When Georgia Heth’s term as ACBL president begins in January, she’ll be the longest-serving member of the Board of Directors. A retired attorney from Morton IL, Heth was first elected as District 8 director in 2002 and attended her first meeting that fall as first alternate when her outgoing district director decided to retire early. It was her 52nd meeting this week when she was elected president.
It was also at that meeting where an important vote on reducing the size of the ACBL Board failed by two votes.
“I think the ACBL is in a time of change, and that it requires someone who can work well with the board and management to get us through that,” said Heth, who voted for the measure. “I have a lot of institutional memory. I’ve lived through many different attempts to change things. I hope that my experience and my skills will enable me to be a successful president.”
Heth’s first act as president-elect was to let her fellow board members know the reorganization issue isn’t going away. “When the reorganization vote failed, I notified the board we would be meeting four days in Columbus rather than three so we could revisit the issue,” she said. “Yes, it’s going to come up again.”
But she’s aware the powers of the presidency are limited. “I can tell them what they’re going to discuss, but not what they’re going to do,” she said. “I see my job as a liaison between the board and management, and someone who goes out and shows appreciation to our volunteers and listens to their concerns. But I don’t have the power to resolve anything. My job is to give my committees what they need to do their jobs properly.”
Heth has two other priorities for her year as president: eliminating some Board committees that she believes are better handled by management and seeing some improvement in the ACBL’s long-term financial standing.
“What I want to accomplish is to remove the non-core committees,” Heth said. “We need to have audit, finance, governance, executive director review and strategic. I do not believe the program committees need to be on the Board.”
She does not have any specific plans for finance, which she intends to leave in the hands of CFO Peyton Dodson and the Board’s finance committee. “We’re going to have a very good year this year, but we have some difficulties down the road, and we need to figure out how to face that,” she said. “It’s good we’re going to get some reserves but we can’t count on that continuing.”
She’s also interested in seeing plans by the Educational Foundation to reach out to social bridge players come to fruition.
Until recently Heth long served as chair of the Board’s appeals and charges committee, where she presided over several controversial decisions, including the 2018 readmittance of Massimo Lanzarotti, who was expelled for cheating in 2005.
“A lot of people think poorly of me because of the decisions that were made by Appeals and Charges when I was chairing it,” Heth acknowledged. “I believe I did the right thing based on the Code of Disciplinary Regulations.
“My concern was making sure we had a CDR that was fair, that was as clear as possible, and that when we reviewed something that the proper process had been followed.
“I could have made decisions that would have made me much more popular. I never let fear of what people would say about me influence my decisions.”
Heth began playing bridge in August 1980, shortly after graduating from Stanford Law School. Her mom had a partner for that night’s North American Pairs qualifying game at their local club but her dad did not. “He said, ‘Come on, you’ll love it,” over her protests that she had no idea how to play. She read the tiny Autobridge booklet on the way to the game. “He was right, I loved it!” she said. “Right after the game I started reading ‘Five Weeks to Winning Bridge.’ I got as far as cuebids. That was too foreign for someone on their first night of bridge.”
Playing bridge with her parents influenced her decision to stay in Illinois and take the bar exam there. She worked in the Illinois attorney general’s office for 26 years and later in the Department of Children and Family Services. She retired in 2017.
When Heth turned 50 in 2006, she evaluated her life and regretted not becoming a mother, so she decided to become a foster parent. She didn’t have any intention to adopt when she started out, but eight years later she adopted her son Kortlan, now 17. She also has a 10-year-old foster son.
It was Kortlan’s upcoming high school graduation that influenced the timing of her decision to run for president this year, hoping he’ll be able to travel with her this summer.
“I look forward to doing my job, meeting a lot of people and thanking them for all the hours of free work they donate,” Heth said. “We couldn’t survive without our volunteers — and people who get paid something but not what they’re worth.”