Investing in Lives
Cliff McCurry Honors His Mentor Through Giving
Cliff McCurry (Armstrong ’68) knows the value of having someone invest in your life.
The Savannah businessman and philanthropist can’t imagine the direction he would’ve taken had it not been for his mentor, Nick Mamalakis.
When McCurry was a senior in high school, he returned home from studying one evening to find his mother lying unconscious on the floor. She had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and was rushed to the hospital, where she passed away.
It was Mamalakis who helped the young McCurry find a way forward.
“He got in my face that night and grabbed me by the shoulders, and he said, ‘Son, you got three choices you can make. You can be pissed off at the world and say, “Why me?” You can shift into neutral and not give a damn, and just go through life feeling sorry for yourself. Or you can take everything that your mom and dad have taught you and decide you want to make something of yourself. And if that’s the choice you make, I want to be part of your life,’” said McCurry.
Mamalakis was a business and community leader in Savannah, and took the young McCurry under his wing and into his family. After McCurry attended Armstrong on a basketball scholarship for two years, Mamalakis helped him transfer to the University of Georgia to study risk management and insurance, and gave him a job in his own company, Mercer Insurance, after he graduated.
McCurry worked for the firm and its successors for 39 years. Serving under his mentor, he not only learned the insurance business, but also learned the value of giving back to his community.
“When I give I feel like it’s a blessing in my life to be able to give back, to know that I am in a position to help others, because I know how much it meant for others to help me,” he said. “The people that believed in me and invested in me is something that I feel like I have the opportunity to do and makes me feel good and makes my family feel good.”
McCurry is widely known for his willingness to put in long hours for worthy causes. He served as the chairman of Bethesda Academy for Boys, helping other young boys overcome their circumstances in the same way Mamalakis helped him. He has also served as vice chair or chair for St. Joseph’s/Candler Foundation, Communities in Schools/Savannah, Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), and the Armstrong State University Foundation.
When McCurry first became involved in giving at Armstrong, he was trying to find a way to honor Mamalakis for the impact he had on his life as a mentor and as a leader.
“And it just struck me one day while he was still alive to make the connection with leadership,” he said. “My wife, Kathy, and I made a gift to rename the emerging leadership program the Nick Mamalakis Emerging Leadership Program because I knew how much Armstrong, and especially leadership training for young people, meant to him.”
Mamalakis lived long enough to meet the first three classes of the program, and to speak to them about what it meant to have a mentor in his own life, and then hear McCurry tell them what it meant to have Mamalakis.
“Having a father figure like Nick Mamalakis really made a big difference to me,” said McCurry. “He would get on me when I was not doing what I was supposed to do, and kick me in the butt and remind me that there ain’t no Santa Claus for grownups. If you want to make it happen, it’s up to you to make it happen. But then, he also knew how to give me that hug and encouragement to achieve the best I could with the task that I had been given.” — Doy Cave