Visionary Leadership

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One of the qualities of great leaders is vision. They see opportunities where others only see obstacles, and they are able to motivate others to act on the vision. Leadership guru Warren Bennis noted that, "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." Dr. Aaron Shirley is that kind of leader. He has devoted his life to rural and urban health care in Mississippi. He completed his undergraduate studies at Tougaloo College, and received his medical degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. Dr. Shirley completed an internship at Hubbard Hospital before completing his residency in pediatrics in 1967 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). His list of achievements is long including co-developing the largest community health center in Mississippi, and initiating a comprehensive health clinic within an inner city school. One of his greatest achievements was the vision to develop the Jackson Medical Mall.

I remember going to the Jackson Mall as a child before it closed its doors in 1978. As many know, the Mall’s major tenants moved out and moved to the suburbs leaving a large and virtually vacant building. In 1995, where others saw a problem, Dr. Shirley saw an opportunity. He had been looking for a new home for the Jackson/Hinds Health Center, and he thought the Jackson Mall would be the perfect spot. However, the Mall had almost 900,000 sq. ft., and he only needed about 35,000 sq. ft. for the Health Center. He teamed up with Reuben Anderson and Ted Woodrell and they incredibly lined up enough tenants over a ninety day period to get bank financing to close the deal to purchase the Jackson Mall from its original owners. The three of them believed so much in the project that they personally borrowed $3 million to provide the last amount of financing needed to complete the transaction. Anderson’s law partner Delbert Hoseman helped coordinate the tax advantageous structure of the purchase and the formation of the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation (JMMF). The original tenants included UMMC, the City of Jackson, Jackson State University, and the State Department of Health.

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