Saying goodbye to something is always tough.
But that time has come for Dr. Keith Coburn, who has served as a regent for the college since 1986. Coburn did not seek re-election for a sixth term.
“As a board member, you are a part of a team that makes decisions, and it is nothing that I individually have personally done. It is privileged to be a part of this team,” Coburn said. “Of course, I work with the current board members, and there are 17 previous board members that I can remember who have all retired from their service. And there have been some relationships with some fine folks. I had wonderful relationships with people who loved the college.”
Coburn was born in Baytown and has also practiced general dentistry here for more than 30 years. He is now retired from his practice.
After being appointed to replace Walter Buttrick, an ExxonMobil physician who was transferred after winning the regent seat in the mid-1980s, Coburn went on be re-elected five times afterward. This marks the end of his fifth term.
Over the years of his service on the board, Coburn said he has seen a lot of positive changes at the college.
“I have been able to see several building programs come to fruition,” Coburn said. “One thing I think it was really nice was that we were able to save and renovate some of the older buildings like Rundell Hall. Also, it was interesting we were able to convert the old Sears building and eventually evolved it with the new addition of the nursing program.”
Coburn said he is also proud of the college’s recent efforts to reach out to the service area, such as with the college’s Liberty Center and McNair Center for the college’s technical programs.
“But the most important thing that has happened through all of these times is the success of our students and the opportunity we have been able to provide for their education,” he said. “Sometimes, it is not just that they graduated, but that they were exposed to our community and knew they could have an opportunity to attend college. I think it is wonderful.”
Coburn said he is also pleased with the advent of the IMPACT Early College High School.
“I am a big advocate of utilizing our tax dollars for the best possible means,” he said. “My first experience as a student, as a dual enrollment student at (Robert E. Lee High School) when I was a senior in 1968. I took a class during the spring semester in my senior year in the evenings. For me to be able to go to that and be introduced to college, I realized I could do this. I am all for dual enrollment and high school kids having the opportunity to get college credit. The best manifestation of that is early college high school.”
Coburn said other highlights of his tenure on the college board included attending graduation ceremonies, especially the nurses’ pinning ceremony.
“It is a smaller event, but it is very emotional for those people,” Coburn said.
Susan Moore-Fontenot, who has served as a college regent since 1988, said it has been an honor to serve with Coburn.
“It is with mixed emotions that my longtime college and friend will be leaving the board,” Moore-Fontenot said. “Keith represents the kind of board member that raised all of the options and did a fantastic job of creating the balance that is sometimes needed.”
Moore-Fontenot said Coburn would be greatly missed.
“There is no one that can fill his shoes,” she said. “He is going to be tremendously missed because of his commitment, dedication and love for Lee College. He is so even-keeled, he represents the voice of reason and wisdom whenever he shares any reflections that he feels will move the college forward. He is the kind of board member we should all try to be.”
Coburn said the future looks bright for Lee College and has moved on from a budget shortfall that plagued the college a couple of years ago.
“I think the board has reorganized our financial reporting, understanding and communications. It turned out we were put into better shape, and now, we are working better,” Coburn said.
Coburn added with President Dr. Dennis Brown retiring in January 2020, the college will have an opportunity to rise even higher.
“He has been providing great leadership during his time here,” Coburn said. “I will not be a part of the presidential search, and I have led two of them in the past. But, I am confident the method we are using will bring great people, and our board members, along with community representatives, will find another great leader for the college.”