K. Ray Bailey, president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and McDaniel “Dan” Robinson, a WCU athlete, coach, teacher and advocate for education and conservation, received honorary doctorates as WCU held fall commencement exercises Saturday, Dec. 16.
Bailey is recognized across the state as one of Western North Carolina’s most distinguished educators and public servants. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Middle Tennessee State University in 1963 and a master’s degree in educational administration and psychology at WCU in 1970. He began serving as president of A-B Tech in 1990.
Bailey is regarded as the most effective and outstanding president in the 58-member North Carolina community college system, Chancellor John W. Bardo said, reading from the citation for the honorary doctorate of education. Under his guidance, A-B Tech secured from BASF the donation of nearly 37 acres and three buildings with 277,000 square feet of space, the largest donation of property ever made to any community college in the country.
Bardo said Bailey is dedicated to the concept of service above self and cited his leadership positions in more than 30 local regional community service organizations.
He praised Bailey as “the consummate people person, a masterful communicator, a man with few equals in the desire to give of himself, a person with an incredible energy, and an approachable person who believes in giving everyone the personal touch.”
In his acceptance speech, Bailey spoke about the mission that A-B Tech and Western share.
“Together, we have done great work in providing our students opportunities to further their education. Together, we provide a trained workforce for this region we are fortunate to call home,” Bailey said. “I am humbled by this honor, not for the personal recognition it brings, but because it continues to strengthen the ties between A-B Tech and Western Carolina University, ties that can only serve to strengthen the economic development of Western North Carolina,” Bailey said.
Bardo then presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters to Robinson, who used his drive and leadership skills to benefit Western as a football player, coach and faculty member, and later through his support of higher education as a county and state political leader and national congressional aide.
Robinson, who grew up in McDowell County, came to Cullowhee in 1946 as a student and first donned the Purple and Gold colors that he would later bestow on other student-athletes in ensuing years, Bardo said, reading from the citation for the honorary doctorate.
Robinson earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Western and then his master’s degree in administration from George Peabody College for Teachers. He returned to serve as the Catamounts’ head football coach from 1956 to 1968.
“You took your coaching knowledge to the classroom, and, as a professor in health and physical education, taught thousands of Western students until your retirement from the university in 1986,” Bardo said. “Many of those players and students have brought honor to Western with their own successful head coaching careers.”
Bardo also commended Robinson’s record of public service. Robinson has been an advocate for wise use, conservation and management of the state’s wildlife resources through participation on state committees and commissions, as well as Western North Carolina Tomorrow. Robinson also served as chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Jackson County manager and state senator.
“During two terms in the North Carolina Senate, you were a steadfast supporter of education, particularly for the needs of public higher education,” said Bardo, who described a day Robinson helped boost the amount of money earmarked for Western by $60 million in just 15 minutes. “Unquestionably, you were the driving force in keeping Western Carolina University’s needs in the forefront of consideration for the 2000 higher education bond referendum. Your effort is evidenced in the new and renovated facilities serving students on this campus today, and in projects under way that will serve this university for years to come.”
Robinson said he hoped that WCU’s graduating students would have opportunities to become involved with public service, and he shared happy memories about his time at Western, including a football victory against Appalachian State University on a bitterly cold November night in Boone.
“My days as a student here at Western have been a real to joy to me all my life,” Robinson said.
The fall commencement ceremony on Saturday honored approximately 500 candidates for undergraduate and graduate degrees at Western Carolina University. A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.