Coming from a background in dentistry, I was the first health professional to enter the LBJ School. I was drawn to public service because it is a profession where my input could become greater than one man’s efforts when compounded by members of a larger team.
The LBJ School gave me the example of how a group of students and faculty could come together with a set of hopes and ideas and become one of the outstanding presidential schools in the USA. That lesson, when seen as a model, gives the courage to carry the concept to later opportunities. It diminishes fear of starting new programs, makes one believe that anything can be done if you build the best team and believe that vision can become reality.
The LBJ School taught me to reach for goals and destinations I had not imagined before. To not be locked in to borders that had been determined at an earlier age. To dream bigger, to see the world having many choices not dreamed before. In my internship, I became the dental health advisor for Senator Ted Kennedy. He was then the Chair of the Senate Health Subcommittee and author of a legislative bill named The Children’s Dental Health Act of 1971.That experience gave me an insight into the Washington world and provided knowledge that was used when, upon graduation, I went to Washington to work with the Assistant Secretary for Health.
In retrospect, and in comparison to the school today, the 1970-72 curricula were underdeveloped, the facilities were sparse and the student body was small. Regardless of those facts, the lessons learned from building something new planted determination, insight and understanding of the development of new ideas. Those are lifelong lessons I have carried for the past 40 years. My passion has been building new programs that help the underserved. The start-up of new programs is where my creative side has been challenged. That mindset continues with me today as it began in my LBJ School days so long ago. At the age of 77 years, I am the leader of a dream to build a college of dentistry in Arkansas, where one has never existed before and many believe will never happen. Just as I learned at the LBJ School that building requires a team effort, we are developing well-designed strategies, progress is being made, mountains are being scaled and our goals can now be seen by many.
My career has been multidimensional. For the past 40 years since graduation, it has been my fate or fortune to have been in administrative positions. One thing that public service administration has taught me is that when you are in administrative positions, your priority should be to strengthen the organization that serves the public, not enhancing your own reputation.
This article is not long enough to detail all the examples that have been my lifetime adventures. I will name only two. The first is international – I developed and led a 15-year partnership that connected a medical school in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Russia to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The purpose of the partnership was to treat and prevent multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) and to develop a new primary health care educational program in Russia. Simultaneously, a similar TB program in Latvia was also initiated. For these efforts I received the Presidential Service to America Award.
A second example is domestic, in my home state of Arkansas, where I led the expansion of a health care and health professions education program that grew by more than 600 percent in capacity to deliver services statewide. Both of my examples have required a lot of learning along the way. Learning is truly a lifelong experience.
I was the oldest member of the graduating class of 1972. At age 35, I entered the LBJ School as a mid-career student. I left a career in dentistry searching for another challenge. Some of my family and friends thought I had lost my mind, or at least had lost my way. But I have never looked back. I have learned over a long career that there is a satisfaction in public service not found elsewhere. If I leave a legacy, I want it to be what every public servant should want. The legacy should not be what I have done. It should be what I have enabled others to do. That has a multiplier that goes on and on and has no measurable conclusion.
Charles O. Cranford
LBJ School Class of 1972