Four Mercerians with a commitment to community were recently named to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 list for 2023.
Columbus attorneys Alston Auten, a 2016 Mercer Law School graduate, and R. Walker Garrett, a 2010 Mercer Law School graduate; Wesleyan College Director of Strategic Initiatives Ken Blair, a 2013 graduate of Mercer’s organizational leadership bachelor’s degree program; and 2012 and 2014 Mercer graduate Stephen Bradshaw, vice president and commercial lender for Queensborough National Bank & Trust in Augusta, were included in the magazine’s annual list that was released earlier this fall.
Auten, originally from Cordele, earned her undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech and decided on Mercer for law school, so she could be closer to home.
“Mercer ended up being a good fit. I thought it was going to give me a really good opportunity for my law career,” she said. “I believe that Mercer applies a more practical understanding of the law than other schools. I came out of law school, and I felt more prepared to do the day-to-day as a lawyer.”
After graduating from law school, she did estate planning and probate work for Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker LLP in Gainesville for a few years. Then, she had the opportunity to join a solo practitioner in Columbus and has since bought the firm. Morgan & Auten, P.C. provides legal services related to corporate law, contracts, commercial real estate and estate planning, and many of its clients are business owners.
Auten said she didn’t go into law school wanting to have her own firm, but it’s not surprising that she took that path since she comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. She feels lucky to have found her niche in the legal field so early in her career.
“I truly love doing what I do. It’s quite stressful, but the clients and client relationships make it worth it,” she said. “I love problem solving, and a large part of my practice is problem solving in the legal realm. When I take a step back from the actual work of it all, it’s quite fulfilling to play a very small part in helping clients achieve dreams and their goals.”
Many of her clients are building businesses that will positively impact her community, and it’s gratifying to be a part of that ripple effect.
Auten is active in the community, including by serving on the board of the Feeding the Valley food bank. She is also involved in the Rotary Club, Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the Family Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on making mental health care more accessible.
“It is so inspiring to be surrounded by people who do pretty selfless work,” Auten said of her work with Feeding the Valley. “Their attitude toward what they do is quite inspiring. They’re joyous, they’re enthusiastic, and they’re very driven to reduce hunger in the many counties we support.”
Auten’s mother, Lori (Canterbury) Auten, was named to Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40 list 20 years ago, and Alston Auten was surprised and grateful to make that same list this year.
“I remember seeing her picture and blurb in the magazine,” Auten said of her mother. “I was so proud, and that was such a big deal to me as a child. It was also something I aspired to happen for me. To now be on the same list my mom was on 20 years ago, it feels really cool. It’s a nice affirmation of the work I’m doing professionally, in the community and personally. It’s validating.”
Prior to joining the team at Wesleyan in 2020, Blair worked at Mercer for seven years, serving as associate director in the Office of Student Financial Planning, educational specialist for TRIO programs and academic coordinator for Upward Bound. He also holds a Master of Business Administration and is pursuing a doctorate in higher education administration and educational leadership.
At Wesleyan, he served as director of first-year experiences for a year before transitioning to his current position. In this role, he oversees projects from President Meaghan Blight, builds partnerships with community organizations, and implements initiatives to increase the visibility of the college.
“My overall goal is to make sure that students in the Macon/Middle Georgia area, especially our female students, are very informed about Wesleyan,” he said.
Blair is especially passionate about supporting first-generation students, since he was once one himself. He knows firsthand how students may need additional resources to be successful, and he eagerly shares his story to help encourage and reassure them.
Blair has helped Wesleyan bring school groups to campus, partner with the Real Impact Center youth organization and serve as the site of a student success expo for Bibb County schools.
“Whether elementary, middle or high school, we want you to have access to our campus, so you can become familiar with it and maybe one day become a student on campus,” he said.
Blair was involved in efforts to create the new Wesleyan CEO Leadership Institute on Cherry Street in downtown Macon. This hub for women-centered leadership aims to help students gain practical leadership experience while fostering connections between Wesleyan and the community. It’s also a space where seminars, exhibits and events can be held. The institute is a way for Wesleyan to embrace its community and establish an anchor in downtown Macon, Blair said.
Blair is co-chair of Mercer’s African American Alumni Network and a board member of the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia. He said he strives to be a voice at the table for people who can’t be in the room. He also gives back regularly to his hometown of Warrenton, so he always remembers where he came from.
