Author: Kent Hannon

Published

No matter where you look – from Commencement to Homecoming to her own island alumni chapter – you’ll always find Ruth Bartlett (BBA ’76), UGA’s steadfast Alumni Association president, on the scene.

Ruth Bartlett

It would be an exaggeration to say that Ruth Bartlett has shaken the hands of all 300,000 living alumni of the University of Georgia. (She’s good, as this story will attest, but she’s not that good.)

What can be said, with a high level of certainty, is that halfway through her two-year tenure as president of the Alumni Association Bartlett (BBA ’76) has pressed enough flesh to have an inkling of what it’s like for a woman to run for president of something considerably larger than the Bulldog Nation.

“Let’s put it this way,” she says, leafing through a dog-eared date book whose pages are creased, crowded and tricolor-coded, “I know where I’m going to be every single day between the start of fall semester and New Year’s Eve!”

An accountant by trade who performs year-end financial audits for major companies, Bartlett readily admits that a great deal of what she has signed up for as UGA Alumni Association president is pure, unadulterated fun.

On home football Saturdays, for example, her meet-and-greets and grip-and-grins take place at sky-suite altitudes.

She watched the Georgia-North Carolina season opener at the Georgia Dome from the private box of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, having dined at an invitation-only event at the College Football Hall of Fame the night before.

At Sanford Stadium, her duties call for her to move back and forth from the president’s sky suite on the north side of the stadium to the UGA Alumni Association and Terry College sky suites on the south side. In each case, the air conditioning is cool and refreshing, the food is catered, the view of the field is like a 100-yard flat screen, and the alumni she interacts with are a mix of old friends and people she’s meeting for the first time.

An expert at shortening the get-acquainted time due to her years in public accounting, where a typical day was spent out of the office working with clients at their place of business, Bartlett says her service on the Terry Alumni Board was the perfect steppingstone to the Alumni Association presidency.

Ruth Bartlett
Bartlett lives in Hilton Head, S.C., but she owns a Gameday condo and has a regular tailgating spot just around the corner in downtown Athens.

“Terry has a remarkably wide and enthusiastic alumni network,” says Bartlett, “and knowing literally hundreds of Terry alums on a first-name basis gave me a head start as president.”

Bartlett’s personal guests at the Nicholls State game were telecomm sales executive Glynn Gossett (BBA ’76), whom she knew in college, and his son, Drew.

“Glynn is a client in my CPA firm,” says Bartlett, who later confides, “and it’s great that we remain friends after all these years!”

Making her way toward the food table at halftime, Bartlett stops to chat with Sharon Barrow. They are familiar with each other, but as is sometimes the case when you’re looking backwards in time, there is a surprise in store.

“I know Sharon Barrow because I know her husband, Brantley Barrow (BBA ’76), who was a key figure in the construction of phase one of Terry’s Business Learning Community,” says Bartlett. “But until she reminded me, I had forgotten that I knew Sharon Barrow (BBA ’76) as Sharon Benson when we were in the same homeroom at Peachtree High School in Atlanta!”

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Serving as president of the Alumni Association puts Bartlett front and center as a speaker at a variety of Alumni Association functions, from the annual 40 Under 40 event that honors fast-rising young alumni to spring and fall Commencement exercises at Sanford Stadium and the Coliseum, where she welcomes newly minted graduates to the UGA alumni family.

“Speaking at the 2016 spring Commencement at Sanford Stadium was the best thing I’ve done as president of the Alumni Association,” says Bartlett. “The feelings of pride and expectation that well up inside of you when you’re looking at thousands of new UGA graduates is so inspiring!”

Bartlett’s spring graduation experience was unique because she got to spend part of the afternoon with TV host and producer Ryan Seacrest, whose Commencement address was a hit with his largely 20-something audience.

“Ryan went to Dunwoody High School,” says Bartlett. “My sister Terri knows his parents. And his sister Meredith, who runs the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, is a UGA journalism grad, whom we just honored at our 40 Under 40 event.”

Making alumni feel included in the UGA family is an important function for Bartlett, a former high school cheerleader who has a natural affinity for celebrating and enhancing the UGA brand.

But her job description is much broader than that.

As Alumni Association president, she is also a voting board member of both the UGA Foundation and the UGA Athletic Association. Committee work is involved, money needs to be raised, meeting attendance is more or less mandatory — and Bartlett’s reputation as a can-do volunteer has led to other obligations outside her normal alumni duties.

