The Making of a Gentleman – 2020

Guiding Values Discussed by Local Gentlemen


Humility, integrity, chivalry, and honor – these are characteristics often attributed to a gentleman. But the list rarely stops there. Copious “how to” guides contend a real gentleman walks with purpose. He must stand out in a crowd, but never seek to be the center of attention. He must show superb manners, but challenge practices he deems unethical. He must have a desire to succeed, but give credit to whom credit is due.

While all of the above rings true, getting to the essence of a gentleman lies in this statement: “Today, I will strive to be a better man than I was yesterday.” In their own words, these six men share what principles guide them and how their past experiences and influences have defined and shaped them into who they are today.

By Mary Beth Wallace / Photography by Rich Smith
On Location at Chattanooga Whiskey Event Hall

James McKissic President of ArtsBuild


James McKissic

President, ArtsBuild


My early days were spent exploring life with and emulating my Great Aunt Leona. When I was born, she was well into her 70s, but she became my babysitter and, later on, took care of my sister and me after school. She was gender nonconforming before we had the language for it, had a pistol under her pillow, and sometimes, to our delight and giggles, cussed. She burned her clipped fingernails so nobody could hex her, loved the Atlanta Braves, and taught me how to make cracklin’ cornbread.

My Aunt Leona also taught me that family was most important and that education and “what I get in my head” were paramount – once I had it, no one could take it away. She was compassionate, and she ignited my interest in history and genealogy with her thick family Bible, full of faintly written births, marriages, and deaths. When other family members whispered and worried, she celebrated and encouraged my artistic interests. So much of the quirky, creative man I am today was influenced by my Great Aunt Leona, and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the time I spent in her tiny, olive green house on Fair Street.

Todd Womack President and CEO of Bridge Public Affairs


Todd Womack

President and CEO, Bridge Public Affairs


I would credit a lot of who I am to where I came from. Having two parents who were focused on serving others – and not drawing attention to themselves in the process – has created a model that really is foundational. Then, throughout my career, I’ve had the pleasure to work for people of character and integrity like Senator Bob Corker, from whom I learned a tremendous amount. In the government arena, it’s easy to find individuals who are driven by ego and a desire to promote themselves. But Senator Corker was always drawn to public service out of a desire to help others. He recognized that we’re here to serve other people, and to do that effectively, you have to have a strong dose of humility, an extraordinary work ethic, and a willingness to speak up for “the least of these.”

Generosity is also a big piece of that. There’s financial generosity, of course, but also generosity of time and talent. I’ve watched folks give their lives away for the sake of serving others, which is inspiring to me. The best example of this is Jesus, and my ultimate desire is to be like him.

Dan Gilmore Founder and Attorney at Law at Squire Strategies


Dan Gilmore

Founder and Attorney at Law, Squire Strategies


I grew up in a wonderfully loving and supportive church community – the very church in which my parents were raised, met, and married. And it was the same church that later ordained my mother, the first woman ordained by a Southern Baptist church in Texas and only the second woman of any faith ordained in the state. Her devotion to her calling, even when it meant transferring her orders to the Methodist church, taught me the importance of commitment in the face of hardship and intolerance. My father’s extensive participation and leadership in many forms of civic engagement, including serving as a Dallas city councilman, taught me the importance of community and service. But it was meeting my wife 37 years ago that, to quote Robert Frost, “has made all the difference.”

Mike Griffin President and CEO of Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce


Mike Griffin

President and CEO, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce


There are three traits my parents instilled in me that made me the man I am today. The first is respecting others. They emphasized the importance of respecting all members of society and knowing you are no better than anyone else. Also, respecting your elders – saying “yes sir” and “no sir” – was strongly encouraged in our daily upbringing. Secondly, having a strong work ethic was stressed. Hard work, dedication, and always doing the right thing were of utmost importance. Lastly, showing thanks for the blessings you have in life is a key to happiness. Always give back to your church and your community, and your life will continue to be blessed.

Jim Hill Army Veteran and Retired Business Executive


Jim Hill

Army Veteran and Retired Business Executive


In my youth, a gentleman was defined as one born in a family of high social status. By that standard, I could never aspire to be a gentleman. Not accepting that definition, my parents insisted that I always live ethically and honorably, and they taught me that I should treat others in a proper and polite way. In addition, they modeled this behavior in their daily lives.

Later in life, notwithstanding the original definition, I officially became a gentleman as I took the oath of office as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, where I served for 20 years as “an officer and a gentleman.” During those years of service, I tried to emulate my parents’ teachings in my dealings with those around me, especially with all the cadets who enrolled in my chemistry class at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Joe Novenson pastor to senior adults at lookout mountain presbyterian church


Joe Novenson

Pastor to Senior Adults, Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church


Any admirable character trait I might have is indisputably a gracious gift from another. Because of their own goodness, they gave to me that which I neither earned nor deserved. That is true of me all the way back to my childhood. Others loved me and invested in me with unimaginable kindness.

The pre-eminent gracious giver in my life is a former carpenter. He’s also a King. His name is Jesus. He carved his grace into the splintered grain of Joe at 16 years of age. By his grace, he shifted the momentum of my life outward and away from myself to honor and serve him and others.

The person who introduced me to Jesus is the woman who has been my most influential teacher over 44 years of marriage. I remember picking her up for a date from a riot-ruined inner-city Boys Club, where she served with a joyous abandon that called me to a much deeper love of the little and left behind.

My Savior and my bride are the two most life-shaping forces in my 67 years on the Earth.

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