Dr. Paul Conn Named 2018 Varnell Award Recipient
Similar to the old E.F. Hutton commercials mantra, “When Dr. Paul Conn speaks everyone listens,” states co-nominator Ron Braam. “Dr. Conn has spent the past 44 years, in support of community goals and projects, while also serving and promoting Lee University. More importantly, he has done all of this in his determined but quiet non assuming way, giving credit to others and to his team.”
Dr. Charles (Paul) Conn, President of Lee University, received the Robert W. Varnell Jr. Leadership Award during awards presentations at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. Named for the late Robert W. Varnell Jr., the award is one of the top honors presented annually by the Chamber of Commerce which recognizes outstanding leadership for profession, religion/church and community.
“Dr. Conn has a tremendous history of developing leaders of the people around him,” expressed co-nominator, Matt Ryerson, President and CEO of United Way of the Ocoee Region. ”He has also taken time for individuals, no matter what their status in the community, to answer questions, give counsel, and support those developing professionals in a way that inspires to pursue dreams and reach for a well thought out vision of a better place that we currently live in.” Dr. Conn’s community service activities have included board leadership on the YMCA, the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation, the Museum Center and the United Way of Bradley County where he served as campaign co-chair in 2009 and a vision 100 member. He also serves on the Cleveland Business Roundtable and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority. Dr. Conn provided personal and institutional leadership and giving support for the Great Strides and 65 Roses 5k for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He is a frequent speaker at local civic and community organizations on the topic of leadership and fundraising, as well as professional forums around the globe.
Dr. Conn became president of Lee University in 1986, after fourteen years as a member of the psychology faculty. During his administration, the university has seen significant growth: enrollment has increased from 1,000 to over 5,000 and the physical campus has been substantially enlarged and rebuilt, along with the school’s reputation further established as a regional academic leader. “I have the highest admiration and appreciation for how President Paul Conn has represented the Church of God denomination in guiding its primary institution of higher learning,” shared Rev. Dr. Timothy Hill, General Overseer with the Church of God International Offices. In 1994, Dr. Conn was the recipient of the Church of God International Distinguished Educator Award and remains an active member and leader of the Westmore Church of God.
In 2001, Dr. Conn was the recipient of the Chamber’s prestigious M.C. Headrick Award, which is given to the most outstanding chief executive in the local business community. Also notable, this was the first award given to a not-for-profit CEO. He also received the 1996 Otis Floyd Award from the Tennessee College Public Relations Association, given to the most outstanding higher education executive in Tennessee.
Dr. Conn has served on the board of directors for numerous higher education organizations, including Council of the Independent Colleges and was chairman of the President’s Council of the Southern States Athletic Conference. He has served six years as a Commissioner of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, including two years as a member of the Executive Committee of the Appalachian Colleges Association and on the board of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. He has also served three-year terms on the national board of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Additionally, Dr. Conn has authored or co-authored over twenty books and has been published in numerous global publications ranging from the Journal of Experimental Psychology to the Saturday Evening Post. He received a “Best News Feature” award by the Associated Press for an interview with Johnny Cash. Four of Dr. Conn’s Books have appeared on Top Ten bestseller lists of Time magazine; the Los Angeles Times; Chicago Tribune; New York Times; Publishers Weekly, and other major lists.
In 1977, his book ‘The Possible Dream’ capturing the compelling story of Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, was on the New York Times best seller list for eleven weeks and was ranked the #6 bestselling non-fiction book in the country by Publishers Weekly for the year. The Times called it “the bestselling corporate biography in publishing history.” It has sold an estimated nine million English language copies. Conn’s books have been translated into dozens of languages for distribution around the world.
One of his top celebrated books ‘Kathy’ was also produced as a made-for-TV movie by Universal Studios and aired on CBS television, starring Sharon Gless and Helen Hunt. Two additional of Dr. Conn’s books were produced and broadcast into television movie versions, airing in South Africa, Canada and Japan.
Dr. Paul Conn and wife, Darlia; have three children and ten grandchildren.