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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Three who made their mark

In the span of less than a week, we learned that Ruth Birge was retiring as executive director of the United Way, Paul Morse was leaving as general manager of G.E. Lighting Systems and Hillary Hart had accepted a new theater job in Minneapolis.


Birge, Morse and Hart are three very different people in very different professions and yet they had much in common when it came to what they achieved and how they achieved it.
Birge arrived in Hendersonville in 2002 when she became publisher of the Times-News yet she's the kind of person everyone feels they've known forever. A natural people person with a quick and deep understanding of the town, Birge scarcely missed a beat when she retired as the newspaper publisher. She has led the United Way since 2010, bringing indefatigable enthusiasm, room-filling laugh and heartfelt compassion to the job.
She demolished the sense of dread corporations feel when do-gooders come knocking on the door for money. Birge's way with people, her simple but powerful way of articulating the need and her genuine good spirit made her a welcome visitor at many a corporate meeting room and small business office.
A native of New England, Morse worked as a general manager and sales leader at the G.E. plant here. Around many a kitchen table in Henderson County he is known as the man who saved jobs.
Morse first worked as manager at the East Flat Rock from 1986 to 1993 and returned in 2000. He left an indelible mark leading a plant turnaround that resulted in job callbacks and a stable future for several hundred Henderson County families. As general manager and sales leader for the newly formed G.E. Lighting Solutions business since 2010, Morse was responsible for growing sales, increasing productivity and reducing order delivery times. What he says about retirement says a lot about him. He looks forward to having more time for family, community and church work.
Hart, who arrived at the Playhouse's darkest hour, is another white hat who rode to the rescue.
The first fulltime general manager in the theater's 62-year history, Hart instituted a more business-oriented culture, enforced a disciplined budgeting process and paved the way for a stable financial future. She has accepted a job at the nationally known Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Minnesota will be richer for having her and we will be poorer in the short run. But part of her legacy is that the theater she poured her heart into is better off because she passed this way.
As we say, Birge, Morse and Hart are different types with different assets. But fundamentally, their engines run the same way. They don't shrink from a challenge. They find a way to get it done. They put the greater good ahead of their own ego.
That's what makes the community what it is, of course, but it always seems as if we're blessed with more extraordinary leaders than the average small town in America.