Earlier this year, the entire world watched Dr. Kent Brantly, wearing a white containment suit, gingerly step out of an ambulance at Emory University Hospital. Led inside by several medical attendants, he soon began a life-and-death fight against the Ebola virus, which he contracted while working in an Ebola ward in West Africa. Over the months that followed, similar scenes played in Nebraska and Maryland, as well as in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
In the backdrop of each of these scenes, before any Ebola-infected patients board an ambulance, a gray jet parks on the airport’s ramp. A door opens. The patient emerges in a white body suit, just like something in a motion picture.
But it’s not a Hollywood set. It’s real. And everyone involved is working against the clock to get a highly infectious patient into a treatment center. The three special U.S. hospitals and their counterparts in Europe lower a patient’s chances of dying from 90% in Africa to 10% — but treatment doesn’t start in the hospitals, it starts in the mysterious gray jet that brings the patients out of Africa and into some of the finest medical facilities in the world. And it’s an Andrew College graduate, Dent Thompson ’70, who is in charge of the world’s Ebola air transports.
Thompson is vice president and chief operations officer of Phoenix Air Group, Inc., a specialized airline based outside of Atlanta in Cartersville, Ga., which his brother Mark Thompson started in the early 1980s. Dent joined in 1984.
Because Phoenix Air had earlier developed the capability of transporting contagious persons under a contract with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during epidemics of SARS and Bird Flu in the Far East and Asia, the airline has the only two aircraft in the world capable of safely transporting highly infectious Ebola patients. When Ebola became epidemic in three Western Africa countries earlier this year, the Phoenix team was ready to respond.
“I managed our CDC contract under which we developed the Aeromedical Biological Containment System – the ABCS – in partnership with the CDC and DOD. It has been sitting on a shelf in one of our maintenance hangars for three or four years. I got a call in late July from one of the senior doctors at the U.S. Department of State I had worked with during the Sochi Olympics earlier in the year asking if the ABCS could be used for Ebola. Within 72 hours some of the top doctors in the U.S. government convened a daylong meeting in one of our aircraft hangars. We demonstrated the ABCS’s capabilities to safely transport a highly infectious patient, and within a couple of days we were headed to Monrovia, Liberia, to pick up Dr. Kent Brantly, followed immediately by Nancy Writebol, both of whom came to Emory University Hospital.”
“The intense scrutiny and media attention is non-stop and has become the new normal around here,” Thompson explains. “Phoenix Air went from what we called ‘the largest company you’ve never heard of’ to the most well-known air ambulance company in the world.”
Andrew College's Impact
More than 40 years ago, both Dent and Mark Thompson enrolled as freshmen at Andrew College. “Mark and I are one year apart, so I moved to Cuthbert in 1968 and Mark in 1969. The Vietnam War was raging. I had a high draft lottery number, so I completed my A.A. degree at Andrew, but a year later my brother drew the number one birthday date in the draft lottery, a certainty for being drafted into the Army. He dropped out of Andrew to join the Army as a warrant officer flying helicopters.” Little did either one of the brothers realize that Mark’s military flying would one day turn into careers for both.
“Mark and I are both type A personalities, so our attention spans at Northside High School in Atlanta got frequently diverted away from studying to other activities. As a result, we came out of high school without the highest grades we were capable of achieving. Our parents had heard about Andrew College and its approach to an educational environment and enrolled us – before I knew it, I was packing and headed south to Cuthbert,” Thompson says.
“Andrew College was the best thing to happen to me in those early formative years, where I learned how to truly study, how to pay attention and absorb knowledge from first rate teachers, and how to mature and grow from a high school mentality to the adult mentality necessary to successfully transition from home life to an independent college life. In college, your parents are not there to tell you to study, and you have to develop self-starter habits necessary to take full advantage of your college years and educational opportunities,” he continues.
“I have a feeling that if I jumped from high school straight onto the University of Georgia campus, things would have turned out a bit different for me… Nothing against UGA, but getting my first two years of college under my belt at a smaller campus like Andrew, with smaller class sizes, teachers who were actually interested in me as an individual and my studies and interests, created a learning environment that let my potential and capabilities flourish.”
On campus, Dent joined Phi Kappa fraternity and played soccer for the sports club. He lived in Mitchell Hall and thrived in the educational environment Andrew and Cuthbert provided him.
“Although I later attended Georgia State University and the University of Central Florida, majoring in mass communications and journalism, I owe my later achievements and personal successes to the educational foundation I received at Andrew College. This is no joke. I came out of Andrew fully prepared to step into a much larger school, focus on things that are important and focus on my future.”
Following college, Dent went to work for Walt Disney World as a creative writer and editor of the company newspaper, later becoming an assistant to the president of Walt Disney World Outdoor Entertainment. He played an important role during the construction phase of Disney’s EPCOT Center.
“Then in 1984, after 13-years with Disney, the old type A personality rose again from the depths and I left a sure career with Disney for an unsure job working with my brother in a fledgling air cargo company called Phoenix Air.”
