Chris Raiford, vice president of commercial lending for the Claxton Bank’s Richmond Hill office, was recently named one of Georgia Trend Magazine’s “40 under 40.”
As anyone in the business community in Georgia will tell you, that’s a pretty big deal.
A University of Georgia graduate with advanced business degrees from St. Leo and Walden universities, Raiford said he’s totally invested when it comes to Richmond Hill and Bryan County.
It shows up in how he spends his time away from the job. Raiford is not only president of the Richmond Hill Exchange Club, but also serves on the city’s planning and zoning commission, volunteers as a youth baseball coach and is a longtime ambassador for the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce.
Raiford has also got an inspiring outlook on life that didn’t come easy. Read on.
Q: First, what’s it like to be one of Georgia Trend’s 40 under 40? How did you celebrate?
A: I was actually on vacation when I received the call that I was selected. I was blown away and it was really humbling. I have read the magazine for years, and I have known about the “40 under 40” for a while, so to be a part of this means a great deal to me. I feel honored.
Q: How long have you called Richmond Hill home?
A: I have been in Richmond Hill since 2008. I grew up in Atlanta, with both parents in law enforcement, and then went to school in Athens. I was the first in my family to go to college and shortly after completing my undergraduate degree, I relocated to Richmond Hill because of a job opportunity.
Q: What is it about Richmond Hill that in your view makes it such a great place to live?
A: At first, my wife and I chose Richmond Hill for the school systems. I imagine that is a common reason for a great number of people. However, as I began to get more involved I fell in love with our community. We have an old school way about us in Richmond Hill and I connected with the sense of community that we have. As you know, I enjoy coaching in the Little League baseball seasons, and I enjoy volunteering with the Exchange Club. When you see so many people who care and who give back, it’s easy to relate to everyone. I feel like we have a sense of pride in our community that we try to take care of one another. As we continue to grow in population and in popularity, I sincerely hope we don’t lose our sense of self.
Q: In the Georgia Trend writeup about your selection, you said your father instilled in you the importance of giving back. Can you elaborate on that? Apart from the Exchange Club, what other good causes are you involved in?
A: This is a wonderful question, and the answer will be emotional. I lost my father on Dec. 28 of last year to cardiac arrest. I was fortunate because my father was my best friend. In his obituary, I mentioned he was an analog man living in a digital world. That pretty much sums up my father. His father also policed, so imagine being raised in law enforcement 60 years ago and then continuing that path for himself. The sense of community service was incredibly high for him. He always talked about it how much better this world would be if everyone took a little time to help each other. “Protect and Serve.” He never wanted to forget the “serve” part of that. I can remember little league games when I was a kid that he would have to leave to go help others, I can’t tell you how many tires he’s changed on the side of roads, and he would always be working/volunteering for less fortunate children. One of his favorite sayings that I use with my children all the time is “If better is possible, good is never enough.” I hated that statement as a child. Imagine bringing home straight A report cards all the time and hearing that. It wasn’t until I became older that I realized what he was doing. He was creating that self-driven desire to always be better. I have it to this day. I literally judge my days on how better/worse of a man I am today than I was the previous. That’s exactly where I get the passion for my own sense of community service. I try to embody that in my actions for my kids also. We stay involved in our small church family; I try to serve with little league because it’s a great change to mentor children. Sports were very influential in my life as a child, so I enjoy passing that along to my boys. Also, I enjoy serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission. We are growing at a rapid pace, so I want to try and help protect our community through P& Z. I respect and appreciate my peers on the board, and we try our best to make informed decisions to best serve Richmond Hill.
Q: How do you like to unwind?
A: I would say that I am probably similar to most guys in the South. I enjoy hunting and fishing. I am a huge Braves fan and I obviously love UGA sports. I enjoy spending time with my wife and children and feel blessed to have some wonderful people in my life. I have always felt like sum total of those you surround yourself with can be an accurate barometer of how you are living. In this case, I am blessed because I have some great men and women that I am lucky enough to call me “friend.”
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I want to share a story because it’s powerful, but I think it also gives you a sense of my daily approach to life. On Aug. 8 of last year I was dying. I went into congestive heart failure and without the great work of a world class cardio thoracic surgeon named Dr. Papoy, I would have died on that table. After a 10-hour surgery that reconstructed the heart, I spent six days on life support in a coma. My body had a terrible time trying to come off life support and after three failed attempts, by the grace of God, I woke up. This was also during the height of COVID, so I spent the next 14 days in isolation. That being said, my body got better, and I eventually recovered. I have had three heart procedures done over the last year and half. I don’t have the words to describe how much I admire and appreciate the cardio team at St. Joes/Candler. They genuinely saved my life. I was already a spiritual and happy guy prior to this, but I cannot express how appreciate and thankful I am for each and every day. I would never wish my experience on anyone because there were some incredibly dark days in there, but I wish everyone had my outlook now. I cherish every moment. I am literally the guy who stops and watches the trees blowing in the wind, and I’m the guy who stops to absorb a beautiful sunset. I think we all get caught up in our day-to-day routines, but how much differently would you live if you knew next Friday was it. If you know it was about to be all over, would you act differently. I think we all would. I got a second chance, and while I have spent my entire life pushing myself to do better and to accomplish things at the highest level, I have also learned to take some of the blessings more serious. I have learned to hold my children more and kiss my wife more. I tell my friends what they mean to me more and cherish each day. I know that is long winded, but it gives scope to the 40 under 40 and can you imagine how great it feels to experience this through the lens I am living. I am just genuinely thankful and grateful and I want to always help others try to feel blessed as well. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who helped my family while I was sick and when I learned how many people in Richmond Hill came out to check on me, I literally cried my eyes out. At the end of the day, we really are the sum total of the memories and impact we make on others. By seeing those who came to my aid, I feel blessed to be the man I am and I feel blessed to be a part of this community.