Six hours is a long time to sit side-by-side with six siblings, in the heat of a Georgia summer. Each stretch of mile seems longer than the next. Each hour feels twice as long. Each second ticks, ticks, ticks away until… there it is! The gently arched entryway to Jekyll Island, that leisurely paradise on Georgia’s coast which was once the luxurious vacation landing for some of America’s industrial millionaires.
“As a kid, that six-mile causeway seemed like 100 miles. We always had a great week here, fishing, bike riding, swimming, shark tooth hunting,” said Mark Williams, the new Executive Director for the Jekyll Island Authority. “I can remember driving by all the residential houses and thinking, ‘those must be the luckiest people in world to get to live here year-round.’”
Despite having traveled through those historic gates annually for years, the grandeur of it all was never lost on Williams. He considered the island a genuine state treasure during all those childhood vacations. He continued to hold the same admiration for Jekyll during his nearly 14 years serving three state Governors as Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, and during his years serving in the Georgia General Assembly.
By the time he gracefully entered his 60s, his perspective on life shifted a bit, as the wisdom of his life lessons learned thus far took a new hold. With little pause for soul-searching, he saw an opportunity worth reaching for, when now-retired Jekyll Island Authority executive director Jones Hooks announced his exit from the role after more than 15 years of successfully leading Jekyll Island revitalization efforts.
“When Jones Hooks announced his retirement, it seemed as though this potential opportunity and timing collided, which is rare. (The) JIA has been under great leadership with Jones Hooks. The island re-vitalization has been phenomenal (during) the last decade and a half,” Williams said. “The island is bound by (Georgia) law over its developable acreage, and that is a good thing. I see my role not as overseeing future development but overseeing improvements to these developed areas.”
This commitment to maintaining the island’s character led Williams not only into the JIA leadership venture, but also to turning his attention to the intricate realities of keeping the island shining. This is where the Jekyll Island Foundation steps in. Its role is to raise funds for key Island projects, with a focus on Jekyll conservation, preservation and education, that otherwise could not be completed through JIA budgets alone.
“We are a busy island and getting busier each year, so we (need) to keep our amenities up to what our nearly four million visitors and our residents have come to expect from us,” Williams said. “The Foundation is critical in supporting the mission of the JIA and is beginning to plan its first ever annual fundraising gala to further support this mission. I am so excited to see the planning come to fruition, and to celebrate the 25-year mark for the Foundation.”