North Carolina Awards

North Carolina Award Medal

Established by the General Assembly in 1961, the North Carolina Award is the highest civilian honor given by the state. Presented annually since 1964, the award recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine art, literature, public service and science. Though given by the governor, the award is administerd by our agency.

The 2015 North Carolina Award Winners

This year's six North Carolina Award recipients are Anthony S. Abbott of Davidson for Literature; Dr. Anthony Atala of Winston-Salem for Science; Senator James T. Broyhill of Winston-Salem for Public Service; Dr. A. Everette James, Jr,, of Chapel Hill for Fine Arts; Howard N. Lee of Chapel Hill for Public Service; and Patricia McBride of Charlotte for Fine Arts. 

Literature: Anthony S. Abbott

For over fifty years Tony Abbott, often reciting poems from memory, has held forth in two classrooms, as Professor of English at Davidson College and as Sunday School teacher at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, and has engaged students, communities and individuals in his passion for writing. In seven volumes of poetry and two novels, he has plumbed the issues that bring meaning to life. Abbott is well known for his irrepressible passion for the written word, his eye for the telling detail and his dedication to the community of writers in the Tar Heel State. A scholar of George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats, Abbott underwent a transformation after the unexpected death of his young daughter. Poetry gave him an outlet to grieve and begin to heal which resulted in his best known poem and the title of his first book of verse, The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Among the beneficiaries of his transformed life were Davidson College and, more especially, Davidson’s students. Abbott advocated for a creative writing focus for English majors, a first for the college, and inspired students and the public in captivating workshops. Abbott’s latest work, published in 2014, is The Angel Dialogues, a suite of poems centered upon a cynical poet and an iconoclastic angel that showcases his ability to take on very deep and emotional subjects, expressed in words that everyone can understand.

Science: Dr. Anthony Atala

Dr. Anthony Atala is said to be on the vanguard of 21st century medicine. He is director of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine and has made human tissue in the lab. His groundbreaking work in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have earned him many honors, to which he humbly says his team is responding to the scarcity of human donor organs. Lives have been changed and improved as a result of his research. In 2004 he moved to Winston-Salem to found the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine. He was the first to develop natural extracellular matrix biomaterials for the regeneration of internal organs. His research has led to lab engineered organs including bladders, urine tubes and vaginas. Other organs are being experimentally 3-D printed. Atala co-leads the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine and his work now also benefits soldiers. In his lab he mentors promising scientists and together with his team they continue to redefine the limits of medical technology. 

Public Service: Senator James T. Broyhill

In his first opportunity to cast a ballot, Senator James Broyhill was shocked to see how few of the offices were contested by Republicans. It was an era when success in the Democratic primary in North Carolina was tantamount to election. With quiet resolve, he determined to change that course and successfully built a healthier two-party political system in the state. His first Congressional race in 1962, a close one, propelled Broyhill to 12 terms in the House. In 1964, when Lyndon Johnson carried 87 of 100 counties, Broyhill was re-elected comfortably. The Energy and Commerce Committee was Broyhill’s home on Capitol Hill for much of his tenure where he took the lead in passing the Consumer Product Safety Act. He excelled at constituent service and, in the course of his lifetime, he met or worked with 11 of the 15 Presidents. In his day, civility was the standard and not the exception and Broyhill regularly worked across party lines, all the while maintaining a consistently conservative voting record. His years in the U.S. House ended when Governor James G. Martin, his friend and admirer, appointed him to complete a term in the U.S. Senate created by the death of Senator John East where he served with distinction. In following years, he chaired the North Carolina Economic Development Board and to led the state Department of Commerce. In doing so, he achieved new heights in industrial and job recruitment. In 2000, Broyhill agreed to serve on the steering committee for the successful $3.1 billion university and community college bond referendum. In recognition of that achievement he received the I. E. Ready Award in 2001. Senator Broyhill maintains an intense interest in history, especially that of the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

Fine Arts: Dr. A. Everette James, Jr.

Dr. Everette James is a true connoisseur of art. He widely collects, passionately studies, deftly writes about and generously shares many forms of art. Born and raised in the Martin County town of Robersonville, James attended the University of North Carolina and Duke University Medical School. Specializing in radiology, he completed post-doctoral work at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and was as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in England. Having thoroughly enjoyed an Impressionist exhibit that he attended in Massachusetts, James decided to collect Impressionist art, but quickly realized his radiologist salary would not support this endeavor so he decided to concentrate on acquiring the work of women artists who, at the time, were under-recognized. As some of those pieces increased in value, he was able to sell a few to finance his ever-growing passion for collecting as it expanded into American folk art, Southern art and indigenous crafts. With each new art form, James researched the art’s evolution, techniques and influences, periodically leading to the publication of an informative article or scholarly book. Over the years, James has shared his art and crafts collections with museums, educational institutions and clubs around the country. He is particularly fond of bringing art and the humanities to hospitals through exhibits and lectures. In 1993, James opened a folk art museum in Robersonville in a restored Primitive Baptist Church called St. James Place, now on the National Register of Historic Places, that exhibits folk art, antique decoys and pottery. James is the author of more than 500 books and articles on medicine, law, ethics, art, and folklore and even fiction. In the 1980s, he combined his vocation and his avocation. He co-authored an article on the use of digital radiography to analyze paintings, a practice that has since become standard.

Public Service: Howard N. Lee

Howard Lee may be best known as the first African-American to be elected mayor of a predominantly white southern town since reconstruction, but other firsts were to follow. He was the first African-American to be a cabinet secretary, as secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, and the first to chair the State Board of Education. Lee has demonstrated a life-long commitment to education and while in the state Senate was co-chair of the Senate subcommittee on education policy and also of appropriations. In each of these roles he served the public, including creating a transit system and public housing in Chapel Hill, mentoring disadvantaged youth while employed at Duke University, managing all education reform enacted by the legislature from 1997-2000, and overseeing creation of the state’s mountains to sea trail. In 2011 Lee founded the Howard N. Lee Institute for Equity and Opportunity in Education with a focus on African-American males. 

Fine Arts: Patricia McBride

Patricia McBride has brought world class ballet to North Carolina. After a 30 year career as a ballerina and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, in 1996 she moved with her dancer husband Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux to Charlotte. He became director of the Charlotte Ballet (formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre) and she became co-director. The dancers, dance students and community reap the benefits of the presence of a legend in the dance world. At age 18 McBride became the youngest principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and captivated its artistic director, legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Said to have “quicksilver agility and exuberance,” Balanchine made 30 ballets for McBride. He paired her with Mikhail Baryshnikov and other star male dancers of the day. In 2014 McBride was a Kennedy Center honoree. Now she transmits the Balanchine repertoire to her students, and Charlotte Ballet is winning recognition for its world class repertoire and talented dancers.

Video Tributes to the 2015 Winners

The Nomination Process

Nominations for the 2015 awards cycle closed in late April of this year. Anyone can submit nominations, which are considered by a five-member committee appointed by the governor. That committe makes recommendations to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Nominations for the 2016 cycle will open in February or March 2016.

History of the Award

Since its inception, more than 250 notable men and women have been honored by the state of North Carolina. Past recipients include William Friday, Romare Bearden, James Taylor, Gertrude Elion, John Hope Franklin, David Brinkley, Maya Angelou, Billy Graham and Branford Marsalis.

Learn More About the Award's History and See a Complete List of Winners

Annual Awards Gala

The 2015 North Carolina Awards Gala was held Thursday, November 12 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham. The 2016 gala will be held in November 2016.

See a Recap of the 2015 Awards Gala on Social Media

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