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Dr. Jay Cliett Eulogy
Charles E. Patterson, Interim President
January 25, 2017

Dr. Jay Cliett, Professor Emeritus, age 72, of Americus, died at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany Saturday, January 21, 2017. He taught for 47 years at Georgia Southwestern State University as a Professor of Mathematics.

Dr. Cliett dedicated 47 years of his life to Georgia Southwestern State University.  As a 110-year-old institution, this means that he has been a part of the University family for almost half of its existence.  Since he was a mathematician, I’ll be more accurate…42.7% of its 110 year history.  Dr. Cliett reached tens of thousands of students during this time, whether they were Georgia Southwestern students attending his classes, or high school students that visited campus only for the purpose of competing in the mathematics tournaments. 

When I talk with alumni of the University, it is inevitable that they ask about Dr. Cliett.  You know that he made a lasting impact with these former students, because it is also inevitable that they want to tell you a story about an experience they had in one of Dr. Cliett’s classes.  They want to tell you how now, as adults, they understand what Dr. Cliett was doing…how he was not only challenging them in the classroom in the discipline of mathematics, but also preparing them for life outside the classroom.  He was outfitting them with the tools that they would keep in their tool chest of life…and if you know Dr. Cliett, that reference needs no explanation. 

I had a meeting with someone just yesterday and we were sharing stories about Dr. Cliett.  This gentleman, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me a story about taking Dr. Cliett’s calculus class, and how he struggled with the final exam.  He met Dr. Cliett at the door, knowing that he had likely failed the exam, and he asked Dr. Cliett for an opportunity to retake the exam in hopes of passing the class.  Dr. Cliett, said. “Son, the grade you’ve made is the grade you’ve earned.”  I am sure that, on more than one occasion, Dr. Cliett’s tools included some tough love, but that didn’t stop this individual or hundreds of other former students from becoming successful in their chosen field…it made them stronger.  Tough love is a valuable tool for your tool chest later in life.  Now, it should be noted that this gentleman did not fail calculus because of Dr. Cliett.  He admits that he failed calculus because of his wife, for it was in Dr. Cliett’s class that they met and later married.  In fact, they are at least the third couple that I have met, to have met and married in Dr. Cliett’s class.  For all of this, his impact on students was immeasurable. 

Dr. Cliett had a true servant’s heart.  In the community, he volunteered his time to the Boy Scout’s Merit Badge Program, Middle School Quiz Bowl, reading in local school systems every Friday and countless Kiwanis activities.  And on-campus, the University’s lasting identity as a place where faculty and students form friendships was fostered by his decades-long support of students in the classroom and through the University’s math tournaments.  Joe Everett, Jerry Williams, Bill Kipp and Jay Cliett…they all had some contribution to the origination and support of the Junior High and High School Math Tournaments.  For Dr. Cliett and Dr. Kipp, their support of the tournaments continued long after retirement.  It is for this reason that, some weeks ago, I asked the faculty in the School of Computing and Mathematics to consider naming the High School Math Tournament in their honor.  And so, I am glad to let everyone here in attendance know that, beginning in 2018, the High School Mathematics Tournament, which continues to support hundreds of students throughout the State of Georgia every year, will be known as the “Jay Cliett and Bill Kipp High School Mathematics Tournament.”

Dr. Cliett is one of the most humble people I have ever met and I have every assumption that he would have been almost a little uncomfortable with this honor…but he has given so much to so many.  I hope he is looking down upon us with acceptance, and perhaps a little forgiveness towards us, as we pay tribute to his almost five decades of dedication to the University and, more importantly, the thousands of students that he positively influenced.  Thank you, Jay, for your legacy of leadership that you have bestowed upon all of us, and thank you to Janice, Travis and Ryan for allowing him to be an everlasting part of our University family.

- GSW -


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