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Building an Army of Philanthropists

By Jonathan Scott

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi alumnus Bill Courtney is the featured speaker in the latest installment of the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series, which is hosted by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. Courtney, a successful business leader and coach, who was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary ‘Undefeated,’ is set to speak at 5 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. Submitted photo

 University of Mississippi alumnus Bill Courtney is a devoted husband and father, the operator of a successful manufacturing plant in Memphis, Tennessee, and a coach. He is also a celebrated servant leader and subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary.

The 1991 graduate will discuss his mission to promote philanthropy and help others at a Nov. 3 event at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. His 5 p.m. talk is the latest installment of the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series, which is hosted by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

Courtney frequently shares his unique philanthropic vision that “normal folks” can adopt to improve the lives of their neighbors and, ultimately, the world. On his popular podcast, “An Army of Normal Folks,” he tells stories of little-known but remarkable community members who have overcome obstacles, helping themselves and others in the process.

“I see helping your neighbors and serving your community as a requirement of the gifts we have been given,” he said. “My belief is that we should always seek ways to serve those less fortunate than us as a way to show appreciation for the blessings we have received in our own lives.”

Courtney is an ideal speaker for the Khayat Lecture Series, said Karen Moore, an active member and former chair of the Women’s Council. Courtney and the council share the same mission when it comes to serving others, she said.

“Bill Courtney wishes to make the world a better place by simply seeing a need and filling it,” said Moore, a UM alumna who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “He knows in a very personal way that you can influence the trajectory of someone’s life by giving them a helping hand.

“His podcast, ‘An Army of Normal Folks,’ can change the world. His ideas align with what we try to instill in our Women’s Council scholars, which is to be ethical leaders in society.”

Besides his thriving business, Classic American Hardwoods, Courtney is praised for his efforts to nurture leadership, build character and promote community service.

He gained national prominence after becoming the volunteer coach of the Manassas Tigers, a high school football team in Memphis. After many years of losing seasons, Courtney helped turn around the team’s and its players’ fortunes.

The story of Courtney and the Manassas Tigers was featured in the 2011 documentary film “Undefeated,” which was honored by the Academy Awards with an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2012. He was also named “Coach of the Year” by Esquire magazine that same year.

In 2014, he wrote the acclaimed book, “Against the Grain: A Coach’s Wisdom on Character, Faith, Family and Love” (Hachette Books). In it, Courtney delves into topics such as grace, civility, leadership and service – some of the “foundational tenets that we must employ in our lives,” he said.

As a result of the documentary and his book, Courtney is a sought-after speaker. He uses his podcast to share stories of little-known but remarkable community members.

“The purpose of ‘An Army of Normal Folks’ is to inspire normal people to engage in whatever way they can in their communities, to give them ideas and blueprints, and connect them with actual people they can talk to,” he said. “Perhaps our podcast can help others to get started in community service, to be purposeful and successful.”

Regions Bank is the presenting sponsor for Courtney’s appearance in the Khayat Lecture Series. Diane and J.L. Holloway are the fall season sponsors for the series.

Free general admission tickets are available to community members, but they must be reserved in advance. Premium tickets and sponsorships are also available and allow ticket holders to attend a private meet-and-greet session with Courtney.

For more information about free general admission tickets, premium tickets and sponsorship opportunities, contact the Women’s Council at 662-915-7273.

Since its launch in 2021, the Khayat Lecture Series has provided a platform where university students, faculty, staff and alumni can join the community to hear from thought-provoking speakers, performers, cultural leaders and philanthropists. The most recent event in the series, in September, featured five acclaimed musicians who shared their songs as part of a Singer-Songwriter Showcase.

Ole Miss and NFL football great Dexter McCluster will be the guest speaker for the first Khayat Lecture Series event in 2024. More details about the Feb. 2 event will be announced soon.

Proceeds from the series support the OMWC’s Global Leadership Circle, a program offering assistance to students who want to study abroad or pursue internships.

The Women’s Council, in its 24th year, has built an endowment of nearly $20 million and awarded scholarships to 185 students. This semester, 38 scholars are receiving the $40,000 scholarships – $10,000 per year for four years – while being mentored by the council’s accomplished members.

For more information or to support the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series and/or the Global Leadership Circle, contact Suzanne Helveston, program director for the OMWC, at shelveston@olemiss.edu or 662-915-2956.

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