Alumnus John Avery is a modest gentleman whose spirit of generosity and humility is evident as he speaks fondly of a life spent working and giving back to his church, family and friends. The Hiawassee, Georgia, resident enjoys the quietness of his beautiful mountain environment, just minutes from the Helen Alpine Village tourist area.
A proud and consistent donor to the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Avery credits Georgia State University for laying the foundation for his successful 30-plus year career with the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL).
In 1951, just 38 years after Georgia State University was founded, Avery enrolled as a day student. At the time the university was affectionately known as A-DUG (Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia system). Avery also joined the then newly developed Army ROTC Transportation Unit.
“I wanted to come to Georgia State because of the value of the education,” says Avery, who celebrated his 81st birthday in November. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and Georgia State was there for me.”
He graduated from Georgia State in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, and then served nearly two years in Europe in the Army Transportation Corps.
In 1957 Avery returned to Atlanta seeking employment. He came armed with an economics degree, a love for statistics and a skill that, even then, was becoming as rare as a buggy whip.
“Working in the registrar’s office while taking a course in data processing set the course for my career,” he says. In class he had learned how to run an old computer card sorter, which proved to work to his advantage when he applied for the position with the Georgia Department of Labor.
It would be the first and only position he ever applied for, he says.
Avery joined the GDOL Employment Security Agency as a research assistant in reports and analysis in January 1958. By the end of his tenure, he had risen to division director, assistant director of administration services for data processing and, eventually, consultant.
Avery worked on and managed teams that revolutionized the capture, analysis and reporting of Georgia’s unemployment data. Beginning as a programmer of the state’s ES202 Wage and Earnings reports, Avery’s work evolution parallels that of the IT revolution: starting with punched card systems in the 1950s and 1960s, moving to magnetic tape systems and disc drive systems in the 1970s and 1980s, and eventually implementing online systems in the late 1980s.
The bulk of his work – this GDOL data – is now housed at the Andrew Young School.
Avery began making gifts to the university in 1982. He has been a consistent supporter of the Andrew Young School since 1998.
“Years ago, I decided to give 10 percent of my income to religious and/or nonprofit organizations,” he says. “I expanded that idea to include educational institutions and added Georgia State University because I appreciate that it allowed me to get a college degree at a reasonable cost, when finances at that time were very limited. I decided to include the university and thus, the Andrew Young School.”
Since retiring from the GDOL, Avery has pursued his newest passion: building and selling log cabins in the mountains of Hiawassee, Ga.