Today, 30 years since joining Phoenix Air as its second employee (just behind his brother Mark), Dent heads a team of 250 aviation professionals flying and maintaining 42 aircraft with operations around the world.
Dent was empowered by the same small class sizes, personalized academic instruction and compassionate leadership today’s students receive. Now more than ever, Andrew College students discover themselves through nurturing residential and religious activities, a challenging liberal arts curriculum and varsity athletics.
Indeed, private philanthropy has enabled Andrew College to help many aspiring students over the years. As you might imagine, sustaining these vital resources can be expensive. Please consider a gift to the Andrew Fund. Your investment provides first-class opportunities for the next generation of Georgia doctors, health workers, missionaries, researchers and scientists. Your donation assures an Andrew College graduate will be ready to answer the call the next time a global crisis strikes.
Dr. Whit Myers '76
1. How did you get to Andrew College?
A high school friend and fellow Andrew graduate, Andy Kober first told me about Andrew College. I then discovered that my great aunt, Ada Sharpe Tuttle, graduated from Andrew in 1917.
2. In what year did you graduate and what was your major?
1976 – AA Social Studies
3. Where did you go and what did you do after leaving Andrew College?
Georgia Southern University BA 1979 MEd 1981 and the University of Georgia Ed.D 1991
4. Who are some of the Andrew friends you’ve remained close with over the years?
Larry and Sunshine Bird and Randy and Jean Smith mostly. I have also enjoyed renewing my friendship with Karan Berryman Pittman since joining the Andrew Board of Trustees.
a. How did you first meet them?
b. What are some of the ways you stay in touch with them now?
South Georgia Conference activities mostly.
5. Do you have any favorite traditions from your time at Andrew College?
Not really. My two years at Andrew College were the best years of my educational experience. If Andrew College had been more than a two-year college, I would have stayed as long as I could!
6. What do you remember about Andrew College that today’s students wouldn’t know about?
The girls still had a curfew when I was there. They had to be in at 10 on weeknights and 12 on the weekends. One of my favorite memories is some of us leaving campus about 10 to drive to Albany to get some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The girls were so jealous!
7. Were there any teachers or administrators who influenced your life?
We had great teachers. Larry Brown was great and always seemed to take a personal interest in me. I learned a lot from Jimmy Gilbert. During my sophomore year, Mr. Gilbert served as Dean of Students. Whether he realized it or not, I got my best dose of leadership training while at Andrew from him.
8. Did you participate in any clubs or organizations? If so, what was your involvement?
I was president of Alpha Omega and president of the Inter-Greek Council. I was also active in the Student Government Association and the Inter-Faith Council.
9. What impact did Andrew College have on you later in life? (personally, professionally, or religiously)
Andrew College was a great experience for me. I grew a lot from being five hours from home. Andrew also took great care of me academically. I am not sure I was really ready for college when I left high school. But Andrew’s nurturing environment and small classes allowed me to do very well and a great foundation academically I would not have had otherwise.
10. What kind of advice would you give today’s students?
Be grateful for where you are and take advantage of all Andrew College has to offer. Andrew College may be a little out of the way and hard to get to. But with the Andrew College experience, you can go anywhere!
Notable accomplishments/unique information/personal anecdote:
2005–2012 : Chair, First District RESA Board of Control (First District RESA is an educational service agency serving 18 school systems in southeast Georgia)
2001–Current: Treasurer, First District School Superintendents’ Association
1999–Current: Treasurer, Screven-Jenkins Regional Library Board
1999–Current: Served on Numerous Search Committees for the Georgia Southern University College of Education
2009: Keynote Speaker, Georgia DOE Federal Funds Conference
2009-2010: Member, State School Superintendent’s Advisory Council
2005–2009: Georgia Music Educators Association Board of Directors
2007-2008: Georgia Educational Leadership Redesign Advisory Committee
2007: President’s Award, Georgia School Superintendents Association
2006-2008: Georgia CTAE Resource Network Board of Directors
2005: Represented Georgia on the National FFA Leadership Continuum Concept Development Task Force
2000-2003: State Pupil Transportation Specifications Committee
Larry Dixon How did you get to Andrew College?
A friend of mine at my church in Jacksonville, Fla. had heard of the college and we drove up there to visit. I flipped over the scenery around the college, the people I met, the buildings, smallness and it being associated with the UMC. My first year (before Patterson Hall was completed), I stayed with a roommate in a house diagonally across from Patterson Hall. The first quarter of the second year, I stayed in Patterson Hall and then completed the year in the house directly across from Old Main, which is still in use by the college.
In what year did you graduate and what was your major?
I graduated in 1962 with a major in College Prep. Earned an Associate of Arts cum laude
Where did you go and what did you do after leaving Andrew College?
I received my B. A. in psychology from Jacksonville University in 1966. I did one year of graduate work at Auburn University in counselor education and then received my Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Emory University with a concentration on pastoral counseling.
