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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 administered by our agency.

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 state's highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award, will be presented to six distinguished North Carolinians Friday, November 16, 2018 at the Raleigh Convention Center. Governor Roy Cooper will present the awards at the 7 p.m. banquet and ceremony.

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Sponsorship Information

No state monies are used to produce the annual gala. We rely entirely on the generosity of individuals and organizations. This event is generously sponsored by Bob Barker Company, Martin Marietta, UNC-Rex Healthcare, Thomas S. Kenan III and CBC/WRAL Community Fund of Triangle Community Foundation.

Learn More About the Benefits of Sponsorship

2018 Award Winners

The state’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Award, will be presented to six distinguished North Carolinians Friday, Nov. 16, at the Raleigh Convention Center. Governor Roy Cooper will present the award at a 7 p.m. banquet and ceremony. The award was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science.

The 2018 honorees are Carolyn Q. Coleman of Pleasant Garden for Public Service, Bill Leslie of Cary for Fine Arts, Michael A. McFee of Durham for Literature, Barbara B. Millhouse of Winston Salem for Fine Arts, Gene Roberts of Bath for Public Service and William L. Roper of Chapel Hill for Public Service. 

“It is an honor to pay tribute to these outstanding individuals who have made North Carolina better by their extraordinary involvement in this state,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Each of them has enriched the lives of North Carolinians through their lasting achievements in the arts and public service.”

Public Service: Carolyn Q. Coleman

Carolyn Coleman has been an advocate for civil rights in North Carolina and involved with the NAACP for 40 years. She began her activism with the Alabama NAACP, and since arriving in North Carolina has dedicated herself to making life better for all citizens. Coleman has been the state NAACP director and a nationally recognized leader with the organization. She has been involved in voter education and registration, and with 13 lawsuits challenging at-large elections for congressional and local offices. Her efforts led to redistricting in the state, making it possible for two African Americans from North Carolina to be elected to Congress for the first time since Reconstruction, and paving the way for the election of African Americans to other political offices as well. She served as special assistant to Gov. Jim Hunt for eight years, advocating for communities of color and working families, and remains a key advisor and supporter of those seeking to advance social and human rights. A true public servant, she is currently a Guilford County Commissioner and a thoughtful, fearless advocate for the disadvantaged.

Fine Arts: Bill Leslie

Triangle area residents know Bill Leslie as a top-notch reporter and anchor for WRAL-TV. While immersed in the world of journalism, Leslie also pursued a passion for music that led him to release eight successful albums celebrating North Carolina’s people, natural beauty and Scots-Irish heritage. His “Grace of the Wild” CD was voted “World Radio Album of the Year” in 2013 by Zone Music Reporter. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma calls him, “one of the greats of modern Celtic music.” His music has been performed by the North Carolina Symphony, North Carolina Master Chorale and other groups. As a journalist, Leslie has produced more than a dozen documentaries, and is the recipient of more than 70 major news awards, including two Peabody Awards and seven Emmy Awards, proving that his words and music resonate deeply with audiences around the world.

Literature:  Michael A. McFee

Michael McFee is an institution in the UNC-Chapel Hill English Department, where he has taught since 1990. The author of 16 books, McFee has published 11 volumes of poetry and two essay collections, and is the editor of several anthologies of North Carolina literature. McFee is a distinguished writer and poet, whose celebrated works include “Vanishing Acts” and “We Were Once Here.” His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South, the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for Literary Achievement and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. McFee is a devoted teacher, mentor and dedicated champion of the literary culture of North Carolina.  

Fine Arts:  Barbara B. Millhouse

Barbara Babcock Millhouse made a timeless gift to the people of North Carolina by establishing Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem more than 50 years ago. Since the museum’s opening in 1967, she has worked to create a world-class collection, respected by fine art collectors and scholars of American art for its rigorous quality. In founding the museum in her ancestral home, built by grandparents Katharine Smith Reynolds and tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds in 1917, she also included the historic grounds of the estate, adding its natural areas and pristine gardens to the visitor experience. Thousands have viewed the works of American masters at the museum, including those of Gilbert Stuart, Grant Wood and Georgia O’Keeffe. Millhouse has also published several books about Reynolda House and its collections. Her vision, energy and passion have resulted in one of the most outstanding collections of American art in the country, and the preservation of one of North Carolina’s most beautiful historic homes.

Public Service:  Gene Roberts

Gene Roberts is considered the finest newspaper editor of his generation and one of the best journalists of the 20th century. From 1956 at the Goldsboro News-Argus to leadership positions at the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, he held fast to a reporter’s duty to seek truth in all places and at all times. Roberts covered the South during the civil rights era and national unrest during the Vietnam War. He turned the Philadelphia Inquirer into a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper 17 times in 18 years. Along with co-author Hank Klibanoff, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the book, “The Race Beat: The Press, The Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.” His many honors include the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award and the Columbia University Journalism Award. Retiring to Historic Bath in his home state, Roberts has been instrumental in preserving several historic buildings, protecting the charm of North Carolina’s first town.

Public Service:  William L. Roper

In a medical field experiencing rapid change and complex demands, William L. Roper has offered groundbreaking approaches and responsive programs. As CEO of UNC Health Care, dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor of Medical Affairs, Roper has an unwavering commitment to improving the health of all North Carolinians. His tenure at UNC has seen an expansion of UNC Health Care to serve rural and urban communities along with development of programs that ensure medical students go on to practice in underserved communities across North Carolina. As director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he created a strong emphasis on disease prevention, and brought this approach back to North Carolina, leading U.S. News and World Report to rank UNC as America’s number one primary care provider. He also led the creation of safe healing spaces for those diagnosed with mental health, behavioral and substance abuse problems. His innovative approach to medical education and expanding access to affordable care led to his recognition as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by “Modern Healthcare.” He is a passionate advocate for better healthcare for all North Carolinians. 

The North Carolina Award program is funded by sponsors that include the Bob Barker Company, Wells Fargo, Martin Marietta, Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, UNC-Rex Healthcare, Thomas Kenan III, CBC WRAL Community Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation and UNC-Chapel Hill. Ticket sales provide additional support for the event.

For additional information about the awards ceremony, contact Jennifer Fontes at jennifer.fontes@ncdcr.gov or (919) 807-7256. The North Carolina Award program is administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.