Brittain Award winners forge lives of service and success

When Benjamin Johnson III '65C, managing partner with the law firm of Alston and Bird in Atlanta, thumbed through a stack of résumés of recent law school graduates a few years ago, one profile stood out. A young graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Law, Lonnie Brown '86C, also happened to be an Emory College alumnus and, like Johnson, had received the Marion Luther Brittain Award.

"He noticed that we had both received the award," says Brown, who accepted Johnson's invitation to join the firm and now practices commercial litigation there. "I admire him a great deal. To know that someone thought as well of me as they did of him means a lot."

The Brittain Award often engenders such a spirit of kinship and mutual respect among past winners. Presented each year at Commencement as the University's highest student honor, the award goes to a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to both the University and the greater community, as well as qualities of strong character and integrity.

This year's recipient, Emily Tripp, the fiftieth Marion Luther Brittain Award honoree, was cited for her far-reaching and selfless contributions to the Oxford and Emory communities and beyond, as well as her "helping hand and gentle smile," according to one of her nominators. Such accolades have been the hallmark of the award, the thread linking the late Henry Franklin Gay '48C, the first Brittain Award honoree and a World War II veteran who founded the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity as a student, to all subsequent recipients.

While service has remained the consistent theme that unites Brittain Award recipients, members of the group have forged successful careers in a broad array of professions. Some, such as Johnson and Catherine Rudder, who received the prize in 1969, have returned to Emory in the role of trustee. Rudder, who earned her doctoral degree in political science from Ohio State University, is the first female executive director of the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C.

"I was actually genuinely surprised about getting the award, because I was a bit controversial as a student," says Rudder, who had helped author a contentious report on the impact of fraternities on campus life. "The Brittain Award was Emory saying to me that it's fine to take an opposing position. What's important is that students contribute to the quality of life at Emory."

Improving the quality of life at Emory was also a concern of Barbara Jaffe, who won the Brittain Award in 1973 after helping organize a Serendipity Day Carnival for the entire University community. "I got a lot of satisfaction out of being involved in activities and issues that affected the campus as a whole," says Jaffe, now vice president of technology operations at HBO in New York.

That same sense of satisfaction propelled James O'Neal, the 1979 Brittain Award recipient, into a life of service. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1982, O'Neal moved to Harlem to co-found Legal Outreach, an educational, non-profit organization that helps young people in urban areas understand their legal rights and confront recurring problems in their own communities.

"The Brittain Award said to me that people respected what I had done and the level of caring and excellence I sought to attain," says O'Neal, who also received the Emory Medal, the University's highest alumni honor, in 1992.

Service has also become a way of life for Michelle Foust Broemmelsiek, who received the Brittain Award in 1991 and is now a project manager for peace and reconciliation with Catholic Relief Services on the island of Mindinao in the Philippines. When an agreement ended twenty years of civil war between the Philippine government and the Muslim rebels of Mindinao last year, Broemmelsiek began working at the grassroots level to make the transition to peace.

"We're a funding agency," she explains. "I help organizations develop proposals for how to make peaceful communities in their area." For example, Broemmelsiek helped Christians and Muslims in a divided neighborhood join forces to run a community bakery. "It gives them a focus on how they can economically succeed, but it also helps the community develop leadership so they can work and live together."-A.O.A.

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