Dr. Godsey’s vision, leadership brought University to new heights | Mercer Legends

Dr. Kirby Godsey
Dr. Kirby Godsey

Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, Mercer’s longest-serving president, was and continues to be a visionary for the development and expansion of both Mercer and the city of Macon. Here’s how he became and continues to be a Mercer Legend.

Dr. R. Kirby Godsey

Mercer connection: Mercer president and current chancellor.

Years at Mercer: Mercer president, 1979-2006; Mercer chancellor, 2006-present.

What he did: Dr. Godsey, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, came to Mercer with a wealth of knowledge and experience already under his belt. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and religion, a Master of Divinity, a Master of Arts in philosophy, and doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy, as well as four honorary doctorates. Earlier in his career, he was the vice president and dean of Averett College in Virginia, a Danforth associate with the Danforth Foundation, and a philosophy and religion professor at Judson College in Alabama. He served as executive vice president and dean of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences prior to becoming the University’s 17th president.

Dr. Godsey led the founding of Mercer’s Tift College of Education and its schools of medicine, business, engineering, education, theology and music. He also guided Georgia Baptist College of Nursing’s merger with Mercer; established the Mercer Engineering Research Center, Mercer University Press and Executive Forum; and facilitated many community partnerships, including with the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, Piedmont Healthcare of Atlanta, Memorial Health University Center in Savannah, and the Medical Center of Central Georgia, now Atrium Health Navicent, in Macon. Upon his retirement as Mercer president in 2006, he was appointed chancellor. 

Why he is a legend: Dr. Godsey saw the University through an unprecedented era of growth and continues to be a changemaker today through his voice, words and community involvement. During his 27-year presidential tenure, Mercer expanded from three to 10 academic schools and became one of the largest private universities in the Southeast. In honor of his monumental legacy, Mercer’s historic Administration Building on the Macon campus was named the R. Kirby Godsey Administration Building in 2006. 

Dr. Godsey in 2008.
Dr. Kirby Godsey in 2008

Dr. Godsey, who still lives in Macon, recognized early on the importance of connecting the Mercer and Macon communities, and he has been an ongoing supporter and leader in the city’s revitalization. He is founding chair of NewTown Macon and currently serves as chairman of the Peyton Anderson Foundation in Macon, in addition to being active in many other civic and professional boards and committees.

He is also known as a dynamic and compelling speaker, presenting lectures on topics ranging from leadership to religion to audiences across the country. He’s a consultant on leadership and higher education administration and an accomplished writer, having authored several books as well as numerous articles for professional journals. 

Quotable: “He has taken a good university and made it one of the best in the nation. His vision and leadership have reached well beyond the University, leaving an indelible imprint on Georgia. History will surely record Kirby Godsey as one of Georgia’s finest citizens and educational leaders.” — James Bishop, former chairman of Mercer’s Board of Trustees, said prior to Godsey’s retirement as Mercer president

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.


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