The North Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday, June 20, approved a resolution honoring the life and memory of the late David O. Belcher in recognition of his transformative leadership as chancellor at Western Carolina University since taking the position July 2011.
N.C. Reps. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon) and Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) introduced the resolution, which was unanimously approved by the House, with the Senate concurring.
“This was a sad occurrence, the passing of Chancellor Belcher, for Western Carolina University and all of North Carolina and the Southeast United States. He was a great chancellor for the university, advocate for education and leader to the community that he served,” said Clampitt.
“David Belcher was not only a great chancellor, he was a great human being. I’m proud to call David my friend and enjoyed, many times, ball games and events with him, and just enjoyed his friendship,” said Corbin, asking his fellow House members to vote in favor the resolution.
Not only did they support it, but several legislators rose in a bipartisan show of support for the resolution, noting Belchers’ impact not just on the university where he served, but on the entire University of North Carolina System and to higher education in general.
“David Belcher was just an extraordinary man and educator. I used to joke with him that I wish we could clone him so we could have more than one David Belcher as a chancellor in our UNC System,” said Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke). “My sympathies go out to the family, but quite honestly, my sympathies go out to Western and to the state of North Carolina, because we have lost a man who has contributed much, but had a lot more that he could have. I think he can serve as a role model for other chancellors and education leaders in the state.”
Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe) shared his remembrance of meeting Belcher when the pianist-turned-chancellor first arrived at WCU; Turner was working at UNC Asheville at the time.
“I remember seeing the energy he brought into the room and the way that everyone just lit up when he came into the room. He brought that energy and that transformative power to everything that he did,” Turner said. “I think the best way that I could sum up his tenure as chancellor and my relationship with him is that he had that perfect mix of creativity and precision and detail that you find in a classically trained musician. He played wonderful music not just on the piano, but at the university as well.”
Rep. John Fraley (R-Iredell) reminded his fellow legislators that Belcher’s impact reached far beyond the boundaries of the campus he led.
“As one who has attended most all of the Board of Governors meetings and other meetings of the university system over the last few years, I would be remiss not to also say what a force he was within the entire university community, with the Board of Governors and all the other chancellors,” Fraley said. “His enthusiasm, his insight into education, his insight into the business of running a university, his insight into the students and his insight of just great common sense is something that ought to be admired by all.”
Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg), with two children who attended WCU, including a son who overcame personal challenges to graduate and become a success, shared the perspective of a parent whose child benefitted from the environment Belcher fostered.
“This thing about David Belcher that I most admire was his commitment to the students, his enthusiasm, his willingness to get down on the field with them, so to speak, and the way he cared for them,” Brawley said. “They have created a university that wrapped the students with a blanket of protection, if you will. They weren’t interested in seeing you fail and weeding you out. They were interested in what did it take for you to succeed, and I watched my son bloom and continue to make the dean’s list.”
Rep. Michele Presnell (R- Yancey) described Belcher’s tenacity in his work with the General Assembly, most recently as he successfully advocated for state funds to replace WCU’s ancient steam plant, which provides heat and hot water to most of campus. Legislators included the first of two planned $16.5 million installments for the $33 million project in the budget bill approved earlier this month.
“Chancellor Belcher was a very wonderful man…a wonderfully common kind of a man that you could talk to on any issue that you had, but when he fought for Western Carolina, he fought with everything he had,” Presnell said. “He finally got the first installment on the steam plant, and I know he’ll be happy, and I commend this resolution to you.”