Dr. David Bronner has marked his place in Alabama political and governmental history. He has headed the Retirement Systems of Alabama Pension Funds for 45 years. When Bronner took the job, the Retirement Systems had about $500 million of funds. Today it has about $40 billion in investments, making it the 50th largest public pension fund in the world.

Alabama public employees will swear by, stand up for and place on a golden pedestal Bronner. They credit him with securing their retirement years with a solid foundation. Indeed, he has. The Alabama Public Employee and Teacher Retirement Systems are financially sound and the envy of many other states.

Bronner was born in Iowa and received his elementary and high school education in Minnesota. He came to Alabama to study law. He earned his law degree and a doctorate from the University of Alabama in 1972. Shortly after graduation, he became assistant dean of its law school. Two years later, at age 29, he became head of the Alabama Retirement Systems.

Today, 46 years later, Bronner is a youthful looking 74 with plenty of vigor and probably no plans to retire. He loves golf and good cigars. When you have a conversation with him, it is an experience you will never forget. He is extremely vivacious and quick-witted. There is no mistaking that you are talking with someone very intelligent. He has digested your words almost before they are out of your mouth and will reply immediately with a succinct response that appears as though he has given it 15 minutes of thought. Of course, that may be because we native Alabamians talk a little slower than he does.

The Retirement System of Alabama has contributed a great deal to the state’s economy over the last 45 years. The systems manages pensions for 358,000 public teachers and public employees. At the end of 2018, Dr. Bronner and RSA had $43.8 billion under management.

However, the greatest legacy that Dr. Bronner may enjoy is his creation of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. This idea generated a profit for RSA in the first years. The brilliance of the trail is not only the profit it generates for the RSA, but the peripheral boost to our state’s economy.

The trail has enhanced the image of Alabama. It has also benefitted the state’s attractiveness for corporate recruitment. The economic benefits and prestige that it brings to our state are exponential.

The courses have made Alabama a tourist destination. It brings well-heeled Northern golfers to our state for weeklong stays during which they spend untold amounts of money in our hotels and restaurants. Snowbird golf enthusiasts are locked out of their home state courses six to seven months of the year. They journey to the warm climes of the Heart of Dixie to play its world-class courses. They might look at the adjoining hole and see Bronner playing, chomping on his ever-present cigar.

The trail’s first seven sites were constructed in Dothan, Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Opelika-Auburn and Greenville. They were completed from 1990 to 1994. The Prattville site opened and the Lakewood Club courses in Point Clear joined the trail in 1999. The premier Hoover site at Ross Bridge appeared in 2005.

RSA resort hotels were developed in affiliation with six of the trail’s complexes. The Grand Hotel is adjacent to the Lakewood Club in Point Clear. The RSA Battle House Renaissance Hotel and Riverview are near Magnolia Grove in Mobile. The Marriott at Capitol Hill in Prattville, and the Montgomery Renaissance serve Capitol Hill in Prattville. The Shoals Marriott in Florence serves the Shoals complex in Sheffield. The Marriott Resort at Grand National in Opelika serves the Opelika-Auburn course.

The crown jewel may very well be the Ross Bridge course and Ross Bridge Renaissance Resort Hotel and Spa. This Hoover location attracts national conventions and has spawned one of the premier residential neighborhoods in the state. Ross Bridge is home to a good many of the young physicians and medical specialists from UAB.

Dr. Mark Fagan has authored a wonderful book about the trail, Bronner and the RSA. It is titled “Alabama’s Public Pension Fund Growth and Economic Expansions since 1972.”

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Steve Flowers’ weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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