TIFTON — Dr. David Bridges announced Tuesday that he plans to retire from his position as president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.
“I have some other things in my life that I want to do,” said Bridges, the longest-serving president in the history of ABAC. “I believe it is the right time. The institution is on solid footing for the future.”
Bridges plans to retire from the position Dec. 31 but he is willing to stay until the end of the spring semester, if that is the desire of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, college officials said in a statement.
“As the longest-serving president among our 26 institutions and ever in the history of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, President David Bridges for the past 16 years has been a leading voice for rural Georgia and its students,” USG Acting Chancellor Teresa MacCartney said. “An ABAC graduate himself, he skillfully guided the college through the addition of bachelor’s degrees, consolidation with the former Bainbridge State College and record growth in enrollment.
“Before that, he spent two decades as a faculty member and administrator at the University of Georgia. The son of a farmer and a teacher, he never strayed far from his roots. The University System of Georgia is better for it and we’re incredibly grateful for his service to our students and state.”
A native of Parrott, Bridges is the only ABAC president to have once been an ABAC student, receiving his ABAC associate degree in 1978 before completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Auburn University and his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University.
Prior to becoming the 10th president in the history of ABAC on July 1, 2006, Bridges was the assistant dean of the Tifton campus of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He joined the UGA faculty in 1987 as an assistant professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.
Bridges, who turned 63 this summer, will retire as one of the most accomplished presidents in the 113-year history of ABAC, college officials said. After offering only associate degrees for 75 years, the college began offering bachelor’s degrees under Bridges’ leadership in 2008.
ABAC offers 12 different bachelor’s degrees with an enrollment that reaches toward 4,000 students from 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties, 52 of Florida’s 67 counties, 19 countries and 18 states.
“My goal was to transform ABAC from a two-year college into a senior college of excellence,” Bridges said. “I believe we have done that. ABAC is the leading producer of undergraduates who work and lead Georgia’s number one industry, agriculture. In my opinion, ABAC also has the largest and best nursing program in South Georgia.”
Bridges cited the introduction of bachelor’s degrees as his greatest accomplishment at ABAC. He said several of the degree programs required extraordinary work and patience.
“Many people doubted whether ABAC could ever offer a bachelor’s degree in forestry or agricultural education,” Bridges said. “It did take a long time but we did it.”
Bridges also masterminded an "incredible project to rehabilitate the entire front of campus, which culminated with the renovation of ABAC’s three original buildings, Tift Hall, Lewis Hall and Herring Hall in 2012," college officials said.
Bridges paved the way for the implementation of the Freedom Gallery in Tift Hall, a room which honors Medal of Honor recipient and ABAC alumnus Harold Bascom Durham Jr. and all other veterans.
In 2020, ABAC added Edwards Hall to the front of the campus, "a sparkling, multi-purpose facility, which provides a home for the ABAC music and fine arts program," including gigantic practice facilities for the ABAC Concert Band and Concert Choir, college officials said.
Through Bridges’ work with the ABAC Foundation, the college offers more than $800,000 in scholarships for students, the largest amount of scholarship funds in the history of ABAC. The Foundation’s net assets have doubled during Bridges’ tenure.
In 2010, Bridges navigated the addition of the Georgia Museum of Agriculture to the ABAC campus. Formerly known as the Georgia Agrirama, the facility is still open to the public and ABAC students guide thousands of school children annually through the Museum in the Destination Ag program.
In 2017 and 2018, Bridges concentrated his efforts on the consolidation of the former Bainbridge State College into ABAC. At its fall and spring commencements, ABAC conducts three ceremonies, two for ABAC students in Tifton and another for students in Bainbridge. These are two special days that Bridges said he treasures each year.
“Graduation days are the days I will miss the most,” Bridges said. “Seeing those students walk across that stage in Tifton and Bainbridge are always my favorite days at ABAC. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve my alma mater. It has been the greatest of times for me.”