Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Astronaut Mark Kelly to Speak at CSU’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum

Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum 2013COLUMBUS, Ga. – Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle D. “Gabby” Giffords and her husband, former space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, will headline Columbus State University’s eighth annual Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, hosted by CSU’s Leadership Institute, on Aug. 26-27, at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

The forum will open at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 27 with remarks from Columbus State President Tim Mescon and Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Caglel prior to dinner. There also will be the presentation of the Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business.

Kelly, a retired U.S. Navy captain, will deliver the keynote speech at 8 p.m. He is also a best-selling author, prostate cancer survivor and an experienced naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War, winning the Legion of Merit, two Defense Superior Service Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Selected as an astronaut in 1996, Kelly flew the first of his four missions in 2001 aboard Endeavour, the same space shuttle he commanded on its final flight in May 2011. He has also commanded space shuttle Discovery and is one of only two individuals who have visited the International Space Station four times. (NASA recently donated a nozzle used on Endeavour and Discovery for display at CSU’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center.)

Giffords, a Democrat, began serving Arizona’s 8th Congressional District in 2006 and was re-elected twice, in 2008 and 2010. She was seriously injured a week into her third term, on Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire at a Tucson shopping center where Giffords was meeting with constituents. Six people were killed and 13 injured. Giffords sustained a gunshot wound to the head among her injuries yet, in less than seven months, she returned to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Giffords resigned her seat in January 2012 to focus on her recovery.

Following Kelly’s remarks, he and Giffords will have a brief question and answer session. Kelly will sign books at the close of the event.

“The fact that they can talk about not only surviving, but thriving, in the new normal is inspiring,” said Ed Helton executive director of Columbus State University’s Leadership Institute and Client Relations. “Their lives changed dramatically, and we are living in a time of dramatic change. Theirs is a story we all need to hear.

“And that (Kelly) is going to share his story with 800 Muscogee County School District children the next day (during a talk with third-graders about Kelly’s book, Mousetronaut, at 9 a.m. Tuesday at CSU’s University Hall) speaks to who he is, and the kind of people we want to bring in.”

A full slate of national business and thought leaders are on tap for the forum’s second day:

  • Seth Godin, an author widely considered one of the world’s leading experts on online marketing.
  • Tom Mullins, founding pastor of one of the nation’s largest churches, the non-denominational Christ Fellowship, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
  • David Novak, chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, Inc., which operates or licenses Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and other restaurants worldwide.
  • John Stankey, group president and chief strategy officer of AT&T Inc.
  • Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co.
  • Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning.

“Being able to hear from some of the best CEOs in the world in Mulally and Novak, and from one of the world’s cutting-edge thinkers in Seth Godin, I think they are getting their money’s worth,” Helton said.

Registration for the full conference is $429. Tickets for tables of eight are $3,400. Registration closes Friday, August 23. For more information and to register, visit