The Journey From Alma

Jim Bishop brings a small-town perspective to the Board of Regents

There’s no substitute for a good story, and Jim Bishop’s life is a just that. A successful lawyer practicing in Brunswick for his entire career, Bishop was named by Gov. Sonny Perdue in late 2006 to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents. He’s currently filling the post for the newly redistricted First Congressional District; his term will expire in January 2011.

At age 64, when many contemporaries are heading to the golf course fulltime, Bishop – now a resident of Sea Island – is delighted by the opportunity to serve and give back to the education system he credits for his professional success.

“Early childhood molded me,” says Bishop of growing up in Alma, squarely in the center of Southeast Georgia’s Bacon County. He and his twin brother attended the county’s public schools from kindergarten to high school and together set off to the University of Georgia, where he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1964. That August he married his wife, Mary, also a Class of ’64 grad, and the couple moved to Macon where Bishop would attend Mercer Law School.

It wasn’t a financial cake walk. “After graduation Dad said, ‘I’d like you to try to make it on your own,’” Bishop recalls. “We had every intention of doing so.”

Mary worked fulltime, and he worked part-time as he made his way through law school. Bishop earned his law degree in 1967 and moved to Brunswick to join Anthony A. Alaimo in legal practice.

In 1971, after Alaimo was appointed a judge for the Southern District of Georgia, Bishop continued his practice with A. Blenn Taylor, Jr., who later was appointed to the Superior Court bench for the Brunswick Judicial District. Despite the comings and goings, The Bishop Law Firm continuously maintained the general practice of law.

Currently, Bishop’s son, James, Jr., practices law with him, something that gives Bishop a great deal of pride, pleasure and confidence as he digs into the new challenge of regent.

“Our part of the state hasn’t been represented on the Board of Regents in over 40 years,” Bishop says. “When the governor asked if I would be interested in serving, he and I talked it over and I came away with the impression that this was a tremendous opportunity for me to be involved in higher education, something that made my life what it is today.”

Attempting to get up to speed, Bishop spent a full day last January at the system offices in Atlanta hearing presentations from a variety of personnel. The experience made an impression. “There’s no way for people to fathom all that is going on in the university system,” he notes. “The amount of work that is done behind the scenes is amazing, and it’s 24/7. If I ask a question I’ll often get an answer on my Blackberry time-stamped 11:30 p.m.”

Bishop attended his first Board of Regents meeting in January, another meeting in February, which was shortened in order to make Capitol visits, and a two-day gathering in April at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

Bishop concedes he’s still learning about many issues facing the Board of Regents, but the thing he wants to communicate is the dedication of University System Chancellor Errol Davis, the system staff and all the Regents.

“That’s part of the excitement of what I’m doing,” he says. “It encourages me to see someone like [Chancellor Davis] who isn’t from a typical academic background looking to achieve results and create a university system that’s second to none in the country.”

It’s a long way from Alma to the Board of Regents, a journey Bishop and Perdue, also a rural Georgian, have in common. “Going to the university made such a difference in his life and in my life,” Bishop says. “Being a product of the university system helped me transition from life in small town Georgia to a successful profession. It happens all the time, more than you can imagine.”

Bishop is determined to use his term as regent to fulfill the board’s primary mission; to create a more educated Georgia with as much access to higher education as possible.

He still works fulltime at his law practice and says living on Sea Island has its perks even during his morning commute. “You don’t run into a lot of traffic going to work from Sea Island,” he says, with a chuckle.

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