By Dani Moritz-Long
Born on a military base in Georgia, Vice President of Public Affairs and Marketing Jay Galbraith moved to Florida when his dad accepted a role with a then-little-known, young company called Red Lobster. He grew up on the west side of Orlando and aspired to become a professional golfer, opting to accept a golf scholarship at Indian River State College to join their golf program when Valencia terminated theirs.
“After my first college tournament, I realized very quickly that I better find a different way to make a living,” he said, laughing. “I just wasn’t good enough.”
Fortunately, while his self-described sub-par golf game was disappointing at the time, his experiences laid the foundation for the life of service he lives and loves today. In lobbying for the continuation of the program — when collegiate golf programs across the country were facing cuts — Jay became involved with student government, consequently discovering a talent for advocacy and politics.
A Passion for Democracy
While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in communications at Florida State University (where he also met his wife, Carrie), he found ample opportunity to engage in political service. Jay chaired the College’s Young Republications organization and even worked for a local member of congress prior to graduation. It was a far cry from his initial ambition to golf alongside the likes of athletes like today’s Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson, but Jay knew it was the right path for him.
“Politics, government service and democracy were always discussed in my home,” he said. “Some of my earliest memories of my parents were their involvement in some campaigns in Georgia and here in Florida. It was the fabric of our family, but I never dreamed I would do it for a living. It was one of those right place at the right time things. God put it in my lap, and I never looked back.”
After graduation, Jay and his wife moved to the Tampa Bay area — where he served for five years as a special project director for U.S. Representative Michael Bilirakis. While Jay no longer works directly in congress, he’s always remained active in the political arena and, in most of his roles, he’s continued to focus on government affairs. But, despite a long tenure in government, you won’t find Jay griping about the woes of U.S. government. You’ll find the quite opposite, actually, as Jay is a self-described romantic who never lost his sense of awe of American democracy.
“I’ve been going to Washington, Tallahassee and other state capitals for 30 years, and I’m still in awe of it,” Jay said.
Having traveled to other countries and adopting one of his four children from China, he continued, “Freedom here is very different from many other countries, and it’s easy to take it for granted. We are fortunate in this country … We can disagree on the battlefield of ideas, and there’s something special about that.”
Through political engagement, Jay said, we can also take part in a grand experiment — which is a concept that continues to drive his personal engagement. Democracy itself, he explained, is really only 400 or 500 years in the making. “It’s still a pretty new and unique experiment that we get to be a part of.”
The Journey to Valencia
After starting their careers and the arrival of their first child, Jay and Carrie knew they needed to start a new chapter.
“It was time [to transition],” Jay explained. “When you work in that environment, you’re in a little bit of a bubble. So, it was time to spread my wings and learn.”
Jay served as the vice president of development at the Pinellas Education Foundation before moving to the mountains of North Carolina — a place he and his wife had come to love through their many vacations in the area — to serve as the associate vice president of development at Lees-McRae College.
“Education is something I’m passionate about,” Jay said about his initial work in higher education. “It’s something I love. I think education is the great equalizer.”
Unfortunately, while Jay acclimated to mountain life and relentless snow just fine, his third-generation Floridian wife did not.
“She started looking like Jack Nicholson in The Shining,” he said. “We needed to move back [to Florida].”
Back in Orlando, Jay served as the executive director of government affairs for SeaWorld’s research arm, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and then as the vice president of state and domestic affairs for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. Concurrently, Jay served on the Valencia Foundation board of directors. Familiar with the College and passionate about its mission, he was eager to join Valencia in a full-time capacity.
“Valencia has such a unique culture,” he said, “and there are few opportunities in a career where you can come work in this student-centered culture.”
The Best Job in Florida
Here at Valencia, Jay says he has the best job in Florida — maybe even the nation. He works alongside Valencia’s team of talented professionals in community affairs, public relations and marketing, represents the College’s interests in government affairs and, most importantly, shares Valencia’s stories.
“What I am amazed about the team I work with is their passion for the College and how it translates to their work,” he said.”The people on our team are amazingly passionate about our students, our faculty, our mission and the quality of work they produce because of that — because they feel so invested in it — it’s awesome. You never have to explain to them that something is important.”
Jay also enjoys the opportunity to meet with legislators and connect with them about Valencia and share the stories of our students’ triumphs and successes. Furthermore, he’s passionate about connecting students and employees to the governance work accomplished through Valencia. “We have a great story to tell with a significant impact,” he said. And we all play a part.
College President Sandy Shugart is especially proud of the role Jay plays. “Jay is a rare bird, Dr Shugart said. “He’s a gifted advocate and lobbyist with a deep character and sense of servant-hood. He fits Valencia to a tee.”
But, while Jay’s career at the College is an important pillar in his life, it isn’t everything. Family also features prominently in the proud husband and father’s daily schedule, which — when he arrives at home after work — quickly transitions from thoughts about branding and upcoming legislation to make-up, school work and sports teams.
Just don’t let his professional working dad status fool you. Jay says achieving work-life balance has been anything but easy and has taken years to master. So, he says, “give yourself some grace.”
“Work life balance is something you have to work at every day,” he explained. “It’s like a marriage. My wife and I have been married 25 years, and we’re often asked, what’s the secret? Well, there’s no secret. It’s 100 percent from both of us. So, you just have to work at it. Certainly, I didn’t get to this wonderful work-life balance because I started there. We had to learn it.”
Proud to work at an institution where work-life balance is valued, as evidenced by Valencia’s 2017 Great Colleges to Work For designation and Honor Roll status for work-life balance, Jay does actively encourage his team to prioritize their families. “I try to model it and then work to make sure they feel empowered to do that,” he said.
He knows it isn’t easy, but leaving time for things like family and faith are what life’s all about, he says. “I think back to the old adage. When I get to a point where I have a meeting or something with the family, I will ask the old question: ‘in 20 years what will I remember or regret?'”
Looking to the Future
As Jay plans ahead, he eagerly awaits many more years of service to the College as Valencia continues its long-held tradition of breaking barriers and creating opportunities for students of all walks of life.
Personally, he’s laser-focused on an important role given to him by his wife.
“She wants me to work to help make Central Florida the best place to live because she has a goal as a mom,” he said. “She has four kids, and she wants her four kids to live here, no matter what their careers are going to be, and raise her grand-babies here. So, that’s my job.”
Fortunately for Jay, his work at Valencia creating brighter tomorrows for thousands of students is the perfect place to start.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.