The UNCG Alumni Association is pleased to share biographies of Alumni Distinguished Service Award recipients.
Mary-Owens Bell Fitzgerald is a leader who has been involved with The Women’s Center in Raleigh; Hospice Board of Wake County; Scratch Investment Club, a group of women who meet monthly to learn how to take care of money; The Women’s Network, a group of women who give a five-year commitment to pledge a certain amount of their personal money to be granted to groups they deem most worthy; and Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. She also served as vice-president of the Alumni Association and served on the Excellence Foundation at UNCG.
She also spearheaded the fundraising efforts of the Class of 1955 to raise $500,000 for merit scholarships. The scholarship currently has a balance of $700,000. A former staff member who worked with Fitzgerald during the class gift project said she learned much from Fitzgerald. “She truly taught me that education does not end at graduation, that the most honorable and rewarding position I could hold was motherhood, and that all women have the ability to make a difference for their family, in their community, and across the globe. She reminded me that asking tough questions and demanding high standards does lead to the best outcome.”
Patricia Gibson Garrett has spent 20 years serving as president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, a private, nonprofit housing development and finance corporation organized to expand affordable and well-maintained housing within stable neighborhoods for low and moderate income families. "In the early days of the organization they were often not afraid to take on challenges and try things in a dramatically different way than had ever been tried before because they believed they could do it and nobody ever told them they couldn't," wrote Jim Simpson, chair of the organization's board of directors. That included marching right into Genesis Park, then considered the heroin capital of the Carolinas, and buying up drug houses and rehabbing them for eager new homebuyers. It worked. Crime was reduced by 77 percent. The efforts of The Housing Partnership have been recognized by ABC World News Tonight, the National Institute for Justice, New York Times Magazine and NeighborWorks America, among others. In the time she has served as president, the Housing Partnership has created more than 2,000 affordable homes and provided homeownership and foreclosure prevention education to almost 13,000 families.
Susan Whittington has spent years in service to UNCG, her community and to her church. A past president of the UNCG Alumni Association, she led the board through a time of conflict with university administration. "Susan steered us through those rough waters with a great sense of calm, patience, understanding and determination," wrote Emily Herring Wilson '61 in a letter of nomination. "She made alumni feel as if we had a voice, and I believe the administration respected her." Whittington also served multiple terms on the University Investment Fund Committee, which oversees the university endowment. In addition to contributing to countless campaigns, she recently paid the entire cost of a UNCG undergraduate education for a Wilkes County student who would not otherwise have been able to attend college.
In addition to her service to UNCG, she has also given her time as a member of the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees, starting on the board in 1994 and serving as board chair from 1999 to 2007. She also served on the executive board for the NC Association of Community College Trustees. She has been president of the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Board of the Wilkes Art Gallery, chair of the Northwest North Carolina Forum (a nine-county alliance to improve transportation in the region) and chair of the Board of the Rainbow Center for Children and Families (a crisis intervention program). She has worked to eliminate poverty by working with and helping develop Circles of Care. She is also known as an avid horsewoman, raising and showing horses at local, state and national equestrian events. In 2010, Whittington completed the multi-year, multi-step work to become a deacon in the Episcopal cChurch. She now serves as deacon at St. Mary of the Hills, Blowing Rock.
Ann Phillips McCracken has given a great deal of her life to education. After graduation from WC, she spent several years teaching in Durham County Schools before earning her master's degree and becoming an English instructor at Central Community College.
In her community, McCracken is a member of the League of Women Voters of Moore County, a member of the Delta Rho Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a member of a local race relations group called One for One, a volunteer with Bread Basket in Sanford and an elder in the First Presbyterian Church.
Additionally, McCracken has served UNCG as a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1990-94 and as president in 1991. In 1992, she was a member of the Centennial Planning Executive Board and she served on the Excellence Foundation Board of Directors from 1992-94. In addition, she was a member of the Alumni House Steering Committee from 2004-07 and has supported the Spartan Club, UNCG Libraries and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is currently a member of the Excellence Foundation Board of Visitors.
Louise “Coffee” Maxwell Worth, former director of UNCG's Presbyterian Campus Ministry, has led an extraordinary life that has spanned two continents. After graduating from Woman’s College (WC), she put her degree to work as a teacher in North Carolina and at Korean mission schools, setting up Korea's first Montessori preschool. She and her husband, George, lived in Korea as educational missionaries for more than 20 years. She still teaches English as a Second Language to immigrants at Jubilee Partners in Atlanta, walking the half a mile to school at the age of 90.
