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NSPRA e-Network 2020: The Gift of Grace

Lesley Bruinton, APR

Lesley Bruinton, APR

NSPRA is full of amazing people who are both intelligent and wise...and willing to teach you if you are willing to learn. Today’s lesson I share with you is courtesy of NSPRA past-president Julie Thannum, APR, of Carroll (Texas) ISD. Julie’s life and legacy is one of grace. It’s a word that we often say in passing, not giving it much thought.

Grace is unmerited favor. It’s a concept that is difficult to grasp because it is so overwhelming.

This year has been hard for each of us as we tackle new challenges and cope with new losses, often stacking one atop another without pausing to breathe. The depths of the difficulty in this year may have shown themselves in unpleasant ways: inability to produce your best work, blowing up at a colleague or someone else you love, restraining from social media responses you’d really like to write or developing coping mechanisms that help you do anything but.

These things impact our ability to be our best selves and do our best work when it is so desperately needed. There have been times this year that I have watered the seeds of doubt I allowed myself to sow. Perhaps you have, too. We are humans doing the best we can during a moment in history unlike any before.

During this season of giving thanks, I am thankful to be part of an association in which we are figuring out this thing called 2020 together. I am thankful for the vision of an executive director who saw a way out of the darkness befell on NSPRA many years ago.

Rich Bagin, APR, took the helm of the National School Public Relations Association in 1992 and brought it back from uncertainty. His leadership and faith in this association for the good works it could do prompted him to stick his neck out for it. He did not do it alone, either; his efforts were matched by his lovely wife, Carolyn, in her support for this association. Although his humility keeps him from speaking of what he did to save NSPRA, it is a story that I learned from our veteran members, who tell his story on his behalf. Let me be clear: Had it not been for Rich’s efforts, the NSPRA we now have might not be with a track record of an 85-year history.

The story of what Rich has done is reflected in the tokens of appreciation lovingly placed throughout the Bagin home. When the couple welcomed NSPRA board members into their home late last year as part of a meeting, Carolyn’s eyes lit up as she shared the story that members over the years had gifted them giraffes because Rich had stuck his neck out for the association. There are hundreds. Seriously!

This month, Rich will transition from the role of executive director to executive director emeritus, a title bestowed upon him by the immediate past board as a measure of immense gratitude for the work he has done.

Like the honorary title, grace is a gift to ourselves and to others. We must assume the best in others. Seek understanding. Move forward in common purpose. The decisions you are making as a practitioner are difficult — just as they were for Rich when he began his life’s work. There are no right answers, but we must remain steadfast to the principles of our profession steeped in integrity and accountability.

The work you are doing is necessary, needed and valuable.

As NSPRA journeys into a new chapter, we do so in this spirit guided by the calling of the work. We honor the Bagins for their courageous leadership for three decades with NSPRA and must continue to tell that story as we write the next chapter so that those who come after us understand his legacy. I ask you to join in that work as we build an even stronger association, built on the foundations of Rich’s work. I also ask that you take a moment to send Rich a note thanking him for the legacy he leaves us. We are caretakers of his work. And after you do that, give yourself grace, y’all.


Lesley Bruinton, APR, is the 2020-21 president of the NSPRA Executive Board and the public relations director for Tuscaloosa City (Ala.) Schools. Contact her at