Britt Performs In Clutch

March 20, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Wayman Britt had a remarkable year two years ago.

In 2004, he was not only elected to the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame but also to the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame. During the same year, the captain of the 1976 University of Michigan basketball team, which played in the NCAA title game, was also hired to fill one of only two KentCounty assistant administrative positions.

"I believe in seeking individuals on the basis of talent, and Wayman has demonstrated throughout his career that he can perform at a high level," said Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio after the county's selection committee chose Britt — in March, by the way — to join Delabbio and Mary Swanson in the administrative office.

Thirty years ago this month, the Wolverines fell to Indiana in the Division 1 title tilt by an 86-68 margin. Britt, who was named the school's defensive player-of-the-year and who earned the university's Fielding H. Yost Award for Academic and Athletic Excellence, recalled meeting one of his heroes at the end of the game's first half.

"One of the things that stands out is that Julius Erving, one of the guys I used to love to watch and imitate sometimes, was outside the locker room at the Spectrum where we played, and he just said, 'Hello, Wayman, how are you doing?' and I thought, 'Wow, that's really interesting,'" said Britt with a laugh. "I didn't know that these guys knew people by name, but I guess he knew Michigan."

Erving wasn't the only one who knew of Britt, as the Los Angeles Lakers also had heard of him and the NBA club drafted him following the title game. Britt also played a season with the Detroit Pistons, and he shared the hardwood with perhaps the league's best one-on-one player back then — Bob Lanier, who made his very large feet famous in a very popular beer commercial.

But Britt said playing pro basketball wasn't his biggest career break. Without a moment's hesitation, he said that mark of distinction belonged to getting his current post with the county.

"Leaving Steelcase after 25 years, this was definitely an opportunity I couldn't pass up, being that it fit me in terms of my wanting to help others. It is what I kind of did when I worked at Steelcase, serving on numerous boards and committees," he said.

Britt came to Steelcase as a manager trainee in 1978, but climbed up the office-furniture maker's corporate ladder fairly quickly. While he was there, he managed employee relations, then supervised portions of the manufacturing process, and then became a corporate quality performance management consultant for the North American operation.

But joining Steelcase wasn't what brought Britt to Grand Rapids; the banking industry did that. Well, actually, it was one noted banker named Chuck Stoddard who brought Britt here back when Stoddard was with Central Bank, before it became Michigan National Bank.

"He graciously hired me as a result of my connection with an agent I had working for me in Detroit — they knew the Stoddard family. It was a very low-level job; I came in as a teller. It wasn't any big-time managerial position," he said.

Britt now oversees the human services functions for the county, departments that include health, community housing, the relief fund for soldiers and sailors, and mental health. He also keeps an eye on the county's Performance Management Program and interacts regularly with the sheriff's department and the Area Agency on Aging, both of which have millage renewals coming up. The corrections vote will be in three years, while the senior millage will be on the August ballot.

"It's just great. It fits very well. I like the quality of the individuals that I work with at the county, and I love what I do," he said.

Britt was born in North Carolina, Smithfield to be exact, and then moved to Flint in 1969 when his dad took a job with Buick. Britt graduated from Flint's NorthernHigh School three years later after he helped the Vikings capture back-to-back state Class A basketball titles in 1971 and 1972. At the University of Michigan, he earned a dual-major degree in sports management and communications.

Today Britt lives in Ada with his wife, Dinah. Together they have seven children, who range in age from 20 to 35.

"She is a great person who helps others," he said of Dinah. "She loves to travel and we try to get away two or three times a year."

This may come as a surprise, but swinging a golf club — not shooting a basketball — is what Britt likes to do best in his spare time.

"I also keep active. I work out at the Y, and have a gym at home. I try to keep myself fit that way. And I'm quite involved with my church," said Britt of the ResurrectionFellowshipChurch in Grand Rapids

In fact, Britt has been active in the community since he arrived here in 1976, having sat on boards for such noble operations as the Kent County Family Independence Agency, the Grand Rapids Job Corps Community Relations Council, the local American Red Cross chapter and others. But when he accepted the senior management position at the county, Britt had to remove himself from those organizations to avoid a potential conflict of interest. 

"The only one that I'm actually involved with at this point is the Gerald R. Ford Boy Scouts Council, serving on their executive committee and board of directors," he said.

The Boy Scouts program is special to Britt. He was both a Cub Scout and Boy Scout while growing up in Smithfield

"I think that is where it all began for me in wanting to become a leader. It was part of it, as I also had my mother, father, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and teachers. I really had a great experience in grade school in North Carolina. It wasn't a Catholic school, but it was run on a lot of the principles of Catholic theology," he said.

"It had a great impact on my development."

As for his immediate future, Britt said he wants to meet the goals set by the county so it can continue to be a triple-A rated organization. Those include making sure the upcoming millages are properly communicated to the voters, supporting the agencies under his watch, and backing Delabbio and county commissioners in their efforts.

"Those are basically my goals," he said. "I just want to continue to do an outstanding job for the county in my role."    

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