Jim Odom honored with Chamber’s Citizen of the Year award at Annual Meeting
On Tuesday, Jim Odom of Decatur was presented the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce Miss Athelyne C. Banks Citizen of the Year award for his contributions and volunteerism to the community.
The award, presented each year at the Chamber’s Annual Meeting, is named after the longtime Decatur educator and honors those whose life reflects the dedication, service faithfulness to Decatur modeled in the example of Ms. Banks.
“Jim is a tremendous example of what servant leadership looks like for our community and the nation,” said John Seymour, president and CEO of the Chamber. “His passion for lifting up all corners of our area has left a generational impact on Decatur and Morgan County, and each day he’s looking for more opportunities to serve others.”
A native of McKenzie, Ala., a town with a population of a little more than 500, Odom graduated from McKenzie High and later received his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University. He moved to Decatur with his wife, June, in 1955.
“Jim always looks to serve in places where his gifts can be best utilized, and sometimes that’s in the front and sometimes that’s behind the scenes,” said Trudy Grisham, a past winner of the award and who nominated Odom. “But never once does he want recognition for his work. He simply does what needs to be done.”
In his professional life, Odom joined the Army Ballistic Missile Defense Agency at Redstone Arsenal in 1956. Three years later, in 1959, he transferred to what was to be established the following year as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. At the Marshall Center, Odom held various engineering and technical management positions. He was actively involved in the development of earth satellites and unmanned space probes prior to his assignment as chief of the Engineering and Test Operations Branch for the second stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle. In 1972, he was appointed of the External Tank Project in the Shuttle Projects Office, and in 1982 became deputy manager for production and logistics in the Shuttle Projects Office. In 1983, Odom was asked to take over the Hubble Space Telescope Project, which at the time was behind schedule and over budget. His task was to get the mission back on track, lead it through its final design, assembly and testing phases and have the telescope ready to launch in the fall of 1986. Delayed four years due to the January 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy, the Hubble Space Telescope was put in orbit in 1990 and called by NASA the "most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo's telescope."
For the two years following the Hubble success, Odom served as director of the Science and Engineering Directorate at the Marshall Center, leading a group of more than 2,500 people. Then, in 1988, he was relocated to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to develop and direct the $24 billion International Space Station (ISS) Freedom Program, which is the largest space station program in history. Odom retired from NASA in 1990 and was appointed and CEO of Huntsville engineering firm Applied Research Inc. In 1994, he began working as a consultant to Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), a position he still holds today.
Among his many awards and recognitions during his time in government service, twice Odom received the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive. The first time, in 1981, he was recognized for his technical and managerial accomplishments for the shuttle's external tank by President Ronald Reagan. In 1990, he was honor by President George H. W. Bush for the Hubble project's significant advances made under his leadership.
In his community life, Odom has a long history of service to committees and organization in Decatur and the State of Alabama. Jim is a Rotary Club of Decatur Paul Harris Fellow, a board member of the Decatur Cemetery Legacy Society, a chair of the Frazier Park fundraising committee, a Camp Bluebird and Power of Pink volunteer, past deacon at First Baptist Church of Decatur, a member of the Auburn University Engineering Council, and serves as a mentor for the Best and Brightest Initiative – an effort to recruit young professionals to Decatur and match them up with mentors in similar fields. In 2011, he was recognized by the Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation as the John A. Caddell honoree.
Jim and June Odom have been married 65 years and have two children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Their daughter, Melanie, lives in Decatur; their son, James B. Odom, Jr., and his wife and children live in Texas. Mrs. Odom was the 2017 recipient of the Miss Athelyne C. Banks Citizen of the Year award.
Ms. Banks – for whom the award is named – devoted 42 years of her life to education, serving 29 of them with Decatur City Schools. She was a public school teacher, the first woman principal at Carver Elementary School and a public school administrator. The award honors a member of our community whose life reflects the dedication, service faithfulness to Decatur modeled in the example of Miss Banks. Chamber members submitted nominations for the award, and applications were judged by a committee of past recipients.