CULLOWHEE – Two Asheville residents with extensive records of public service were awarded honorary doctorates and a National Football League referee received a major alumni award as Western Carolina University held spring commencement exercises Saturday, May 10.
Honorary doctorates of humane letters were bestowed upon Adelaide Daniels Key and Stephen W. Woody, former members of Western’s board of trustees. The Alumni Award for Academic and Professional Achievement was presented to Gerald D. Austin, an Asheville native and current resident of Greensboro who has officiated at three Super Bowls.
Key, a humanitarian, philanthropist and business woman, has lived most of her life in Western North Carolina, making Asheville her home since 1987. A former owner of The Mountaineer Publishing Co. Inc. of Waynesville, she provided funding in 1996 for Western to establish the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professorship in Special Education, the first endowed professorship in the institution’s history.
“Adelaide Daniels Key, your contributions of time and money to assist numerous causes involving health, education and the arts are legendary,” Bardo said, reading from the degree citation.
“You have encouraged others to follow your philosophy that every gift given to help one’s fellow human beings is significant—no matter how big or how small the gift. From a firm foundation of courage and hope, you have chosen to live your life with compassion and a fierce desire to help others. Today we come forward to honor the heart from which this wellspring of good deeds arises,” he said.
Key, a Western trustee for eight years, told the audience at WCU’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center that she was fortunate to learn “trusteeship” from Woody.
“I know you graduates are proud to receive your degrees today, and your parents are also proud,” she said. “Western is an especially wonderful university, and I am equally proud.”
Woody was born in Atlanta, Ga., but is a descendant of early settlers of Cataloochee Valley, and considers Waynesville his hometown. Since 1989, he has served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for Mills Manufacturing Corp. of Asheville, and also has been a leader for many civic and charitable causes in the region.
Reading from the degree citation, Bardo told Woody his 16-year tenure as a Western trustee “was representative of the best style of that role: deeply committed to the responsibility of the position; willing to give your time, wisdom, and energy; and especially watchful for the interests of the university’s students and the involvement of its faculty.
“Now, as a former member of the board of trustees, you continue to enrich the lives of this university’s students as an honored speaker and role model for good citizenship and as an outspoken advocate for this institution’s academic and service programs,” Bardo said.
Woody told the crowd Western “has played an important part in my life, and has given me experiences that shaped who I am.
“There are no words to tell you how proud I am of this university, and how grateful I am to have had an opportunity to serve as a trustee,” he said.
Austin, winner of the Alumni Award for Academic and Professional Achievement, has carved out careers in the areas of school administration and leadership development, and on NFL playing fields. He began his educational career as a teacher in Buncombe County schools and was associate superintendent of Guilford County schools from 1986 to 1993. Since then, he has been head of The Austin Group Inc., a leadership development company. He also has worked for 21 years as an NFL official and has been assigned to postseason games each of those years, including the 1990, 1997 and 2001 Super Bowls.
“The best team at Western Carolina University is sitting right here in front of me,” he said. “You will always be the 2003 team.”
In his charge to the graduates, Bardo said, “The story of your life will be change, and many of the things that will fundamentally change your lives haven’t even been invented today.
“As you begin the next phase of life’s journey, I hope you will remember your roots,” he said. “Those of us who remain in Cullowhee will still care about you, and we will follow your achievements with pride. Keep in touch. Make a difference. Be proud you’re a Catamount.”