Recipient Biography

Tony A. Mobley


Tony A. Mobley (1938 - ) received the Pugsley Medal in 2006 for his outstanding leadership contributions to park and recreation education; to multiple professional organizations in the field; and as executive director of the National Recreation Foundation.  

Mobley's life began in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent helping on the family farm before "moving into town" with his family at the age of twelve. After attending the public schools in Harrodsburg, Mobley went to Georgetown College in 1956. Georgetown College was affiliated with the church and Mobley's aspiration was to be involved in church youth work. He studied physics and physical education in college. The interest in physical education stemmed from his involvement in basketball, baseball, and track in high school, while the interest in physics was stimulated by an outstanding professor he encountered in his freshman year. He graduated cum laude in 1960.

While in college, he worked as assistant physical activities director for the Lexington, Kentucky, YMCA from 1957-1960. The facility was 10 miles from Georgetown College and the half-time position helped pay his way through school.

While at Georgetown, Mobley took three or four recreation courses as part of the physical education curriculum and ascertained that this was what he wanted to focus on for a career. He recognized that he needed more background in the field.  Indiana University was recommended to him as a place to do a master's degree in the area so Mobley moved to Indiana and completed a master's degree in 1962 in recreation and park administration. Throughout this period, Mobley had retained a strong personal interest in church youth work. He was advised that to work in that area, he should complement his recreation and parks training with a degree in religious studies. This resulted in a decision to undertake a second master's degree in religious education at the Southern Seminary in Louisville. After marrying in 1961, he completed the two year program in 1963. During this period he was director of recreation for the Ridgecrest Assembly in Ridgecrest, North Carolina, in the summers of 1962 and 1963, and recreation assistant at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky from 1961-1963.

In 1963, Mobley returned to Indiana University where he completed a doctoral degree in 1965, majoring in recreation and park administration. His doctoral dissertation topic integrated his interests in recreation and church youth work. However, during the doctoral program, his interest turned more toward higher education. Therefore, after graduation, he became assistant professor of recreation and park administration at Western Illinois University in Macomb in 1965. When he arrived at Western Illinois, there were only two recreation courses and they were part of the physical education curriculum. There were aspirations to expand this, but the College of Education was not prepared to embrace degree courses which did not lead to teacher certification. Hence, as a beginning faculty member Mobley was centrally involved in both the launching of a new College of Health, P.E. and Recreation, and a new recreation and parks curriculum. As the only faculty member in recreation, he became de facto the head of department, serendipitously launching his career into administration.

He was promoted to associate professor in 1969 and served as chairperson of the department from 1968 to 1972. At Western, his leadership was instrumental in transforming the department's offerings from just two courses to a full curriculum including a master's degree, with 240 students and 10 faculty members. To better equip himself for senior leadership positions in education in 1970-71 Mobley was nominated by Western Illinois University to be a Fellow in the Academic Administration Internship Program of the American Council on Education. This program offered in-depth training in university administration and for the 1970-71 academic year, Mobley was assigned to the Office of the Chancellor and Provost at North Carolina State University.

In 1972, he departed Western to become chairperson of the Department of Recreation and Parks at The Pennsylvania State University. Promoted to full professor in 1975 at Penn State, Mobley oversaw a program with approximately 850 undergraduate and graduate students, and 26 full-time and 8 part-time faculty members.

Mobley returned to Indiana in 1976, where at the remarkably young age of 38, he was appointed Dean of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious schools of its kind. He remained in this position for 26 years until his retirement in 2002. During this period under his leadership the school more than doubled its enrollment from 1000 to 2000 students, increased its research productivity and visibility, and expanded its influence in virtually all areas of its instructional, scholarly, and public service missions. Fundraising initiatives resulted in the establishment of eight endowed chairs and professorships and the disbursement of more than $100,000 in student scholarships each year.  International exchange agreements were forged with 17 universities around the globe.

