By KATIE CLARK
ATLANTA — On the day of the big event, it is difficult to track down Jean Bird.
The mobile radio is calling her name every few minutes informing her that one of the sponsor’s tent’s generators is missing or a volunteer is asking her where the six tables on a golf cart are supposed to go.
Bird runs from one point of the race track to another multiple times throughout the event in order to serve everyone’s needs.
From managing the exact time that the sky divers jump from planes flying over the race track, to taking a moment to hug her daughter between selling raffle tickets, Jean Bird is an impressive career woman who makes the Atlanta Steeplechase run like a well-oiled machine every year.
Jean Bird has been the executive director of the Atlanta Steeplechase for the past 17 years. Over the years, Bird has discovered the significance of networking and has used that to successfully execute the Atlanta Steeplechase every April.
While juggling all of the demands that go along with planning an annual event that caters to more than 19,000 guests, Bird is a proud wife and mother of three and has found a way to make it all work.
“It’s a lot of work putting this event on every year and making sure it goes as well as possible,” Bird says. “But I love it, and that next Monday morning after the event, I’m back in the office trying to see what all I can fix to make it even better for next year.”
What is the Atlanta Steeplechase?
The Atlanta Steeplechase is Georgia’s biggest horse-racing event taking place on the second Saturday of every April. The race benefits Bert’s Big Adventure, an organization that takes chronically and/or terminally ill children and their families to Walt Disney World every year.
Over the last 50 years, the Atlanta Steeplechase has since grown into an all-day, family event.
Entertainment and activities at the event include Budweiser Clydesdales prancing along the track, bagpipers, a parade of hounds, the annual ladies’ hat contest, picnicking, pony rides, zip lines and so much more.
All of this is coordinated by Bird.
Jean Bird’s Early Years
Bird was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. From her youth, she had a passion for sports and played sports year round through high school. Even today, Bird plays tennis and attends her three children’s various sporting events.
While attending the University of North Carolina, Bird was an active member and held leadership positions in her sorority, Chi Omega. During that time, Bird discovered she had a knack for event planning and networking.
One year after graduating, Bird was hired as an event planner for sports leagues. This dream job would be the “practice field” where she perfected skills she would use at the Atlanta Steeplechase.
The Beginning of Her Reign as Executive Director
When Bird was hired at Atlanta Steeplechase, she was overjoyed to be in a sports-related career again.
As the only employee at the time, she was in charge of all the logistics and operations for the event, maintaining the relationships with members of the board, making all sponsorship sales and developing a marketing plan.
Today, Bird’s staff has has doubled, consisting of Marketing and Sales Director Ellen Gibson and Operations Manager Lynn Dunn. Bird now oversees a committee of 10 chairmen, who have separate committees that accomplish specific aspects of the event and mainly focus on managing the event as a whole.
“My own position of being the operations manager has me stressed out just by itself, but Jean [Bird] still does the majority of the heavy lifting around here,” Lynn Dunn says. “There are a million different things going on, and she knows how to handle all of them.”
The Best Part
Bird has accomplished professional and personal achievements while serving as the executive director over the past 17 years. However, Bird considers her favorite aspect of the Atlanta Steeplechase to be the people.
She values those relationships and friendships that have developed through networking and years of working closely with people who care about the Atlanta Steeplechase and its mission.
“When you see the Bert’s Big Adventure kids who are so happy and having a great time and knowing that you’ve helped to give them and their families a little bit of happiness and a great day, that’s rewarding,” Bird says.
Bird feels lucky to be working in a job that encompasses her love of sports and the gathering of people.
This year’s race day went smoothly and effortlessly, and that’s the sign of a master machinist.