When UGA Provost Pamela Whitten became aware of Bartlett’s reputation as a discerning and inspirational mentor, she asked Bartlett to join her at a series of networking dinners that she hosts for star students.

Ruth Bartlett
Bartlett has personally recruited and hired 18 Terry grads at the Atlanta accounting firm of Frazier & Deeter, including Will Paschal (BBA ’08, BBA ’13).

Given that the vast majority of Bartlett’s alumni duties take place in Athens, she does face a significant challenge in terms of travel time because she doesn’t exactly live down the street.

In her first year as AA’s Top Dawg, Bartlett put 22,500 miles on her Audi Q5, which is so accustomed to the route between her Sea Pines Plantation home on Hilton Head Island and Athens ... well, it might as well be a self-driven car. Hilton Head to Athens is a monotonous, five-hour drive. But for Bartlett — who had an ironworker build a backyard gate at her Sea Pines home that mimics UGA’s famed Arch — zip code distance doesn’t deter her from her appointed rounds on behalf of her alma mater.

Bartlett does own a Gameday condo on Broad Street that affords her a glimpse of Sanford Stadium from her balcony. But it’s more of an overnight way station than an actual residence.

Having recently celebrated a milestone birthday, Bartlett has scaled back to part-time duties at Atlanta-based accounting firm Frazier & Deeter so she can devote as much attention as possible to her commitments as Alumni Association president.

“It makes me feel ... relevant and proud. Those are two of the things that come to mind when I think about serving as UGA Alumni Association president,” says Bartlett, who switches from AA chief exec to Hilton Head innkeeper several times a year when UGA students and staff hold weekend retreats at her home, where her co-hosts include her golden retriever, Bailey, and his house mate, Stoli, the Russian Blue cat.

“I’m fascinated by our students — they’re so intelligent, mature, and talented — and I love having UGA and Terry people stay at my house!” says Bartlett, who is single but still open to that changing.

“I always assumed I would get married — to someone I had UGA in common with — and I wanted to have a child. But I’m extremely close to my nieces and my nephew, and there is a positive side to being single. Because I didn’t have a family of my own, I’ve had the time and the freedom to serve as a mentor to a lot of UGA and Terry students.”

It’s no wonder students want to tap into Bartlett’s experience and expertise. With a glittering résumé as a trailblazer in what was once a male-dominated profession, Bartlett’s life and career sparkle with prime achievements:

1 – First female partner at Frazier & Deeter, Georgia’s second-largest state-headquartered accounting firm.

1 – First female president of the Georgia Society of Certified Public Accountants.

1 – First female recipient of the GSPCA’s meritorious service award.

1 – First woman to serve as president of the Terry Alumni Board (in 2005).

2 – Second female president of the UGA Alumni Association.

3 – Three Bartlett sisters earned accounting degrees from Terry, including Ruth’s older sister Linda Bartlett Marett (BBA ’75), who made all A’s at UGA, and younger sister Terri Bartlett Vann (BBA ’80).

4 – Fourth woman to receive the Terry College’s Distinguished Alumni Award (in 1997).

5 – Fifth consecutive Terry College alum to serve as president of the UGA Alumni Association. And there will be a sixth when Bonney Shuman (BBA ’80), who also attended Peachtree High, succeeds Bartlett in 2017.

Other Bartlett numbers of interest:

10 – Frazier & Deeter was named one of the top 10 best accounting firms for women in the U.S., thanks in large part to Bartlett’s efforts over the years.

16 – Number of years that Bartlett headed Frazier & Deeter’s audit department.

18 – Number of Terry graduates Bartlett personally recruited and hired at Frazier & Deeter.

“I got re-involved with my alma mater through my service on the Terry Alumni Board,” says Bartlett, “so I really have Terry to thank for continuing a personal journey that, looking back, started with my dad teaching me the fundamentals of saving money when I was just a kid.”

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Bill Bartlett grew up in Bayside, N.Y. At age 18, in search of a career in architecture, he hitchhiked to Atlanta and enrolled at Georgia Tech. Following graduation, having earned a degree in industrial management, he enlisted in the army and later enjoyed a lucrative career selling electrical wiring and cable. Bill Bartlett was what people used to refer to as “a man’s man” — and when he and his wife, Ann, started having kids while he was stationed at Fort Benning, he hoped to have a son among them. When all three turned out to be daughters, Bill and Ann set out to raise their girls to be resilient and self-reliant.

