Leaving A Legacy Like Joe Hardesty

The legacy left by Joe Hardesty was in how he lived his life every day.

Two weeks after his untimely death, all I have to add to the many comments about what a fine human being he was, is that yes, he truly was a fine human being.

“They came no better than him,” said Cordelia Hardin, JCPS’s Chief Financial Officer, when she heard of his death. That’s right.

We could do no better than to leave such a legacy as Joe did, with so many having been touched by his sincerity, his intellect, and his humor.

Joe had no warning to get right with his fellow man, but he was already right with his fellow man. Because that’s how he lived.

He was a superintendent’s dream board member. Joe generally supported the superintendent, deferring to their expertise, and offering support even when there was public criticism.

There were no high-pitched, attention-getting speeches from Joe taking credit or leveling criticism.

You knew where he stood; he didn’t need to remind you every meeting.

He was respectful of staff, knowing that taking up their time was neither productive, nor his job.

His calmness didn’t mean he didn’t care. His level-headedness and discernment characterized his leadership. That’s the lesson here. These days public officials seem to need to ravage their opposition, and rile people into a frenzy. That doesn’t work; it just makes you look self-important.

Joe wasn’t self-important, he was self effacing.

He didn’t like long meetings, but he would sit and listen as long as others wanted to talk.

After watching school board meetings on TV for eight years and observing Joe as chair, my husband commented that Joe was the kind of leader who was almost invisible, because his style was to allow the board to work and to shine.

When things got tough, he remained solid and a steady. And when he did take a strong stand, people listened and he usually got his way because he made a good case.

Of course, he was super smart: a West Point graduate, degrees in engineering and law, and a valued partner in a major law firm. He always offered solid advice on complex issues that staff or board members would take to him.

When I had a tough, odd campaign in 2010, he helped in big ways behind the scenes. Having Joe as a calm, reasonable, smart person to talk to was invaluable.

He helped me when I became the board chair. He took me to lunch and walked me through an agenda showing me how he highlighted sections to not miss anything.

Joe made me laugh a lot. Without being mean, Joe and I could find something humorous during meetings. It helped lighten the tension sometimes.

It matters having someone like Joe in public life. And it matters a lot to have someone like Joe as a friend.

Boy, I will miss Joe. But, like a friend said at his funeral, we should all try to be more like him.

His example, and the fact that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, should be on our minds as we are building our legacy anew every day we live.

Joe Hardesty served on the Jefferson County Board of Education from 1990-2012. I got to serve with him from 2006-2012.





About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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