People of Etowah – Leslie Harper Worthington


Name: Leslie Harper Worthington

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Riverhead, New York, on Long Island because my father was stationed there in the U.S. Air Force. He grew up in Ohio, and his family was from Kentucky. My mother was from Sylacauga. They met in Texas. I grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio, Fort Myers, Fla., and Montgomery.”

What is your occupation?

“I am Dean of Academic Programs and Services at Gadsden State Community College. I have worked in higher education for 34 years, mostly as an English professor, but eventually, I became a department head, then a division chair, and now an academic dean.”

What made you decide to work in your field?

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I taught school as a child and gave my friends real grades. I used to help other students in elementary school, and I tutored in high school and college. I love to teach. Now, as a dean, I get to help other teachers and even more students.”

Tell us about your family and pets.

“I have three children: Sydney, Jacob and Keenan. Sydney is married and has three daughters: Ivy, Wren and Violet. They live here in Gadsden. My daughter is trained as a nurse, but she is currently a stay-at-home mom. My son Jacob is attending college in Athens, Ga., and my son Keenan will be graduating from Gadsden State this spring with a paralegal degree. I have a Border Collie named Polie and a Maine coon cat named Hazel.”

Describe an average day in your life.

“There is no average day in my life. I get up at 5 or 5:30, and I’m at work by 7:30, but then anything could happen. GSCC has six campuses, and I may be traveling to any one of them. I could be helping students or instructors or support staff. I might be writing policies or editing documents, preparing schedules, representing the college at events, traveling to Montgomery or Birmingham, planning events, preparing for SACSCOC reviews or managing budgets. Right now, the college is planning several renovations, building additions and a brand new science building, so I spend time working on those preparations. At the end of the day, I go home and things get routine again.”

What school or schools have you attended?

“As an undergraduate, I attended Auburn University at Montgomery and Auburn University (AU) in English; then I continued at AU for my master’s degree in English. I took a break from school for a few years, but went back to Troy University to get my Educational Specialists degree in Higher Education Administration. I eventually went back to AU and got my PhD in English. I did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Georgia Institute of Technology and received two certificates, one in Electronic Pedagogy and one in Media Theory.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“I love to spend time with my children, grandchildren and pets. I like to travel. Last year, I got to lead a study abroad trip to Ireland. The best part was my son Keenan was one of the students on the trip. I’ll be taking my two older granddaughters, my son Keenan and his girlfriend Haylee to New York City this October. We have tickets to “Hamilton.” When I can travel with my family, I’m very happy. I also love to read and to write. Mostly, I write poetry because I haven’t had much free time to write longer works, except for literary criticism. I have published two books: Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn and Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Literature and Song. I wrote the introduction and edited the second book with a former colleague from Georgia, Jürgen Grant. It’s been nominated for the C. Hugh Holman Award from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature. We are waiting to see who the winner will be. I hope when I retire one day I can write more fiction.”

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment? 

“My greatest accomplishment is my family. I am very proud of them and who they are. They are wonderful people. I’m proud of myself for all I did to raise them. I’m thrilled by how close we all are to one another.”

Name the one person that has been the most influential in your life. Why?

“It was a long time ago, but the person who influenced my life the most was my grandfather, William Harper. He passed away when I was 16, but in my early life, he taught me to love learning. He read me Shakespeare’s sonnets and taught me how to write meter. He tried to teach me to play musical instruments. I failed at that, but he succeeded in instilling in me a love of music and song. He took me on adventures and we collected artifacts, fossils, rocks and stamps. He explained planets and plants. He was amazingly creative and so very kind. I’d also have to say my father, Lawrence Harper, and my mother-in-law, Harriette Worthington, have been very influential in my life as well as my major professor at Auburn Uiniversity, Dr. Bert Hitchcock. My children influence me every day. I try to be a better person for them, and so they can see me trying.”

To what do you credit your success? 

“Perseverance, resiliency, and the desire to always do the very best I can.”

Are you involved in any service organizations? 

“Gadsden State affords me the opportunity to be involved in several organizations in the community, for example the United Way. Currently, I am very proud to be involved with the Excellence in Education Awards that are sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Gadsden State. I’m on the planning committee, so I’ve been a part of every phase. I am very excited for this opportunity to recognize accomplished educators and others who help them.”

What is your favorite thing about this community?

“I am excited by the involvement I see all around. People do things in Gadsden. They put on plays and paint pictures and make music. They volunteer and help one another.There is always something happening here, from Frist Friday to Gadsden Symphony Orchestra.”

What would you like to see change in the community?

“I’d like to see Gadsden take advantage of more tourist opportunities. We live in a beautiful place. A river runs through the middle of our city.  We have the falls. We have an adorable downtown. We have great entertainment opportunities: music, theatre. We could do some of the things Chattanooga has done and revitalize our economy.”

What are three words that describe you?

“Determined, passionate and, I hope, always kind.”

What is something surprising that many do not know about you? 

“I’m not sure there is anything surprising about me.  I’m a bit of an open book.” 

What is your favorite quote? 

“I’m not sure it’s my favorite, but the quote that’s in my head all the time is Friedrich Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I have always lived by that and told my children that. We are surviving and we are getting stronger. When they are worried and upset about little things in life, I tell them “it’s not the end of the world, and if it is, then none of this matters.” I want to inspire them to keep moving on.”

What is on your bucket list? 

“Writing – I want to write a lot. I especially want to write my parents’ story. And traveling – there are so many places I’d like to go: English, Scotland, the Grand Canyon and Greece.”

What is your hidden talent? 

“I’m not sure it’s hidden, but people seem surprised when they find out that I can sing and dance. I can’t do either very well, but I love doing both.”

If a movie were made about your life, who would you want to play you?

“Meryl Streep, of course.”

What advice would you give yourself as a child?

“ I wrote a poem called “Time Machine” that’s about the advice I’d give my childhood self if I could go back in time. It’s funny, but serious too. The main point of the poem is that I’d tell myself to be more confident and believe in myself. The poem is more for my granddaughters than for me. I want them to believe in themselves.”

If you would like to nominate someone for the People of Etowah column, email or call 256-547-1049.

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