Worth has also been active in peace and justice issues. She has been an advocate for racial equality all her life as well as an advocate for good housing for low income people.
Cowan, a textile consultant, has a relationship of more than 40 years with Woman’s College and UNCG. She has spent the last four decades working as a student, a faculty member, a dedicated alumna and a community supporter. She was president of the Alumni Association, headed fundraising efforts for the Alumni House and has served on boards and committees to strengthen alumni connections and advance the curriculum.
She is active in Girl Scouting. She founded and ran a program for volunteers at Price Traditional School in Greensboro and served as PTA president there. She has been a math tutor for at-risk students at Kiser Middle School and a volunteer mentor with the organization Communities in Schools.
A published poet, Buckner taught literature and writing at Peace College for 28 years before her retirement in 1998. “Never one to seek the limelight or to jockey for power,” wrote one nominator, “Sally has worked on, year after year, as a teacher, writer and community advocate for various humane causes.”
A Statesville native, Buckner earned her PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill. She taught at every level, from kindergarten through graduate school. “Exceptional teachers don’t teach their student to do things one way, but they inspire students toward their own creativity,” wrote one nominator, and Buckner did just that. She also published fiction and poetry in a number of journals and anthologies, including “Voices from Home,” “Crucible” and “Out of Line,” and authored a poetry collection, “Strawberry Harvest.” Buckner also edited two anthologies, “Our Words, Our Ways” and “Words and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry.”
About Buckner and her longtime connection to and involvement with WC/UNCG, nominators wrote, “Sally has lived the promise of this institution and exemplifies its highest values. Is there any greater service than this?” We certainly believe not.
A writer and singer who holds a master’s in vocal performance from Georgia State University, Williams has spent a decade on the board of the Atlanta Symphony. One nominator wrote that “Sue Williams is still learning, still sharing her extraordinary gifts for language and music, still doing everything she can to make Atlanta a culturally rich community.”
A Charlotte native, Williams majored in English at UNCG and taught History and English in middle school and high school. In 2004, she endowed one of the largest faculty awards at UNCG, The Friedlaender. The award – named for Williams’ former English professor, the late Dr. Marc Friedlaender – goes to an assistant or associate English professor for research and pre-publication expenses.
“Woman’s College/UNCG gave the world a gift when it educated Sue Williams,” wrote a nominator, “Sue Williams responded by giving those gifts to the world.” And for that, we are proud to honor her as a 2008 Alumni Distinguished Service Award winner.
Dr. Campbell has been a central member of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill for over thirty years. Her key assignment is the measurement component of the Abecedarian Project, one of the longest running longitudinal studies in the world. The Abecedarian Project stresses early intervention for infants and toddlers at risk for school failure. As a member of a Team of Scientists, Dr. Campbell has published numerous study results throughout professional literature. Frances was a member of the White House Conference on Early Literacy and a part of the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood. She is an active member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill and serves as the Church Secretary. In addition, Dr. Campbell has supported UNCG over the years by being a member of the Alumni Association, by attending her 35th, 40th, 45th and 50th Class Reunions and as a contributor to the Alumni Scholars Endowment.
Dr. Jay A. Mancini is Professor, Department of Human Development, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Dr. Mancini recently received the appointment of Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment. His current interests are in building and intensifying civic engagement and community support systems that strengthen families who are experiencing stressful circumstances. Dr. Mancini has over 90 publications in referred professional periodicals and book chapters. He has received funding for 30 grants, amounting to over $6M. In addition to his research, Dr. Mancini has consistently earned excellent evaluations from his students over the last 30 years. He has received numerous awards such as the UNCG School of Human Environmental Science’s coveted School Distinguished Alumni Award, the National Technology Curriculum Award from from NAE 4-H, the Virginia Association on Aging Outstanding Educator Award, an Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award from Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Group Honor Award for Excellence. Dr. Mancini is a Fellow of the National Council on Family Relations.
Beam Wells was nominated by two classmates from the Class of 1949, Jan Shore and Nancy Campbell. In their nomination statement, they noted “Beam has been closely associated with and devoted to WC/UNCG since she was 6 years old, when she moved into Mary Foust Hall with her mother, who was the house counselor there."
Beam received her Bachelor of Arts degree in History from WC and continued her education following graduation and received a Master of Arts degree in History from UNC Chapel Hill. She also received a Master of Arts degree in Teaching from Fairleigh-Dickenson University.
