Susan Belcher recognized for her advocacy work with Trustees’ Award

Susan Belcher (center) receives the Trustees’ Award from Board of Trustees Chair Patricia Kaemmerling (left) and Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar.

The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees presented one of the university’s highest honors to Susan Brummell Belcher in recognition of her ongoing contributions as an ambassador for WCU during the seven years her husband served as chancellor, her support unwavering even after his passing last June.

With the bestowing of the honor upon her during the board’s quarterly meeting Friday, Dec. 7, Belcher became just the 14th person in WCU history selected to receive the Trustees’ Award. The Trustees’ Award is presented only on rare occasions in recognition of exemplary service to the university, said Patricia B. Kaemmerling board chair, in making the presentation.

“Susan Brummell Belcher has proven to be a passionate advocate for Western Carolina University and a true friend of the university, helping to enhance relationships between the university and the community and region it serves,” said Kaemmerling. “She has been the university’s most vocal cheerleader, and she continues to advocate strongly for WCU.”

Kaemmerling harkened back to the time Belcher’s relationship with WCU began, when her husband, David O. Belcher, was approved by the University of North Carolina Board of Governors as WCU’s next leader.

“Upon Dr. Belcher’s appointment as chancellor in 2011, he informed the WCU campus community that it was getting a true dynamic duo. He described his wife as ‘a full partner in a leadership team,’ and credited her with being responsible for ‘grounding, challenging and supporting’ him. ‘Cullowhee, you are going to love her. I want you to know that,’ he declared. ‘That’s not a directive. That’s just clairvoyance,’” Kaemmerling said. “Dr. Belcher was correct. We, indeed, have loved her. And we still do.”

During her time as WCU’s first lady, Belcher had an impact that ranged from transforming the Chancellor’s Residence into a “warm and welcoming environment” to joining her husband as “the Catamounts’ most vocal cheerleaders at WCU sporting events,” Kaemmerling said. She has “built bridges between the university and the towns of Sylva, Cashiers, Highlands and Dillsboro and with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.”

She also supported the arts by sharing her talents as a professionally trained opera vocalist – who just so happened to be married to a professionally trained pianist – and by sharing her time as a volunteer for WCU’s Friends of the Arts organization, Kaemmerling said.

In October 2017, a few weeks before Chancellor Belcher’s brain cancer that was initially diagnosed in spring 2016 forced him to announce his plans to step down from his position at that year’s end, she joined him to announce their personal pledge of $1.23 million, in the form of cash donations and an estate gift, toward the university’s “Lead the Way” campaign in support of scholarship assistance for deserving WCU students.

And, when his brain cancer progressed to the point where it became difficult for him to speak publicly, she took to the podium on numerous occasions to share his words, including at his final WCU commencement ceremony in December 2017, Kaemmerling said.

Dabbing tears from her eyes, an emotional Belcher thanked the board for the unexpected award. “I love you all and I love this university so very much. It has been an honor to have been able to work with this university, which does so much good in the world,” she said.

Belcher said that her husband, during his final days, repeatedly asked her this question: “What are you going to do?” She told him in reply: “I will do my best to carry your work forward. I will try to continue to help people have the opportunity for a great education and a better life.”

Belcher also said that she would protect their personal pledge and estate gift, which will provide scholarship assistance for future WCU students.

Past recipients of the Trustees’ Award are Wallace Hyde, E.J. Whitmire, Barbara B. Coulter, Ruth C. Shuler, Burton B. Fox, Judy H. Dowell, Rich Kucharski, George “Chuck” Wooten, Clifton B. Metcalf, Dianne C. Lynch, Tom Apodaca, Mary Ann Lochner and Terry Welch.