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State library agency honors former Newton system chairman
Public library champion

COVINGTON, Ga. — The state agency for public libraries in Georgia has named the Newton County Library System’s former board chairman as its Public Library Champion of the Year. 

Steve Whatley, former board chair and longtime trustee at the Newton County Library System, was give the honor by the Georgia Public Library Service. 

Whatley was an educator for more than 36 years, and served as superintendent of Newton County School District prior to his retirement in 2010. 

The Champion of the Year award is presented to an outstanding advocate who is not employed by a public library, but whose support significantly raised the profile of libraries and improved services, a news release stated.

Lace Keaton, director of the Newton County Library System, said, “Over the past 10 years, the library system has faced severe budget cuts, two recessions, a pandemic and a series of staff layoffs.

“During this time, Dr. Whatley’s steadfast leadership successfully guided us through many difficult days. On each and every occasion, he was well prepared, on time, and knowledgeable about all library issues.”

This year, Whatley guided the library board through important decisions to continue meeting community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

His advocacy and leadership efforts on behalf of the library remained steady until he and his wife both contracted COVID-19. 

Whatley’s wife of more than 50 years, Maryilynn, succumbed to the illness in September. Whatley recovered but the ordeal led him to step down from the board, the release stated.

Read Gignilliat, library supporter and attorney, said, “Even this gesture demonstrates his status as a library champion, as it reflects his sincere belief that the role — that he loves and personally needs more than ever — deserves more than he is able to bring to it under the circumstances.”

Keaton recalled one time when the budget didn’t allow the purchase of needed new library chairs, and Whatley led a project to refinish 121 chairs by recruiting volunteers, supervising the process, and laboring every day for four hours over six weeks.

Award winners are selected from nominations submitted by library patrons, trustees, Friends, and staff, showcasing the best and brightest who serve in public libraries throughout the state.

Georgia Public Library Service is the state library administrative agency and a unit of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. 

Whatley served as NCSS superintendent from 2006 to 2010. He began working in Newton County Schools in 1989. 

Prior to joining the NCSS he served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Baldwin County and as an associate superintendent for instruction in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Vidalia.