Monday, October 7, 2019

Six to Receive 2019 North Carolina Award, State’s Highest Honor

Oct 7, 2019

The state’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award, will be presented to six distinguished North Carolinians Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Raleigh Convention Center. Governor Roy Cooper will present the award at a 7 p.m. banquet and ceremony. The award was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science.

The 2019 honorees are Rev. Dr. William Joseph Barber II of Goldsboro for Public Service, W. Earl Britt of Raleigh for Public Service, Philip Gerard of Wilmington for Literature, Deborah S. Proctor of Wake Forest for Public Service, Lawrence J. Wheeler of Chapel Hill for Fine Arts and Catherine M. Wilfert, M.D. of Chapel Hill for Science. 

“It is an honor to pay tribute to these outstanding individuals who have made North Carolina better by their extraordinary involvement in this state,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Each of them has enriched the lives of North Carolinians through their lasting achievements in the arts and public service.”

Public Service: Rev. Dr. William Joseph Barber II
The Reverend Dr. William Barber is a pastor and social justice advocate who has built a broad-based, national grassroots movement that seeks to confront and address systemic racism, poverty, environmental devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism in America. As president of the NC NAACP, Dr. Barber led efforts to develop a new 21st Century voter registration/voter participation system that registered more than 442,000 new voters and provided access to 1.5 million voters nationwide. Through his work with the NAACP, he built a coalition of NAACP chapters, social justice organizations and other advocacy groups around the state to form Historic Thousands on Jones Street, with the goal of influencing legislative policies on key issues such as health care, voting rights and immigration. In 2017, Dr. Barber stepped down from the NC NAACP presidency to lead the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, uniting a movement begun in North Carolina with activists across the country. 

Public Service: W. Earl Britt
W. Earl Britt has been a Senior Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina since 1997, having been nominated to a seat on the court in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. Instrumental in establishing HOPE (Helping Offenders Pursue Excellence), a program for the rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders, he is known not just as a skilled and dedicated jurist, but for his compassion and mercy on the bench. As part of his judicial duties, Judge Britt enthusiastically presides over the Naturalization Ceremony at the International Festival of Raleigh and at naturalization ceremonies held elsewhere in his district, introducing hundreds of new citizens each year to their life as Americans. Judge Britt continues to work diligently as an advocate for a fair and compassionate judicial system.    

Literature: Philip Gerard
Award-winning author Philip Gerard is perhaps best known for his work Cape Fear Rising, a novel about the Wilmington Coup of 1898. He is the author of 13 books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina.  He has also written 11 documentary television scripts, numerous radio essays, several magazine series, and an award-winning radio drama. Gerard played a significant role in developing the Creative Writing program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington shortly after joining the university’s English Department in 1989 and has seen the program grow to become a thriving department. An avid musician, Gerard plays guitar, dobro, pedal steel guitar and banjo, and often incorporates bluegrass, folk and original music into his readings. His work, both fiction and nonfiction, shines a light on North Carolina’s history, environment and culture. 

Public Service:  Deborah S. Proctor
In the early 1970s, Deborah Proctor and four classmates at N.C. State University built a 12,500-watt transmitter by hand and connected it to a makeshift studio in a house five miles from campus – and WCPE, the Triangle’s classical music station, was born. Today WCPE reaches audiences throughout North Carolina, across the country and around the world via satellite and online streaming. In addition to earning numerous awards for its programming, WCPE and Deborah Proctor, its general manager, have received recognition for their commitment to public service. Proctor’s advocacy on behalf of local and independent broadcasting has been a hallmark of her leadership at the station. During her tenure, she successfully sued the FCC for the right to transmit WCPE on FM at full power, equalizing the rules between public and commercial radio. She has worked throughout her career to promote and help small, independent and public broadcasters remain viable in the era of online broadcasting. Her tireless efforts have introduced countless North Carolinians to the joy of classical music and leveled the playing field for public radio stations nationwide. 

Fine Arts:  Lawrence J. Wheeler
As the longest-serving director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, Lawrence Wheeler led the museum to new heights, shaping it into one of the leading art museums in the country and a welcoming community space for a growing city and state. He passionately worked to expand the museum’s collection, including securing a gift of 30 Auguste Rodin sculptures from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in 2009, making the NCMA the largest repository of Rodin’s work in the American South. His commitment to collecting lead African American and international artists of our time strengthened the diversity of the museum’s modern collection. Under Wheeler’s leadership, an ambitious expansion in 2010 resulted in a spacious, light-filled structure, surrounded by sculpture gardens and reflecting pools, presenting works drawn from the NCMA’s outstanding permanent collection. Wheeler also oversaw the innovative redesign and transformation of the Museum Park, which is among the largest museum parks in the world. Thanks to his vision and leadership, North Carolinians of all walks of life have access to one of the most renowned art museums in the country.

Science:  Catherine M. Wilfert, M.D.
Well over a million people around the world owe their lives to Dr. Catherine Wilfert’s pioneering work in the prevention and treatment of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Wilfert saw her first case of pediatric AIDS at Duke University. Recognizing the rapidly increasing number of infants and children who were infected with the virus, she established the university’s first pediatric infectious disease clinic. The remainder of her career was spent researching and treating the deadly disease, leading the team that treated the first child with the drug AZT and helping to create the North Carolina Children’s AIDS Network to provide care and access to research studies. Her groundbreaking research in preventing maternal transmission of HIV led to a two-thirds reduction in the transmission of the disease from mother to child through pregnancy in the United States. Further work has dropped the transmission rate to less than one percent. After retiring from Duke, Dr. Wilfert was named scientific director of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation and took the research worldwide, leading international efforts to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV in the developing world. 

The North Carolina Award program is funded by sponsors that include Wells Fargo, Bob Barker Company, Martin Marietta, Joseph M. Bryan Jr., Thomas S. Kenan III, CBC/WRAL Community Fund of Triangle Community Foundation, Dr. William L. Roper, Advance Auto Parts, Immuno Reagents, Eugene L. Roberts Jr., and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Ticket sales provide additional support for the event. Tickets may be purchased online at 

For additional information about the awards ceremony, contact Jennifer Fontes at or (919) 814-6756. The North Carolina Award program is administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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