Brantley Mayor Bernie Sullivan named Crenshaw Citizen of Year

Published 4:23 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2020

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Each year, the Crenshaw County Chamber of Commerce honors, based on nominations and votes from members, a “Citizen of the Year.”

This year, Brantley Mayor Bernie Sullivan was the honoree. Speakers Jim Perdue, the former Probate Judge of Crenshaw County and BOE member Dr. Charles Tompkins both delivered speeches about Sullivan, emphasizing his years of leadership and community service.

The event was held at the Luverne United Methodist Church’s Dei Center on Thursday, Feb. 27.

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Chamber of Commerce president Don Nix began proceedings with an introduction, explaining that Sullivan was one of several nominees.

“This year, several outstanding nominees were presented to the board, and I think they selected a great one,” Nix said.

Perdue spoke first, emphasizing how Sullivan embodies the characteristics Perdue- a previous recipient of the award himself- believes every Citizen of the Year should possess.

He also pointed out that, despite its name, the award serves as more of a “lifetime achievement” honorific.

“It isn’t about what he did in 2019, it’s what he’s done over a lifetime… and Bernie is still writing his story,” Perdue said.

Perdue’s four Citizen of the Year characteristics were faith, family, friends and community service.

He noted the ways Sullivan embodies each of those characteristics, and recalled anecdotes such as the time Sullivan convinced him to visit his home on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa.

He particularly focused on Sullivan’s years of work for Brantley and Crenshaw County.

“I’m not sure how many people live in Brantley, but they’re all friends with the Mayor… He managed to accomplish something that has never been done that I know of – he was elected Mayor of Brantley without being born and raised there,” Perdue said.

“I could write a book on community service, and it would have a chapter on Bernie,” he continued.

He also reminisced on a trip to South Korea he took with Sullivan shortly after Hyundai came to Alabama.

“My point is, here was the mayor of Brantley, traveling to help bring jobs to Crenshaw County… He may bleed kelly green, but he also works across the county and across the state,” Perdue concluded.

Tompkins spoke next and, as a former Brantley student under Sullivan, focused on the figure of Sullivan as role model and educator.

“Our honoree tonight isn’t just Bernie Sullivan to me – he is and always will be Coach Sullivan to me,” Tompkins began.

Tompkins recalled some of his first encounters with Sullivan, who early in his career earned a reputation as a “player’s coach,” according to Tompkins.

“Fresh out of the Navy, he looked and behaved like a good sailor. He was young, athletic and full of enthusiasm. And I’ll tell you- he was a great, great motivator, which was and I think still is his greatest attribute. He was genuine with us. He loved his players and we loved our coach,” Tompkins remembered.

He also shared memories of a time when, after practice, Sullivan surprised his players with new, white football cleats, a prize no other team in the area had.

“Decades later, I still remember that as one of the highlights of my young life,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins also listed some of Sullivan’s strongest attributes as a coach and leader.

“He helped us to believe in ourselves and play way beyond our skill level. He took on a team that was accustomed to losing with regularity and, before long, boasted a winning record every year,” Tompkins said.

Sullivan himself spoke to end the program.

“Seeing that list of former recipients – to even be on that thrills me and makes me so humble, I don’t even know why I’m up here. It’s really touching,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan used his speech to remember community members who helped him in his early career and how he came to live in Crenshaw County.

A broad-strokes biography of Sullivan was included by the Chamber in the handbill for the event:

Bernard L. Sullivan was born in Bainbridge, GA. In 1943 and moved to Brantley, AL. in 1964.

He and his wife, Linda, were both educators with the Crenshaw County Board of Education.

He has two daughters, LeAnn Tew (Wayne) and Melissa Bush (Jeff), and a stepson, Austin Brook (Alex).

He also has five grandchildren: Taylor, Elizabeth, Emory, John and Emma James.

Sullivan received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Troy State University and received his EDS Certification from AUM and the University of Montevallo.

Since 1966, he has served the educational community as a teacher, coach, bus driver, athletic director and assistant principal at area schools.

He has also served at the state level in several capacities, including as an educational specialist, student instructional services, program assessment and traffic/bus safety. From 1976 to 1984 he served on the Brantley town council and as Mayor pro-tem.

In 2000, Sullivan was elected to the Mayor’s Office, a position he still holds today.

Besides his community service for the Town of Brantley and his past service to the Board of Education, he is also an active member in the Brantley United Methodist Church.

From 1966 until 2002, he worked his way through military school levels and acquired quite an array of military professional experience, including service with the Pentagon and activation during 9/11. He later taught as an instructor at the Warrant Officer Career Center at Ft. Rucker.

Some of the awards he has received during his military career include HSM, ARCAM/2, ARCOTR and FSMAL/4.

In his spare time, Sullivan enjoys reading, watching sports, SCUBA, jogging, fishing and traveling with his family.