Charles McKimmon Winston Sr. 53

(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)

Distinguished Service Medal Citation

Charles McKimmon Winston Sr. ’53

A friend tells us that Charlie Winston’s secret desire in life was to be a sommelier. We’re not sure he knew what that word meant back in 1959 when he took his first bold steps toward a remarkable career in the business of helping people enjoy themselves. But we are certain that even the most distinguished wine steward would envy Charlie’s knowledge of his product, and the clever combination of horse sense and good humor with which he delivers it.

Most young men of the 1950s sought a good, solid company for which to work. For Charlie and his friend Thad Eure ’54, that didn’t seem to offer quite enough challenge. They prototyped a restaurant in Charlie’s dad’s barn out east of Raleigh. Then they went west of the city—way out in those long, looping hills, far enough from the city’s commercial center and the bustle of state government that just about everybody thought they were off their rockers.

The restaurant they built on very little capital and a lot of hard work and hope–where they took turns doing the cooking themselves–quickly became not only a landmark for the capital city and our state, but one of the finest places to eat and sip wine anywhere. The Angus Barn already was a favored destination when it burned down in 1964. They built an enlarged version immediately, and it became the seed of a food service and hospitality empire.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s, and you can more fully appreciate the room we’re sitting in and the service we’re enjoying today. The architect’s blueprints for The Carolina Club were all done when Charlie encouraged a club design expert with whom he was working on the Carolina Country Club to take a look at what the Alumni Association was doing on the hill beside Kenan Stadium. Fortunately, it wasn’t too late for some important strategic alterations.

If not for Charlie, there would be no spacious lobby as a staging area for the dining room downstairs. The hallway would be too narrow, the dining rooms too dimly lighted, and the wait staff constantly having head-on collisions at a single kitchen door. In Charlie’s business it’s the small details that matter. His careful eyes and loving hands and his dedication to service are seemingly everywhere in his hometown—and they have touched most every corner of our campus.

He was a founding member of The Carolina Club board of directors. He is a former vice chair of the Arts and Sciences Foundation and a past chair of this Alumni Association’s  board. He has served on the Board of Visitors and the National Development Council. He is in line to chair the Educational Foundation’s board. Where Charlie goes, he insists that everything be done just so, but he is always full of praise—and you know you are dealing with somebody who’s been there and done that himself.

One of the things people admire about Carolina is its success at blending first-class academics and winning athletics. Charlie probably would call that taking care of business and having a good time at it. One of his most vital roles in service to the University has been as a bridge between academics and athletics. He has been closely involved with both the College of Arts and Sciences and the Educational Foundation, and he has worked hard to bring attention to the positive relationship between giving to athletics and giving to the college.

No picture of Charlie is complete without bringing his family into focus. Flo has been an active partner throughout his business career; their son Bob, himself a member of the University’s Board of Visitors, once said he was surprised to learn that most extended families don’t take regular vacations together as the Winston clan always has. And when you know a bit of the family’s Carolina history, you can imagine how proud Charlie’s forbears would be to know he’s in the top echelon of the University’s faithful. When Carolina reopened after the Civil War, his grandfather and great uncle raced to see who would be first to register. Robert Watson Winston graduated in 1879, had a successful career as a judge, then came back in the 1920s to get a journalism degree. Charlie’s dad, Robert Jr., captained the football team in 1913. His uncle James Horner Winston ’04 was the University’s first Rhodes scholar, and Charlie’s brother Jim ’55 is a former member of the GAA Board of Directors.

Some time ago he identified three qualities that made him successful in the restaurant and hotel business: Give the customers a good value, treat them well, and have fun.

Charlie, at your University you are the steward you always wanted to be. Your service is  impeccable, your taste superb, and the customer not only is thoroughly satisfied but is having quite a lot of fun. You have our gratitude for seeing to it that Carolina ages like a fine wine.