A Passion for Community Work
When Chris Stevenson moved to Leland he began
putting his skills and wisdom to use by giving back.
Texas’ loss is Brunswick County’s gain.
As Chris Stevenson recalls the moment, his wife, Lisa, provided major direction when it was time to retire, as spouses often do.
“She wanted to go somewhere near water,” he says. “And not the brown water of the Texas Gulf.”
The blue water they found laps the shores of southeastern North Carolina, and Texas’ loss surely has been a big gain for Leland and Brunswick County.
Stevenson is Exhibit A for the notion that life’s journeys send you to a place where you can put your skills and wisdom to use. The result is that at age 65, Stevenson is anything but retired. His community work has become not just a hobby like his photography but a passion. Stevenson is finishing a term on the Cape Fear Economic Development Council, volunteering for the Cape Fear chapter of the American Red Cross and serving as an area governor for Rotary District 7730. His area of supervision includes the five Rotary Clubs in Brunswick County, including the Leland Area Rotary Club that he joined about three years ago.
“I have a passion for the work,” he says. “I started with a very humble beginning. I want to give back. My military training is that if you see a void, you do something about it.”
Stevenson grew up in New Orleans, where his father died when he was 10.
“We were very, very poor,” he says. “My mother was a domestic; my father was a longshoreman. But there was lots of emphasis on education and treating people right. I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. That was my original dream, to do what I could to stop people from being marginalized. When people say they don’t like the color of my skin, I want to ask, ‘What is it you don’t like?’”
The contrast between his military years and what he sees in the rest of American troubles him. “My kids were a bit insulated from racism because they spent so many years in DOD (Department of Defense) schools,” he says. “In the military the only color they saw was Army green.”
The lawyer dream died when he dropped out of the University of New Orleans due to lack of funds with four brothers and sisters at home and a widowed mother.
“So, I decided to join the military,” he says. “I could do my three years, go back to school on the G.I. Bill and get on with my life.”
Well, those three years turned into 20 as he started a family. “We saw the world,” he says. “Latin America, Southeast Asia, Italy, Germany, Panama.”
Stevenson’s specialty was data communications and tactical planning. He taught noncommissioned officers and joined inspector general teams. “I tested secure email around the world,” he recalls. “I really was in one of those jobs where if I didn’t do it right, people could die.”
While overseas, he earned a degree from University of Maryland European Division in 1997-98.
He returned to college at Western International University in Phoenix in 1992 and left the military in 1994 as a sergeant with a good set of skills to begin a civilian career in Arizona.
It turned out to be a good decision. He became a software specialist in ticketing systems, working with everyone from sports teams to Vegas casinos. A few stops later, he landed in San Antonio, consulting to the city on projects such as the city’s famous outdoor River Walk. Eventually, he began a lengthy stint with Federal Express in Corpus Christi.
Stevenson credits Leland Town Council member Mike Callahan with pointing him to the Leland Area Rotary Club as a newcomer looking for ways to contribute to the community.
Like most Americans with a conscience, Stevenson was touched profoundly by recent events that exposed institutional racism at a glaring level of intensity. Will this time be different?
His voice becomes emotional as he shares a story about his daughter, Janelle.
“After her first eight to 12 weeks at college, she called me, heartbroken.
‘Dad,’ she said, ‘I don’t fit in. I’m too white for the black folks and too black for the white folks.’ I told her, ‘Yes, it’s hard,’ but I said, ‘If you run now, you’ll run for the rest of your life.’”
Janelle, one of Stevenson’s three adult children, graduated from the University of Chicago and works as the associate director for annual giving at Yale University, so she obviously took Dad’s advice to heart.
“We still have a long way to go,” Stevenson says. “It’s disheartening at times. My father was in Korea. He was a true patriot. That’s why I enlisted. I believe everyone should be afforded an opportunity. We have to recognize the contributions of everyone. This continues to be a great country because of our diversity and differences.”