“My dad liked to refer to me as his $8 baby — a dollar more than my $7 sister Linda,” says Bartlett, “because in those days $8 is all it cost you to have a baby at Fort Benning, depending on inflation!”

All three girls had allowances growing up, and Bartlett credits her dad with helping her understand the fundamentals of budgets and balance sheets.

“I remember my dad taking me down to the bank to open a passbook savings account when I was 12,” says Bartlett. “My dad taught me to make sure that interest on my savings account was posted every month. And going forward, even when I became an adult, he wanted to know how much money I was making. ‘Let me see your paycheck,’ he’d say, because he wanted to be sure his girls were doing OK financially. When we’d go home to Atlanta for a visit, my dad made sure that the car Linda and I were sharing during college had a full tank of gas — and he’d hand each of us a $20 bill. Years later, when he found out my salary exceeded his, he said, ‘Oh my God, Ruth, maybe you should be giving me a loan!’”

As college students in the ’70s, the Bartlett girls looked alike, they were curve-wreckers in the classroom, and they were frequently seen together at alumni functions following graduation. To friends and faculty alike, the Bartletts were a mini brand unto themselves.

Earl Davis certainly felt that way.

When the legendary Terry College accounting professor would run into them at a campus event, his eyes would open wide. In that distinctive New England accent of his, Davis would exclaim:

“Ahhhhh ... the BAHT-lut SIS-tuhs!”

Bartlett Bartlett & Bartlett, the family accounting firm that the girls’ father envisioned, never materialized.

“We all went in different directions,” says Ruth, who began her career at Price Waterhouse in Atlanta. “Linda started at Arthur Andersen, but stayed only two years. She later made partner at George A. Pennington, and eventually started her own firm, which merged into CRI a few years ago. Terri’s first job was at C&S Bank. She put her career on hold while she raised four children, but is now back in the workforce at Windham Brannon.”

Always athletically inclined — she was also a gymnast at Peachtree High — Bartlett is an avid cyclist whose favorite vacations are excursions to Tour de France locales in the foothills of the Pyrenees. She plays golf, having taken up the game as a sort of college graduation present to herself because she saw it as a way of gaining both a foothold and an identity in the business world.

“The accounting profession was a lot more male-dominated in the ’70s than it is now,” says Bartlett, who was one of only three women in her hiring class at Price Waterhouse’s Atlanta office. “We represented maybe 5 percent of nearly 60 new hires in the summer of 1976. When I saw that most of the men at Price Waterhouse played golf, I decided to jump in because I thought that playing golf would distinguish me from the other women at the firm. It was pretty funny in the beginning because the game is so difficult to play. But over time I really began to enjoy it. These days I’m playing bogey golf — which is better than some of the guys I play with!”

Ruth Bartlett
Anxious to try her hand at chapter building, Bartlett recently convened the Hilton Head Island UGA Alumni Chapter, which already has more than 100 members, thanks to the leadership of chapter president Lauren Robinson (BSEd ’78).

Bartlett is a member at Hilton Head’s Sea Pines Country Club, and her interest in golf ultimately became intertwined with her accounting career.

“During my nine years at Price Waterhouse, I was mainly assigned to audit clients in the insurance industry,” says Bartlett. “But when I moved to the Atlanta office of Laventhol & Horwath I audited clients in real estate and hospitality.”

Those industry specializations continue. Since joining Frazier & Deeter in 1990, her principal auditing clients are now hotels and country clubs.

“Presenting year-end financials at some of Atlanta’s finest golf clubs — Cherokee Town and Country Club, Capital City Club, Atlanta Athletic Club and Atlanta Country Club — is really fun for me,” says Bartlett, “because when I look out at a group of board members who want to know how successful a year the club has had, I see the familiar faces of Terry alums like Darren DeVore (BBA ’86) in the room.”

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When Bartlett was moving up through the organizational hierarchy as vice president of the Alumni Association, then-president Tim Keadle (BBA ’78) told her it would be helpful if she took the time to meet with “six or eight” of the academic deans on campus. In typical Bartlett fashion, she met with 16 of them, and the other two are on her list.

“The best word I can use to describe Ruth is ... generous,” says Frazier & Deeter colleague Rhonda Striplin. “She’s generous with her time, and she also demonstrates her generosity when it comes to caring about people and figuring out ways to help improve their lives and advance their careers.”

