Starkville — When longtime Mississippi Congressman Sonny Montgomery approached “Doc” Foglesong four years ago and suggested that he apply for the job of Mississippi State University president, Foglesong was in a dilemma.
He and his wife, Mary, loved Mississippi — their younger son was born in Columbus — and they were ready to settle down after logging many miles as a military family. But Foglesong had just been made a four-star general, and the U.S. Air Force required him to remain in that grade for two or three years.
“Besides, there was a war going on and I was pretty well committed to that,” he said.
When Charles Lee announced he was leaving the top Bulldog spot, the timing worked well for Foglesong to become Mississippi State’s 18th president.
“When this opportunity came up again, I felt like I was honoring Sonny Montgomery’s request, and it gave us an opportunity to come back to culture and character we like,” he said.
An only child, Foglesong was born to “Red,” a railroad steam fitter and plumber, and Rowena, a schoolteacher. “I spent many afternoons with my father learning about mechanical things,” he said. “If I have a good work ethic, I blame him. We have a 1,000-acre family ranch in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana that requires constant maintenance, and whether a problem calls for plumbing, electrical or carpentry skills, I can usually take care of it, thanks to him. My mother had a big influence on my academic development.”
After living the first 18 years of his life in southern West Virginia near the Kentucky border, Foglesong moved to the northern end of the state, where he earned undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees from West Virginia University, studying chemical engineering. While there, he was president of Tau Beta Pi, a national engineering honorary, and a member of Mountain, the men’s (now co-ed) ranking honorary on campus.
Before his first fighter assignment with the Air Force, a pilot buddy found out he had a Ph.D., and gave him the technical call sign “Doc.”
“I scratched through Doc and wrote in Bob, but after four or five days in a row of doing that, I gave up,” he said, with a laugh. “It was better than being called Goose.”
Foglesong graduated from the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington in 1989. By the time he retired as a four-star general in February after 33 years of public service, he had logged more than 4,400 flying hours, primarily in fighter and training assignments. His staff tours included duty as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C.
Most recently in the Air Force, Foglesong was responsible for policy recommendations and implementation of policies governing personnel, operations, infrastructure, and intra/intergovernmental affairs for an organization of 358,000 uniformed members and 158,000 civilian employees. He was also responsible for planning/programming for future strategies involving a $90-billion annual budget, which is equal to the position of COO for the ninth-listed Fortune 500 company.
In previous jobs, Foglesong had CEO responsibilities for field units with annual budgets up to $3 billion, a position equivalent to number 110 on the Fortune 500 list. These organizations represented up to 87,000 geographically dispersed personnel and dependents. Most organizations involved mission-oriented operations and included responsibilities for housing, medical services, personnel force development, equal opportunity employment programs, training, education and other services for skilled technical and line employees.
In the last decade, Foglesong, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, spent substantial time as a national security advisor at cabinet and presidential levels, traveling extensively with senior government members and directly engaging with high-level military of foreign governments, and witness education and personnel development programs around the globe.
During his multi-faceted career, Foglesong also found time to teach school at National War College, Montana State University and West Virginia University.
“Professionally, my greatest challenge is to be careful not to write so many checks I can’t cash them,” he said. “I have an inquisitive nature, and I want to get involved in many things, but I have to be careful not to overextend myself with my own professional curiosity.”
He is president and executive director of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, a nonprofit association operating to identify the next generation of leaders in Appalachia and mentor and support them financially relative to academic, leadership and character excellence.
The Foglesongs have two sons, David, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, who is married to Laura, a major, and has two sons and a baby on the way, and Mark, a cameraman/photographer for WMAR-TV in Baltimore, Md.
When he’s not working practically round the clock — his maximum is 30 days without a day off — Foglesong runs for relaxation. He’s finished six Boston Marathons, and posted his best-ever time of 3:02 in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
“That’s not a great time marathon-wise, but I’m not competitive in running them and never will be,” he said. “Running marathons is a refresher course for me. Without physical and mental discipline, you can’t finish the race.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.