People of Etowah – Martha G. Lavender


Name: Martha G. Lavender, PhD, RN, FAAN

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born and have lived in Etowah County all my life. My father’s family lived in Hokes Bluff and my parents moved from Gadsden to Hokes Bluff while I was still in elementary school.”

What is your occupation?

“I am a registered nurse; while I thrived in clinical nursing, I had a wonderful opportunity to transition into nursing education early in my career. I have worked as a clinical nurse (pediatric/neonatal specialty), a nurse educator and an educational administrator. Currently, I have the privilege of serving as the President of Gadsden State Community College – the very institution that provided my nursing foundation after high school.”

What made you decide to work in your field?

“I have a passion for working with people, and particularly children. I had to choose between teaching and nursing – a difficult decision. However, I was well aware of the stellar reputation of the nursing program at Gadsden State. After visiting the college, I made the decision to attend. It was a wonderful and challenging experience.”

Tell us about your family and pets.

“My life centers around my family. I have been married to Tim Lavender for 44 years. In so many ways, he is my opposite – easy going, focused on fun, adaptable. Yet, he has tolerated the intensity in which I approach all things I do, my drive for results and my strong opinions about “how things should be done.” He often tells people that I failed at retirement. Even though he would have preferred that I not re-enter the workforce, he has been a consistent supporter of my work. Together, we have two sons who married girls who have become our daughters – Brett Lavender (Crystal Oliver) and Burt Lavender (Morgan Alford). Brett is a registered nurse, so I often jokingly tell people that I solved my personal nursing shortage. His specialty is critical care. I frequently hear wonderful stories from people that he has cared for. They speak to his kindness as well as his competence in delivering professional nursing care. His wife Crystal is also a nurse and a graduate of Gadsden State. She is not only a beautiful young lady; she is loving, kind, and a superb surgical nurse. Together, they provided us with a perfect grandson, Cade Carlton, who is 3 1/2 years old. Cade is a delightful, talkative, energetic young boy who delights us with his words, actions and loving ways. Yes, grandparenting is the best job in the world! Burt is a secondary math teacher. He was pursuing an engineering degree at Auburn University, and to my surprise, came home after his first year with a desire to pursue a math education degree. He wanted to teach! And, it was the right decision! I also hear from parents, former students, coworkers and administrators who tell me about his dedication to his students, his willingness to tutor after hours, his ability to relate difficult content, and his high expectations/standards. He married Morgan Alford, who is a beautiful, motivated, focused and driven financial advisor. Her name is quickly recognized in this area because of her dedicated public service. They also produced a perfect grandson, Nash Burton. Nash and Burt are named after my father, Burt Griffith. I would have loved seeing Dad with our grandchildren – he would have had so much fun! Nash is just like his parents, running at age 10 months, trying to talk, and expressing his opinion – often! I am blessed to have my mother, Zell Griffith, and three great sisters. My mother has always been an advisor, supporter, advocate, safe place and simply the best of everything a child could need – even an adult child. My sisters and I are all graduates of Jacksonville   State University. This didn’t happen by chance. Our parents had clear expectations of all of us. We were expected to pursue an education and have an employable skill. We have degrees in teaching, nursing, economics, accounting and law. My youngest sister Carol Griffith lives in Gadsden and is a deputy district attorney. Her passion for children and families, especially those children who have been abused or neglected, has led to life-changing stories and resolution in many families in our area.”

Describe an average day in your life.

“I am busy from the minute I awake and usually have thoughts running through my mind related to Gadsden State business, events, and issues. It’s a challenge and it is very exciting. Our typical work day is 9 to 10 hours, but time passes quickly. I look forward to seeing my grandsons in the early evening hours. They light up my life. I often have community work or an evening event to attend, and most evenings I’m on the laptop catching up with the day before the evening ends. I’ve been accused of not sleeping, but it is not true.”

What school or schools have you attended?

“I am a graduate of Hokes Bluff High School, Gadsden State Community College, Jacksonville State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My nursing career has been a great springboard for my career.”

What do you like to do in your free time?

“Play with my grandchildren, work in the yard, shop, walk, ride bicycles with my husband, watch “Game of Thrones” and cook.”

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

“I consider my children to be my greatest accomplishments. They are handsome, talented, caring, intelligent and service-oriented young men. They are wonderful fathers and attentive, loving sons. I have been involved with many professional accomplishments over my career, but all of those accomplishments were team efforts and realized because of the numerous contributions of many people.”

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

“Beyond my family, I have been very influenced by my first dean of nursing, Dr. Roberta O. Watts. I’ll never forget the time when I was called to meet with Dean Watts. My friend and colleague said, “I think you are in trouble Martha.” I walked to the dean’s office with hesitation while I wondered what I could have done that didn’t meet with the dean’s approval. I sat down and gripped the arms of the chair. Dean Watts was chatting and I wondered, “when is the shoe going to drop.” In a few minutes, she told me she needed an assistant dean and would like for me to consider the position. From that day forward, I was supported, advised, guided, challenged and encouraged by Dr. Watts. To this day, I look for opportunities to speak with her and seek her advice. Her deep faith and concern for all humankind permeates everything she says and does. She is and has been my mentor for more than 30 years.”

To what do you credit your success?

“My family – my parents, my husband, my sisters and my children have always supported me. They have encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and they have understood when it required hard work to bring those dreams to fruition.”

Are you involved in any service organizations?

“I am on the boards of the following groups: Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, Barrie Center for children, Love Your Neighbor (LYN) Movement and Kid’s Kingdom Ministry. In addition, I’m involved in many professional organizations.”

What is your favorite thing about this community?

“I love the location – close to everything anyone could want. We have mountains, waterways and great people!”

What would you like to see change in the community?

“We are working on growing the economy locally and across the state. The college is a key player in the community’s efforts – and not only contributes to economic development through educating the workforce, we are involved in industry recruitment, envisioning the future and working to develop a common purpose.”

What are three words that describe you?

“Energetic, motivated and people-oriented.”

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

‘I love to sew; I just don’t have time to pursue that passion.”

What is your favorite quote?

“Do what you say, and say what you do. This is a statement from an accreditation vice-president from many years ago. I strive to be transparent and authentic.”

What advice would you give yourself as a child?

“You can do anything if you are willing to work to achieve your goal.”

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