanta, and was named to two All-World teams and won two national championships. In 1992, he was elected to the Georgia United States Speciality Sports Association Softball Hall of Fame. He currently serves as the chairman of the Georgia USSSA Hall of Fame Committee and as deputy commissioner for Junior Dixie Boys.
A reception will be held in Hailey's honor from 3-6 p.m. Friday at Turner Lake Banquet Room, with a special presentation at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend. The venue is located at Turner Lake Complex at 6185 Turner Lake Road.