OLD SCHOOL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Old School History Museum at Eatonton’s Plaza Arts Center schedules prominent historians published authors and compelling speakers for their quarterly Sunday afternoon programs. It is always a special occasion when the lecture is presented by someone who was once an elementary student in the historic building, before Eatonton’s Grammar School became renovated and transformed into the town’s beautiful arts center.
I was fortunate to have the privilege of introducing my old friend and schoolmate, Alex Gregory, to the packed audience of more than 150 patrons that overflowed the Plaza’s Reception Hall. Travelers came from Atlanta, Madison, Milledgeville and many other communities to hear the international businessman and accomplished speaker.
Many of the speaker’s family members were in attendance, including Mrs. Juanita Gregory, Alex’s 99-year-old mother, who still lives in the house that Alex grew up in. Alex and his wife Glenda currently live near the Atlanta Athletic Club in Gwinnett County and have two grown children, Kristen and Alex III, and four grandchildren.
The achievements of this Eatonton native in the international business community is nothing short of phenomenal. Named as one of Atlanta’s “Most Admired CEOs of 2017” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Alex served the YKK Corporation of America with distinction beginning in 1973. As Chairman of the Board of Directors, CEO and President, his responsibilities included the North and Central America operations and overseeing divisions that employed 3,000 employees.
Alex Gregory’s long career began as a departmental manager in Macon, climbing the corporate ladder to eventually serve as the first non-Japanese board member and President of the company; making at least 100 trips to Japan before his recent retirement in March.
The CEO remembers well his early years growing up in our region and the influences of local residents. His picture can be seen on the athletic walls of Plaza Arts Center as a member of the local high school’s basketball team. Alex’s uncle, Tom Gregory, is also pictured in the museum for his many accomplishments as a former owner of The Eatonton Messenger.
As an honor graduate of Putnam County High School, Alex received his Bachelor of Textile Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and, in later years, earned graduate degrees from Georgia College while working for YKK’s plant in Macon. He also retired as a Commander from the Naval Reserves serving a total of 28 years.
The CEO also found time to serve and chair a variety of boards to include those at the Carter Center, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Tech, the Japan-America Society, and the Georgia Association of Manufacturers. For 20 years Alex has served on (and chaired) the Georgia College & State University Foundation Board of Trustees. He is also a longtime mentor to Georgia College and Georgia Tech students and continues his support for the Georgia Education Mentorship program.
Alex is the recipient of numerous accoladesincluding a 2016 induction into the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business Hall of Fame at Georgia College and has been recognized with awards by Governor Sonny Perdue and the Japan-America Society of Georgia.
Counted among his many friends are notables from all walks of life to include entertainer Lee Greenwood. Incidentally, Alex was instrumental in bringing Greenwood to Eatonton for sold-out performances at the Plaza Arts Center. And his success comes as no surprise to me or any of his schoolmates: we always knew he would do big things.
The presentation included a brief history of Eatonton’s Imperial Cotton Mill, about the people who worked there, and about YKK’s manufacturing accomplishments. The spell-bound audience enjoyed the emotional and educational presentation that included PowerPoint graphics and we also learned about the culture of this international company that employs thousands of Americans.
For many of us, however, the real story is knowing that a resident from a small town in Lake Country can ultimately take command of international boardrooms. It is the American Dream personified . . . and Alex’s story make us all proud.