Lately, I have had the good fortune to spend time with Gary Bertsch on his turf — his back yard, which is a becoming garden of greenery and blooms, befitting his lifestyle, his work, his seasoned view of the world and a life well lived.
He has a free-standing cottage in the back of his home which serves as his office and study. There is a wood burning fireplace which gives off the warmth of inspiration. Books abound along with a few personal items, but it is not a showcase of his considerable accomplishments. Gary Bertsch is a man who did some good for the world as a college professor, and he is still at it.
While he is retired, he is by no means idle. This is a family man with a gentlemanly demeanor — almost courtly — a reminder that courtesy and good manners can enhance communication, diplomacy and negotiation.
Gary is an Idaho country boy who refused to stay down on the farm in Meridian, which is 11 miles from Boise, the capital city. The closest playmate for him was more than a mile away, which meant that he had to entertain himself in solitude much of the time, but he has no regrets, appreciating his “wonderful childhood in the sticks.” Shooting baskets when his chores were done was his introduction to the importance of time management.
A basketball goal on a gravel driveway was pounded relentlessly as he developed passionate affection for sports and the outdoors. A family that “made do” on a modest 80 acres provided one of the most meaningful influences in his life — a deep and abiding appreciation for the work ethic.
Enrolling at Idaho State at Pocatello to study political science, Gary was a key performer for the football team, a 6 foot, 2 inch, 195-pound end who excelled on defense in the Bengals’ full house backfield formation. Passes were mostly thrown in practice. However, a full football scholarship underwrote his undergraduate degree.
From Idaho State, he moved on to the University of Oregon where he earned masters and PhD degrees. He arrived in Athens for his first teaching assignment at Georgia in 1969.
Before getting underway at Georgia, he spent time as a Fulbright scholar in the former Yugoslavia to conduct research on the “conflict between nationalism and community.”
Likely there are many Georgia alumni who, unfortunately, do not know about him and his life’s work. That is the way of our world, which is nothing new. It has been going on historically. Those who deserve credit often are not credit seekers.
Bertsch founded UGA’s Center for International Trade and Security. CITS is recognized worldwide and has generated more than $50 million in external funding for research and controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He and his team became advisors to 60 countries, which brought about an association with Senator Sam Nunn, with whom he worked on programs to inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons. Later, he formed TradeSecure to promote international business and national security, peace and prosperity. He turned the consultancy over to former students in 2018.
During his exalted career, Dr. Bertsch traveled internationally, working with renowned leaders to make the world a safer and better place, spending considerable time in China and Russia. He hosted former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in Athens and Atlanta. For years he served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing and was elected a life member of the New York based Council on Foreign Relations in 1990.
That he brought widespread tribute to UGA is one of the institution’s inestimable points of pride. He utilized his persuasive abilities and modest bent to win the confidence and support of projects and programs that made the world better. When he retired from UGA, he chose to segue from the international arena to his local community. He has the most encouraging of mottoes: “Better communities, better world.”
One who has always accentuated the positive, he believes UGA, Athens, the U.S. and the world are positioned for “greatness” in the 21st century. “I have come to think,” he says, “that acting locally is the best way to influence the national and global.”
With a heady international exposure, Bertsch, nonetheless, never lost his love of teaching and his appreciation for the classroom. His former students are always reaching out to him, much to his delight. Mentoring students, for him, has been a delightful addiction.
A recent email letter from Cecilia Renee Turner, “the child of a single mother who came from Yonkers, N.Y., to UGA to grow,” put him in the best of moods. She informed him that she has graduate school opportunities from several schools including Johns Hopkins and Tufts.
Investing in students and community will bring about extraordinary dividends. As Bertsch says, we must take such plans nationally and internationally. Plain old country boy, down-on-the-farm logic.