Beam’s service to the UNCG community is long and extensive, and she has been described as one of the institution’s strongest supporters. She served on the UNCG Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1994 to 1997. While on the Board she was involved with the Alumni Scholars program. She is a Life Member of the Alumni Association, a member of the Harriet Elliott Society, and a member of the UNCG Legislative Network. She is an advocate for UNCG not only through this network, but in her contacts with all she knows. In recent months, she also made a personal commitment to the UNCG Alumni House Campaign, a project close to her heart since, as a child, she watched the Alumni House being built. Beam was also very active in the Class of 1949 Reunion Gift Committee, which ultimately exceeded its $500,000 goal to establish a professorship.
On a professional note, Beam’s career was spent as a teacher. Former professional colleagues describe the respect and admiration they have for Beam. As a teacher, Beam “immediately established herself with the students and parents as a capable, compassionate, caring teacher who stretched the students’ intellect with a high set of standards and expectations.”
From 1968 to 1971, as a result of a family move, Beam found herself teaching on the remote island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, where she taught Social Studies at the high school level. As one nominator wrote, “Her service to the Kwajalein school system, the Kwajalein community, and the neighboring Micronesian Islands was unselfish and challenging.” While there, logistics required her teaching to be innovative. Teaching resources were limited, so Beam used the natural resources of the area to motivate and inspire her students. Her sense of humor and her teaching style captivated her students. The faculty of the Kwajalein High School elected Beam to be their representative on the Kwajalein School Board. During her time in the Marshall Islands, Beam also worked tirelessly with others to expand the cooperation between Americans on Kwajalein and the native population on nearby Ebeye Island. By educating the natives on Ebeye is areas of personal health, improved hygiene and sources of educational aid, Beam made great strides to improve the living standards of the natives while still respecting their culture and beliefs.
Beyond what she has done publicly, her classmates say Beam’s unique service is what she has done in quiet, behind-the-scenes ways. They describe her as a “leader who has had a strong commitment to service throughout her life.”
Rita Pickler was first nominated for the Distinguished Service Award in 1998 by Dr. Eloise R. Lewis, former dean of the UNCG School of Nursing. In her nomination statement, Dr. Lewis said “Rita Pickler represents the dream I have for our graduates – to practice and to teach and to search for answers to improve the quality of care of those served.”
Rita graduated Magna Cum Laude from UNCG in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and went on to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing in 1981, also from UNCG. She received a Ph.D. in Nursing in 1990 from the University of Virginia. Dr. Pickler is currently an associate professor of nursing at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Dr. Pickler’s professional interest lies in the area of maternal and child health, and in particular with preterm infants. She has conducted research on bottle feeding, stress mastery in mothers of preterm infants and developmental care of preterm infants. She has published numerous articles related to improving outcomes in preterm infants and has given presentations at many national and international conferences. As Dr. Lewis described, “Through creative nursing, inspirational teaching and distinguished clinical research, her work is recognized in both national and international arenas. As a productive, effective writer and speaker, she uses opportunities to share her keen and challenging approach to help other nurses provide safe and excellent care for preterm infants.”
She has received numerous awards and recognition for her contributions to the nursing field, including the 1993 Doris B. Yingling Research Award from the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, the 1992 Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Scholar Award from the American Nurses Foundation, and the 1990 and 1992 First Foto Awards for Research Presentations. Dr Pickler also received the 1998 UNCG School of Nursing Distinguished Alumni Award.
While part of her professional career has been spent in the classroom and the laboratory, Dr. Pickler has also devoted time and energy to working to provide healthcare to a number of underserved populations. On a local level in Richmond, she has provided clinical services to vulnerable children at both a free clinic and a shelter for abused women. In both agencies, Dr. Pickler has worked with children to promote their health and with their parents to promote effective parenting under situations of extreme social and financial adversity.
As Dr. Nancy Langston, Dean of the School of Nursing at VCU, noted, “Though these community service projects are laudable, the work that raises Dr. Pickler above most others is her work with the children in Haiti.” Since 1995, Dr. Pickler has worked with Haiti Outreach Ministries, helping to establish a clinic in Cite Soliel, a city of over 400,000 people with no permanent health care facility. Her work there involves recruiting and training staff, securing equipment and supplies, supervising clinic activities (including clinics staffed by VCU School of Nursing students), collecting health screening data and preparing reports. In developing this clinic, Dr. Pickler’s vision was that the role of the clinic be one that not only responds to and treats illness, but also one that advocates health care and prevention. The project involves not only local community members and leaders, but members of the VCU community as well. She has created “the consummate service project by integrating and focusing on both research and education in a way that betters a segment of humankind.”
Dr. Pickler is a Life Member of the UNCG Alumni Association and has been active with a number of UNCG School of Nursing programs.