“I was blessed and honored to be considered among the other recipients who are leading in their field as well,” Blair said of the 40 Under 40 recognition. “I’ve been working very hard to make sure I support our community, that I make sure I am visible in the community and being a leader.
“At Mercer, we major in changing the world. I took that to heart during orientation my freshman year. As a higher education professional, empowering students through education is a powerful way to make a difference in the world.”
Bradshaw, a second-generation community banker, is a Double Bear with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master of Business Administration. Throughout his Mercer education, he worked in the Admissions Office, first as a student employee leading campus tours and then as a recruiter while in graduate school.
He met his wife, Morgann (Belcher) Bradshaw, at Mercer; proposed to her on the roof of the Jack Tarver Library; and they got married in Newton Chapel in summer 2013. The couple now has three children.
“For me, Mercer was just a really good fit. A small school is where I needed to be. I really enjoyed my time there. I learned as much in the classroom as out of the classroom with building relationships. What I do now, it’s all relationship driven,” said Bradshaw, who is originally from Dublin.
Bradshaw has worked at Queensborough National Bank for eight years now. As a commercial lender, he helps Augusta-area businesses navigate their banking needs, including loans to get started, financing to construct new buildings and everything in between. He enjoys playing a part in helping businesses succeed.
“My role is to walk beside the business owner for what they may not know. I walk beside them as an advisor and point them in the right direction,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily know this going into banking, but you really get to see how you can impact the community. Without a banking relationship, these businesses wouldn’t be able to exist and thrive in our community. Now that I’ve been in Augusta for about eight years, I can ride around town and see businesses that I’ve been able to help and partner with.”
Outside his work, Bradshaw is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and a deacon on its finance committee. He has volunteered with the local Red Cross since 2016 and served on its board since 2021. He’s also active in the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce and is a graduate of leadership programs with both.
“I try to stay as involved in the community as I can. It’s helpful to my job to be in and around the business community, but I definitely want to give back some of my time,” he said.
Bradshaw said he always flips through Georgia Trend’s annual 40 Under 40 list, but he never expected to be included. He was surprised and humbled to receive the honor this year.
He plans to continue to grow in his career, including by pursuing a graduate degree in banking in the future.
“I’ve never really been comfortable with the status quo. I always want to grow personally and professionally,” he said. “Queensborough has been great to me. I definitely see a long career in community banking.”
R. Walker Garrett
A Columbus native, Garrett wanted to go to Mercer for his undergraduate degree but was focused on playing tennis and ended up at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
When it came to law school, though, Mercer was the only school on his list. He was encouraged by Jimmy Elder Jr., pastor at First Baptist of Columbus as well as a Mercer trustee and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alumnus; the late Douglas Pullen, a Columbus Superior Court Judge and Mercer Law School alumnus; and other Columbus residents who had attended Mercer.
“I did one campus visit, and I didn’t apply anywhere else,” he said.
Mercer Law School provided him with practical, real-world education that he needed to succeed in the field.
“The legal writing program at Mercer was one of the most essential programs because I came out of law school with a head start,” he said. “We had great professors who really cared about us. We had some of the best lawyers in the country who spent time with us and wanted us to be the best we could be.”
After law school, Garrett returned home to practice. He worked at plaintiffs’ law firm Harp & Callier from 2010-2012 and The Finley Firm from 2012-2018. In the latter, he handled a variety of legal work, from defense to plaintiff lawsuits, and represented thousands of individuals and businesses as lead counsel for the class action lawsuit against BP following a 2010 oil spill.
As an equity and managing partner at Morgan and Morgan for the last five years, Garrett has focused on personal injury cases, including car wrecks and tractor trailer wrecks.
“I love being able to help people who have had their life changed and been injured by someone else’s negligence get their lives back together,” he said. “I really wanted to hunker down and focus on one area of the law.”
In addition, Garrett is serving his second term as the District 8 representative for the Columbus City Council.
“I’ve always wanted to serve the public. Ever since college, I’ve been pretty interested in drafting laws. It’s a way for me to help make Columbus better,” said Garrett, who has two young children with wife Kelsea.
He also volunteers with Direct Services Corporation, which provides meal and in-home care services for seniors, and is a deacon at First Baptist of Columbus. He’s been involved in the MyTeamTriumph and Literacy Alliance organizations, as well as the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, Georgia Watch, and General Practice and Trial Section of the Georgia Bar Association. He is passionate about literacy as well as consumer advocacy.