Thursday night, Robert “Bob” G. Card Jr. became the second.
Card was recognized with the Robert W. Varnell Jr. Leadership Award given in recognition of demonstrated leadership in professional, religious and civic endeavors.
The recipient was introduced by last year’s award-winner Cameron Fisher, who joined previous past winners to select from nominations made by members of the community.
“This year’s recipient has been described as a person whose involvement with the institution he serves has not only included financial support, but always involved his time and a personal commitment to be a leader, to building consensus within organizations and among their constituents and to be an advocate for change and improvement in everything he does,” Fisher said.
Card received the award with humility recognizing everyone else’s accomplishments.
He gave mention to Fisher’s work at Lee University and with the Greenway.
“Good things like the Greenway just don’t happen themselves,” Card said. “It takes a leader like Cameron who is devoted and committed for several years.”
Card told of growing up with the award’s namesake.
“He was my friend and he was my attorney. Our daughters were best friends at school and beyond,” Card said.
He said the Chamber had been especially successful in the past few years with a “quality growth.”
“Cleveland is a wonderful place to raise a family. Our children and grandchildren do not have to move away to find good jobs. We have them right here,” Card said.
He noted the area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation and “the Chamber deserves much of the credit.”
“I want to thank my wife, Susan, who gives me my best advice,” Card said.
He also thanked his son Robby, who has “done an excellent job in the family business.”
“It’s been a lot of fun to work shoulder-to-shoulder with him,” Card said. “It was also years ago when I worked with my father.”
He said it was 14 years ago that he realized how well his son had learned the business, and it was time for him to “get out of his way.”
“That gave me time to work on some community projects and I guess that’s the reason I won this award,” Card said.
He said his favorite cause is youth development.
“All young people want to grow up to be noble men and women,” Card said. “All we have to do is encourage them.”
The Chamber’s nominating statement for Card reads as follows:
“A person of unquestioned integrity and unwavering, deeply held moral values and principles” characterizes the winner of the 2014 Robert W. Varnell Leadership Award.
Recognized in 2009 as the 29th recipient of the M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award for demonstrating the principles of free enterprise and business acumen, Robert (Bob) G. Card Jr., founder, owner and chairman of Easy Auto Inc. and co-founder, co-owner and chairman of Sunrise Acceptance, received the Varnell Leadership Award during presentations at the 88th Annual Meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
Named for the late Robert W. Varnell Jr., the award recognizes someone whose life represents the passion in business, church and community leadership reflected in Robert Varnell’s life. The award is one of the highest presented by the Chamber of Commerce.
“I had the privilege of knowing Robert Varnell, and I know of no one who more exemplifies Robert Varnell’s quiet and effective leadership in business, faith, family and community than Bob Card,” said Jim Williams, advisory board chairman for First Tennessee.
Williams, who has known Card more than 33 years, noted the award winner’s commitment to those institutions in which he has been involved “has not only always included financial support, but always involved his time and a personal commitment to be a leader, to building consensus within organizations and among their constituents, to be an advocate for change and improvement in everything he does.”
His community service has included service as vice chairman of the board for Bradley Memorial Hospital, chairman of the Cleveland Planning Commission, chairman of the Cleveland-Bradley County Public Library Board and chairman of the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals. He has served First Tennessee Bank as an advisory board member and as a board member for the Bradley County Child Shelter Home.
Attorney Michael Calloway described Card’s work on behalf of the Public Library as “one of the significant, untold stories in our community.” He explained that the award recipient had the vision to lead in the organization of a tax-exempt Foundation for the library as a dependable, permanent source of funding apart from the city and county.
This civic-minded public servant also served the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce as a board member, a member of the CEO Forum, member of the Transportation Study Committee, and member of Climbing to New Heights and Mark IV programs. While serving United Way of Bradley County, he co-chaired the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of Bradley County and was a member of the investment committee.
Of his work with United Way, Card says, “There are many things a community group can do much better than an individual. You also get to know interesting people who are committed to the mission of the organization. It is a good feeling to accomplish something worthwhile with dedicated people.”
He received the William F. Johnson Community Service Award from United Way in 2007.
Card currently serves on the Cleveland Industrial Bond Board, which he chaired for 12 years. He is also a member of the Cleveland Health and Education Facilities (Bond) Board, which he also chaired 12 years. A graduate of McCallie School with highest honor for a graduating senior, he is a member of McCallie’s board of trustees and serves on a four-person executive committee.
This year’s leadership award winner serves on the board for the Hunter Museum of American Art, is one of four founders of the Cleveland Business Roundtable, and is founder and chairman of the Bob and Susan Card Charitable Foundation, which focuses on contributions to improve youth development and education.
A lifelong resident of Cleveland, Card has been a leader in his business and profession throughout his career.
“Bob went to work in his family’s Ford dealership after graduating from the University of Virginia,” nominator Lou Patten recounted. “He led the successful operation and growth of Bob Card Ford, twice receiving the Ford Motor Company Chairman’s Award. After many years of successful operation, he sold the business and started a new independent automobile dealership.”
Card has grown Easy Auto from its inception to a large company with more than six locations and more than 160 employees.
While his contributions to the business and civic life of Cleveland/Bradley County are significant, his nominators went on to say that his paramount contribution to our community was his leadership with the board of trustees of Bradley Memorial Hospital, which promoted dedicating the funds from the sale of the hospital to an organization or institution devoted to improving the lives of the people of Bradley County. With the realization of that vision, and others, proceeds of the sale have grown to $44 million, and, this year, more than $700,000 in earnings on those proceeds will support worthy community projects in our community.
His “find a need and fill it” philosophy, learned first from a business professor at the University of Virginia, instilled in him a quiet but effective behind-the-scenes leadership in all aspects of his life.
“Bob’s faith is shown in many ways in our community,” Patten continued. “He is a strong supporter of Habitat for Humanity, and his company funded and built two homes in Cleveland.”
“His leadership in faith and family matters includes longtime support of Lee University and its role in our community,” Williams said.
Card has given land and contributions for Lee’s development and a stained-glass window in the new Lee Chapel acknowledges his support.
“I grew up next to Lee University, and as a boy I learned to use their facilities,” the award winner remembered. “I loved to ride my bicycle on their sidewalks, especially in the summer. I still use their facilities and attend their sporting and cultural events. I think many of us are, and we are not paying tuition. How did we get so lucky?”
Card also grew up a longtime faithful member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where he was active as an Eagle Scout and in Sunday school. Due to family considerations, he and his family transferred their membership to Broad Street United Methodist Church where he serves on the Johnston Woods Committee.
Complementing his faith, he also is a strong supporter and adviser to the Bradley Initiative for Church and Community.
“Those who know Bob well will tell you he is a great outdoorsman and conservationist in the tradition of his father and grandfather, like them finding deep spirituality in close contact with God’s creation,” nominator Michael Calloway, attorney, observed.
“I enjoyed working with my dad,” Card explained. “I learned about the business, but more importantly, he showed me how to have fun and instilled in me a love for the outdoors.”
Calloway summarized, “Bob exemplifies quiet, thoughtful leadership in the mold of Robert Varnell.”
Patten confirmed the observations of both Calloway and Williams.
“I knew Robert Varnell most of my life, and have known Bob Card all my life,” Patten explained. “These two gentlemen were not only active supporters of so many organizations in Cleveland, they loved our community and their fellow citizens. I can think of no one more serving of this award than Bob Card!”
Bob and his wife, Susan, have two children, Robby and Sarah.