Water Cooler Wednesday: A Legacy of Leadership

Tom Lynch: A lifetime of achievement

Tom Lynch: A lifetime of achievement

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Tom Lynch’s assistant Paula Post asking if I would be interested in being part of a tribute video for Tom being produced on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber honored Tom last week with a much deserved “Lifetime Achievement Award” and the Red Pepper Group was tasked with recording a video that would try and capture Tom’s influence and contributions to Delray Beach.

I was honored and jumped at the chance to join Tom’s sons Brendan and Connor and Business Development Board CEO Kelly Smallridge on the video.

But then panic set in.

How can you sum up, in two minutes or less, Tom’s profound influence on the development and creation of modern Delray Beach? After all, if not for Tom, I’m not so we’d have a website devoted to Delray, because Atlantic Avenue and Delray Beach was a far different place when he became the founding chair of the CRA in 1985 and mayor of Delray in 1990.

Sure, there are many authors to the Delray success story, people we have mentioned on this blog who have done great things in areas ranging from the arts and business to government and philanthropy, but few who have left his lasting imprint.

Real Leadership Lasts

The real question then was why? Why was Tom Lynch–who served as mayor for three terms then went on to the School Board for 8 years before becoming mayor of the tiny Village of Golf –so important to modern Delray?

After all, he has been gone from office for 18 years, a lifetime in local politics and yet, smart politicians, entrepreneurs, economic development experts and others still seek him out for advice even if they have to search for him in Biltmore Forest N.C., where he spends a lot of time these days.

The answer, in my opinion, was because Tom stood for and implemented ideas and principles that set the stage for much of the success that Delray has achieved since he served on Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force 30 years ago.

Sure he accomplished a lot of concrete things during his active years in Delray Beach. Among them:

•             Successful implementation of the pivotal Decade of Excellence Bond which beautified Atlantic Avenue among other important projects.

•             The decision to build a tennis stadium downtown to attract the Virginia Slims to Delray. While the Slims didn’t last, the Stadium did; eventually attracting an ATP event, major junior events, the Champions Tour, Fed Cup and Davis Cup. The decision to build downtown was an important branding decision for Delray giving the city international publicity and attracting people to Delray at a time when crowds were not the norm.

•             Successfully launching the CRA, which has become a major economic development tool for the city ushering in millions and millions in private sector investment.

•             Winning the first of Delray’s two All America City Awards in 1993, a major recognition of the city’s progress. A year later, Florida Trend Magazine named Delray the best run town in Florida.

And there were more accomplishments, but while important, over time people forget who did what and Tom was never the type to seek credit anyway.

 But what lasts are values and principles and that’s the “secret sauce” that separates a Tom Lynch from others who hold titles such as mayor. People come and go in these positions, but values and principles tend to last and if you stray as a community they can serve as guideposts to get back to where you need to be.

So what were those values and principles that Tom championed before, during and after he left office.

•             Delray should come first, before personal agendas and egos.

•             The job of an elected official is to do the right thing regardless of short term political considerations. Don’t kick the can down the road, think long term and have the courage to act.

•             Appointments to city advisory boards are important, take the time to put the right people in the right spots because they provide the commission with the advice they need to make decisions. Don’t reward friends or political cronies; look for people who have the skill sets to add value. P.S. if they perform they can become your future leaders.

•             City Commission is not an entry level position, it’s important for candidates to have experience in this community before you entrust them with the public’s purse and important decisions. Do they work well with others? Are they single issue candidates? Do they do their homework? Are they willing to make tough decisions or do they just want to cut ribbons and ride in parades? Tom taught us to ask those questions and more.

•             Government can run like a business by being responsive to customers, entrepreneurial, efficient and fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. Like businesses, cities should make investments that yield returns, such as in the arts, sports and culture.

•             Government should not impose answers but act as a facilitator to assist  businesses and or resolve disputes and issues between neighbors.

And there are more, many more values and principles that Tom’s leadership epitomized.

So that’s what I thought of when I walked into the Red Pepper Group’s studios and tried to give my two-minute testimonial.

Times Have Changed

When I moved here as a 22 year-old reporter in 1987, Delray was a far different place. There were few restaurants, virtually no nightlife, lots of vacancies on Atlantic Ave and a tremendous amount of crime and drug dealing. The politics were divisive and City Hall was suffering from instability and turnover. By the time Tom left the mayor’s office in 1996, Delray was well on the way but still had a long way to go. That’s the other lesson he and others imparted: cities are never done; they are always works in progress. But Tom’s under stated but strong leadership gave Delray its confidence back, we were a community that worked together, that acknowledged its problems and were willing to try innovative strategies to find solutions. We were no longer Dull Ray, the poor neighbor of Boca where nobody wanted to be, but a town on the rise that believed in itself.

That’s what great leadership does, it engages, unites and excites stakeholders and leave you with hope for a better tomorrow. And so it was. Great leaders touch people and leave a mark.  They make us think about what we can become and they lead the way despite the obstacles. Tom Lynch’s brand of leadership continues to pay dividends.


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