Support services director drawn to helping out
Community Connection: Steve North

Steve North works logistics, both as director of Gwinnett's support services department and as a volunteer for Relay for Life. The cancer survivor who began his romance with his wife over a racquetball game is the next entry in this week's Community Connections.

Senior Write Camie Young talked to North about his career, his kids and his passion to help others.

CY: Where are you from?

SN: I grew up in Effingham County, which is just north of Savannah.

CY: How did you end up in Gwinnett?

SN: I used to work in Walton County, and I got to know (Gwinnett Transportation Director) Brian Allen there. I was the county manager in Murray County, which is Chatsworth, just east of Dalton, when Brian went down to DOT. He called me and asked me if I was interested in coming to Gwinnett to take the assistant county administrator's job and that just worked out for me.

... That's how I started in the county in December 1996.

CY: How did you end up in support services?

SN: There were some changes going on within the organization, and I had not been in a lined department and I thought that would be a good opportunity to learn more and what was going on in Gwinnett County and the detailed workings of a department.

So (then County Administrator) Charlotte (Nash) put me in as the deputy in support services. .... When (Connie Hinson) retired (at the end of last year), I became director.

CY: Do you want to go back into county administration?

SN: I don't know, maybe one day. But I enjoy what I'm doing now.

CY: What is it you like about support services? It's kind of a catch-all for a lot of things.

SN: That's kind of the favorite part, that it's a lot of different things that you don't have to do one thing over and over. I like the variety, being able to do things directly for folks.

That's what drew me to local government in the beginning was being able to do things directly for people and helping out folks.

CY: How did you meet your wife?

SN: We met at the University of Georgia. She's from Iowa and she came down here to come to school. ...

I was running for student council, going around getting signatures, and I met (Tammie). She had on a racquetball shirt, and at the time not too many

people played racquetball, and that was a game I played at Georgia.

Actually that was our first date, playing racquetball.

CY: What did you run for and did you win?

SN: I ran for just a seat on the council, and no, I didn't win.

The guy who was running for president was running on the abolitionist ticket, and he won, so he abolished the student government. They've since re-established it, but it was kind of funny. He was kind of a radical guy.

CY: You weren't his running mate?

SN: No (laughs).

CY: Tell me about your kids.

SN: We've been married for 25 years, and I have four kids.

My oldest is 21, Shane. She is a junior at Georgia. She will hopefully be graduated next year in corporate recreation.

CY: Was she a racquetball player too?

SN: No. (laughter) She was a basketball player until she got to be a junior in high school.

I have a 17-year-old daughter that's a junior at Mill Creek, Samantha. She's a swimmer, and she plays recreation basketball.

I have 13-year-old twins who are eighth-graders at Osbourne Middle, a son, Jake, and a daughter, Jordan.

CY: Do they play any sports?

SN: Well my son plays football, basketball and swims, and Jordan swims and plays basketball.

CY: Do you coach for them?

SN: I coached my oldest daughter in basketball, starting when she was 7 or 8 and worked up until she was in middle school. Then I coached the younger ones, all four of them in basketball, and I coached Jake in football for three years.

... I was a trainer for the eighth-grade team this past year.

CY: Do you have any hobbies?

SN: Pretty much I stay involved with the kids, with sports. I'm on the Mill Creek Foundation board, try to raise money for the cluster to give grants for teachers who have ideas they'd like to implement that aren't able to be funded through the normal budget process.

I like to be involved in the kids and be involved with the different sports boards.

I enjoy running.

CY: No more racquetball?

SN: No, I had a heel injury for about four years now. I love playing tennis, too, and I think I aggravated it while I was running. It never has completely healed. ...

Photographer Jason Braverman: Who won the racquetball game on your first date?

SN: (Looking sheepish) I did. (laughter)

CY: I had read somewhere about you being a cancer survivor. Would you be willing to talk about that?

SN: I had prostate cancer. I was diagnosed very early. My primary care physician during my annual physical found in my blood test, it was high. ...

It kind of gave him a red flag, and he sent me to a specialist and did a biopsy, and they found some cancer cells.

There are several options when you have prostate cancer. One is to do nothing and see, because generally it is a very slow-growing cancer.

But being as young as I was (48), they decided that wasn't a good option because it will continue to grow and it can kill you if you don't watch it.

The other was radiation treatment, and a third option is surgery.

And they have new technique. There are two doctors in Georgia that use a technique that uses a robot.

They make six incisions going in, and he is actually sitting across the room and operating a robot looking at a computer screen. They put a camera in there and a light. So that's what I opted for, and had it done Nov. 14, 2006.

I've had four follow-up tests and all of them have been negative.

CY: So you didn't actually have any radiation?

SN: No radiation or chemo or anything. I was very fortunate that they caught it as early as they did and it was still self-contained within the prostate.

CY: Your kids are still young. So that must have been pretty scary.

SN: Yeah, it was scary for them. Any time you say the cancer word to anybody, it's scary.

My wife's mother died when Tammie was 16. She had breast cancer and it came back and went into her brain.

So my wife, it scared her to death.

So keeping it was not an option, getting it out was really the only option.

It happens that (Community Services Director) Phil Hoskins, who works for the county, is the chairman of the Gwinnett Relay (for Life).

After my surgery, I saw him one day and told him I'd be willing to help with Relay. He asked me if I'd help to volunteer on the logistics team, so this will be my second year doing that.

CY: Well, logistics is what you do all day long.

SN: (Laughter) Exactly. It fits well.

They've pretty much gotten it down. They've got a big crew that's been doing it for years and years. Those folks really know how to put an event together, so I just go along and lend them some manpower.

CY: So you think it's important to do that?

SN: I think it's important to give back. I think the Relay is a fantastic event, and the American Cancer Society, what they are trying to do to rid cancer is fantastic, and anything I can try to do to give back, I think I need to.

Obviously, the robotic surgery came about as a means of people doing research and developing higher techniques and better techniques. I was a beneficiary of that, and I think it's important to give back, so I'll continue to work for them as long as they'll have me.