Mobley's leadership contributions extended far beyond the campus of Indiana University. At the relatively young age of 40, he became president of the National Recreation and Park Association in 1978-79. In 1974-75, he had been president of the Society of Park and Recreation Educators. He later became president of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration; Professional Councils and Societies of the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; and the North American Society of Health, Physical Education, Sport and Dance Professionals. He led the effort to establish a national accreditation program for academic park and recreation departments that was recognized by the Council on Post-Secondary Accreditation; and he was instrumental in the establishment of the National Institute for Fitness and Sport, located in Indianapolis.

The listing of Mobley's formal leadership positions does not adequately capture his influence on the field. Unlike most Pugsley Medal recipients, much of his contribution is not overt, manifest and obvious. Rather, it is subtle and unostentatious, emanating from his leadership in multiple spheres of the field. He has been an exemplary leader at local, state and national levels. His selfless, low-key, inconspicuous leadership style, means that much of his influence is likely to be overlooked by uninformed observers, but those who have occupied leadership positions and interacted with him are aware of his impact on the field. A long-time peer and colleague of Mobley's observed:

I don't believe there is a person any place on earth who is more respected among recreation and park professionals than Tony Mobley. I have always considered him to be a role model, but also always recognized that Tony has leadership traits that are beyond the potential of most of us.

Although Mobley rose to national prominence as dean at Indiana University and president of NRPA at a relatively early stage in his career, his influence has remained pervasive for more than three decades after he held those positions. During this period he has been a leading grandee and an unobtrusive "wise man" to whom other leaders have turned for sage advice and counsel. He has become a sort of senior statesman for the parks and recreation field. The President of Springfield College when speaking of Mobley observed, "There are many who have served, but few who have stayed the course for so long while serving with such distinction and class."


Early in his career, Mobley was greatly influenced by the writings of Warren Bennis who concluded after interviewing 90 effective leaders in business, the professions, religion and education: "Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things." Mobley interpreted this: "The difference may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment -- effectiveness -- versus activities of mastering routines -- efficiency." He realized that leadership was concerned with addressing an organization's basic purposes, its reasons for existing, its general direction, and its value system. Mobley stated: "It's about arousing a sense of excitement about the significance of the organization's contribution to society."

Mobley's leadership throughout his career stemmed from this credo. His vision and ability to be consistently innovative was noted by four of his peers:

"It is amazing to me that such an unassuming, non-dictatorial individual could come up with so many revolutionary ideas...Almost every year a new inventive measure is instituted without a great deal of fanfare."
"You bring energy, vision and a demeanor that facilitates people working together to find  a solution."
"You have a wonderful way of focusing on the things that matter and bringing clarity and consensus to contentious issues."
"The most outstanding 'idea' leader I have had the privilege of knowing and serving under. He uses a very low-key approach."

The effectiveness of his guiding credo is reinforced by his personality, value system, and commitment. His leadership is free of histrionics and high drama. The president of Indiana University observed, "the best leader makes people feel they did it themselves. Tony is that kind of leader." Discussions with others about his leadership invariably incorporate phrases and adjectives such as: caring, friendly, yet firm leadership; respect; vision; compassion; approachable demeanor; warmth; grace; good sense of humor; statesmanship; genuine interest and concern for colleagues. There's a generosity of spirit which commends him to all who interact with him:

"You never once seemed to tire of helping the next person, the next line of leaders."
"In Tony Mobley's mind all people are important, and his daily administrative style has reflected that attitude. His genuineness is what makes him special to all the people who work with him."

When he retired from full-time employment with Indiana University, Mobley moved into another leadership role as executive-director of the National Recreation Foundation. It has an endowment of over $44 million with a mission "to enhance the role of recreation as a positive force in promoting the mental, physical, social and spiritual health of the community at large." Within this framework, the foundation funds projects that address youth-at-risk and healthy lifestyles.

In recognition of his extensive international activities and effectiveness in facilitating international cooperation, upon his retirement in 2002 the Indiana University School of HPER renamed its International Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Mobley International Distinguished Alumni Award.

Mobley, T.A. (1986). Thoughts on management and leadership. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration 4(1), xiii-x.