Passion, excitement are crucial to success, Melvin says

Former Greensboro mayor Jim Melvin told an audience at Greensboro's Empire Room Friday, March 7 that people enjoy making a difference and will support a project if it is rooted in a good idea. Melvin shared his perspectives on leadership and community involvement during the latest Joseph M. Bryan Distinguished Leadership Lecture Series program. Details...

Former Greensboro mayor Jim Melvin urged students to build their influence by getting involved in civic affairs. “Most of us, our first reaction is “I can’t do that,’ and that lets you off the hook.”

Melvin, who serves as president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, has been a tireless advocate for Greensboro and the Piedmont Triad, playing a crucial role in fundraising efforts to support the Elon law school. He was also the driving force behind the construction of Greensboro’s new baseball stadium, NewBridge Bank Park.

Melvin served as Greensboro mayor from 1971 to 1981, and has been active in numerous civic affairs. Leadership, he said, is about getting people on board.

“You can be the smartest CEO in the world, but if other people don’t want you to succeed, you’re going to hit the wall,” Melvin said. “If you have a good idea, people want to be part of something exciting. They want to make a difference.”

Melvin encouraged law students to explore interests away from their work, identifying avenues for service and contribution to their local communities through civic organizations and philanthropic ventures.

“Be involved with something else,” Melvin said. “Don’t just work and go home. Be involved in something else and be passionate about it.”

Asked about why he has turned down opportunities to take other jobs outside of Greensboro or run for Congress, Melvin said he felt like he was doing crucial work right here at home.

“Being mayor of a medium-sized city like Greensboro is one of the most important jobs I can think of,” Melvin said. “We need good people in Washington, and no offense to those people, but I have yet to figure out what they can do for us here.”

Melvin said his most trying time as mayor came during November 1979, when five Communist Worker Party marchers were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party. Building trust among the city’s various ethnic groups immediately following the shootings was of prime importance, Melvin said.

“I’ve said I went from being the mayor of Camelot to the mayor of Dodge City that day,” Melvin said. “But we had great relations with the minority groups and within an hour, we were sitting down with them to share what we knew and also what we didn’t know.”

A member of the Piedmont Triad Regional Vision Plan steering committee, Melvin served 18 years on the board of directors at Jefferson-Pilot. In 2005, Melvin received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Elon University in recognition of his efforts to establish the Elon law school in Greensboro.

A co-founder of Action Greensboro, an organization that has helped drive the city’s downtown through support from business and community leaders, Melvin said the Elon law school plays a vital part in energizing downtown life.

“I won’t be around to see it, but I truly believe in 20 years, Greensboro will be one of the most livable downtown, urban areas because of things like the Elon law school.”

The final program in the Bryan Leadership Lecture Series is set for Tuesday, April 29, featuring former N.C. governor Jim Hunt.