Recent Ernst & Young hire Derek Hammock (BBA ’15, MAcc ’16) can attest to that.

“It’s hard for me to imagine where I would be right now if Ruth Bartlett hadn’t been my designated mentor on the Alumni Association’s Student Alumni Council,” says Hammock, who got his feet wet in the accounting world when, at his request, Bartlett arranged a special two-week internship at Frazier & Deeter in summer 2014. Hammock was just back from a study abroad program in Australia and New Zealand, and most students in his situation would have wanted to lie low until the start of fall semester. Not Hammock.

“It was only a two-week internship, but Ruth was happy to arrange it — and the experience was still knee-deep in audit procedures,” says Hammock. “And to make it work for me financially, Ruth put me up in her Atlanta condo so I didn’t have to pay for housing.”

Bartlett took her mentor duties a step further by writing Hammock a letter of recommendation that cemented his candidacy for Terry’s highly selective Leonard Leadership Scholars Program.

 “Ruth and I have a personal relationship,” says Hammock, “so we may start out talking about her golf game. But she will definitely ask me how my first few weeks at EY have gone. Ruth Bartlett isn’t your parent and she isn’t your professor. She’s Aunt Ruth!”

Meredith Hightower (BBA ’12) echoes Hammock’s feelings about Bartlett.

“I needed an internship between the completion of my undergraduate studies at Terry and the start of my master’s of accounting degree program at UT-Austin,” says Hightower, who knew the right person to contact for assistance.

“Ruth helped me land an internship at a charity she’s heavily involved with — the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society — and that gave me a chance to work on their Light the Night Walk event,” says Hightower, who, like Hammock, needed a place to stay during her internship. “She also put me up in her condo in Atlanta for two months. Ruth Bartlett is the most welcoming person I’ve ever met.”

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The UGA Alumni Association has a call-to-action tagline that is emblematic of the organization’s mission on behalf of the university and its graduates. The tagline is Connect-Hire-Give. And it’s the perfect descriptor of Ruth Bartlett, a.) who cut back her own career commitments to maximize the number of Derek Hammocks and Meredith Hightowers she could connect with, b.) whose recruiting/hiring efforts have populated Frazier & Deeter offices with more UGA and Terry graduates than any other school, and c.) whose love for Terry has motivated her and her sisters to make a six-figure gift to name a group study room in Phase II of Terry’s Business Learning Community.

“Linda and Terri and I owe our careers in accounting to the education we received at Terry,” says Bartlett. “One way for us to say thank you — and ‘pay it forward’ — is for us to create the Bartlett Family Team Room, where collaborative study and team learning will help improve the already stellar quality of Terry students.”

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Ruth Bartlett
A symbol of her undying loyalty to UGA, Bartlett had an ironworker construct a back gate at her home patterned after the Arch.

Being an accounting trailblazer whose career has been defined by numbers, Bartlett wanted her two-year tenure as UGA Alumni Association president to make both a qualitative and a quantitative difference. So before she assumed her duties, she met with President Morehead, whose advice to her was short and to the point:

Bartlett: What can the Alumni Association and I do to make a difference?

Morehead: Increase the alumni participation rate.

With the university launching the public phase of a $1.2 billion fundraising campaign, alumni participation — i.e. percentage of alumni giving money — is crucial to the success of the campaign.

“The national average for alumni participation is 8 percent,” notes Bartlett. “But at this point in the campaign, I’m happy to report that the combined efforts of UGA’s development and alumni relations staffs have moved the needle from an 11.5 participation rate in 2015 to 13.8 percent in 2016. An increase of more than two points is significant when you’re talking about a donor pool of 300,000 people. It’s a big number.”

No one works closer with Bartlett than Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of the UGA Alumni Association, and she has an interesting take on what makes Bartlett so effective as AA president:

“It was a home football Saturday, and Ruth and I were walking down a long Sanford Stadium hallway toward the president’s sky suite. Only we weren’t making much headway because people were yelling, ‘Hey, Ruth!’ and popping out of doorway after doorway to say hello to her. She knows everybody!

“When I watch Ruth interact with our alumni, I see her as the college girl she was back in the 1970s — sweetheart of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, top accounting student, treasurer of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She had it all — looks, brains, business sense — and a way with people. Which is how I see Ruth today. She’s that same girl!"