· Dean of Students/taught general psychology classes at Andrew College (1969-1970)
· 30 + years serving children and adults with developmental disabilities in Florida,
Connecticut, and Georgia
· 10 years working with delinquent boys, investigating alleged child abuse, working with
the court/judicial system
· Retired January 2012
My church involvement:
· Youth director in United Methodist churches
· Music director in United Methodist churches
· Some pastoral experience in a few United Methodist churches
· Facilitation Bible study on Sundays and small group Bible study in homes in churches in
Florida and Georgia
Who are some of the Andrew friends you’ve remained close with over the years?
I have several Andrew friends with whom I still have contact: Derrill Shivers, Dottie Weaver Fleck, Prudy Rynd O’Rear, Cecil Goodroe, Paul Johansen, Joanne Stephenson Johansen, Jeffrey Bowden, and Debbie Patterson.
How did you first meet them?
They were all students at Andrew. Some I met while I was a student and some I met when I worked at the college (and one I met at my current church).
What are some of the ways you stay in touch with them now?
In person, by email, on Facebook
What do you remember about Andrew College that today’s students wouldn’t know about?
Most of the men before 1961 had to commute from home or stay somewhere else as there was no men’s dorm. I stayed in the back area of a house of a lady who had an arrangement with the college during the year before Patterson Hall was completed. There was only one men’s dorm in 1961-1962 and the ladies resided in rooms in Old Main, as there were no other ladies’ dorms at that time. There was also an old swimming pool on the property at that time.
Were there any teachers or administrators who influenced your life?
Dr. Dorcas Gambill, French Teacher and Wife to President George Gambill; Glee Club Director/Voice Teacher and Physical Ed Teacher Cyrus Dietrich
Did you participate in any clubs or organizations? If so, what was your involvement?
I was a member of the French Club both years at Andrew; during my second year, I was President of the Student Christian Association
What impact did Andrew College have on you later in life? (personally, professionally, or religiously)
Being a part of the activities and classes; the smallness of the college made it possible for closer relationships with faculty, enhancing maturation and growth so I could become a more independent and open person. Being involved in clubs also enhanced my leadership abilities which largely benefitted me for roles I ultimately had in the future.
Being part of and trained in my experience with the glee club increased my love of music which enabled me to sing in many choirs over the years and made it possible for me to be substitute choir director in several churches as well. I was the director of music and youth in churches in Jacksonville, Florida, and Conyers, Georgia.
The religious activities and the local church involvement impacted my spiritual life and helped me to start my keen interest in Bible study.
What kind of advice would you give today’s students?
Take advantage of every opportunity available to learn, expand your horizons, and allow for personal, professional and spiritual growth to seed and germinate.
Betty Joiner Jones ’76 exemplifies the ideal of servant leadership. A committed wife and mother, Betty Jones waited to begin and finish her education after her four children (three of whom came or taught at Andrew) left home. She loves Andrew with a passion, and every day of her life promotes the institution as well as the idea of a servant leader.
Mrs. Jones currently serves on the Cuthbert City Council, where she has held office since 1985. An active member, she never minds getting in her vehicle and driving down the street to check on things. She has worked alongside members of the road crew picking up trash on the town square and city streets. For years she has served on the Recreation Committee and has been instrumental in keeping that program strong for our youth. Betty also serves on the Cemetery Committee, doing much of the work in the cemeteries herself until recently. Not content with simply serving as the Cemetery Liaison to the Council, she has also traveled to meetings throughout Georgia to learn ways to preserve and promote these unique places.
Mrs. Jones also worked as the bookkeeper for her husband’s business, Jack Jones Garage. Never once turning her back on those in need, she frequently transports people who have no transportation. Her smiling face also provides a welcome refuge for many weary travelers passing through Cuthbert.
In addition, Betty Jones is a steward in the Faith Baptist Church and strongly supports all of its programs. Never a meal goes by that she does not cook enough or more than needed for the people attending. Her support of her church is unwavering, and in recent years she has been called upon to give the history of the church during homecomings and revivals.
Possibly the most notable of her commitments, though, is her service to the pets of the area. Until just a short time ago, she was called upon to go out at any time of the day or night to rescue animals. She has taken in thousands of cats and dogs and given them new homes over the years, and she thinks nothing of sending them to the vet to get their necessary treatments. Her mercy and compassion for animals is a fundamental part of her personality that permeates every aspect of her life.
Throughout her life, and particularly since her graduation, Betty has supported the programs of Andrew College. She has attended countless Madrigal dinners, concerts, plays, and art shows. Since her retirement as Director of the Randolph County Senior Citizen Center, she has invested her time and talents in College’s archives by organizing records, copying names out of yearbooks for future reunions and rallies, and cheerfully sorting through piles of materials. Her love of Andrew College runs deep, and she continues to give back to the institution that she loves so much.
Betty Jones is the epitome of an Andrew College graduate. Her graciousness, commitment and service will be cherished for generations to come.