(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the awards dinner and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
It’s hard to fathom now, but as a high school student, Tony Harrington ’63 wasn’t at all sure he’d be admitted to Carolina. He grew up on his family’s farm outside of the small town of Taylorsville-yes, he’s a member of the infamous Taylorsville Mafia-and while waiting to hear from UNC he hedged his bets by applying to a backup college or two. Well, not only did he get into Carolina, he was awarded a Morehead Scholarship, one early indicator that he was destined for a life of leadership and accomplishment.
From that very rich academic experience in a broad-based liberal arts education, Tony’s eyes were opened to a world in which he thrived and on which he is leaving a considerable imprint.
It is a diverse life indeed. Tony founded several companies-including a little concern called Telecom USA-worked his way to the top of a huge, international law firm, served as attorney for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, led the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board and served on two other intelligence advisory boards. When President Clinton chose him as ambassador to Brazil in 1999, the Senate confirmed his nomination in a record 12 days. Since his return from that country, Tony has been president and CEO of Stonebridge International, an international strategic advisory firm based in Washington, D.C.
While filling all these demanding positions, he has constantly found ways to serve our University, something he has done ever since he was a student leader as an undergraduate. He has chaired the GAA board of directors and he continues to serve as a trustee of the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise. Even while in Washington or Brasilia he has served the University, whether by making contacts, helping secure speakers, or paving the way for visiting scholars.
Jack Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute, recalls that when he visited Brazil, there wasn’t a door that Tony couldn’t open. “I was so impressed with how well regarded he was by the leadership of Brazil,” Jack says. “They held him in very lofty status, not just because he represented their largest trading partner but because of the genuine respect the business and government leaders had for Ambassador Harrington. I knew he was very special.”
Erskine Bowles ’67, who was White House chief of staff during Bill Clinton’s presidency, says Clinton believed Tony helped improve the relationship between the United States and Brazil during his tenure. The president of Brazil at the time thought so too. When he was in town a couple of months ago and ate dinner with Erskine and Crandall, former President Cardoso assured them that Tony had done a remarkable job.
Their experience in Brazil led Tony and Hope to endow a distinguished visiting professorship and study abroad program focused on Latin America at UNC. “It’s the same hemisphere,” he says simply. “It’s important that we know each other.”
Tony is keenly aware of the ways the world has changed since he was in school. “Then, we had a state and national focus and looked at the rest of world historically. Now, there’s an international focus and you have to look at the rest of the world daily and into the future,” he says. He’s convinced you cannot have a world-class university if it doesn’t have a strong international element, curriculum and perspective.
Tony’s efforts have been instrumental in promoting globalization on campus, but he also is a master of the simple touches that make a difference in someone’s life. It was Tony who brought Buddy, the famous Labrador, to Bill Clinton’s side.
He’s an extremely able lawyer who longtime friend Tom Lambeth ’57 says has benefited from his perennially youthful looks. “He would go into court or into negotiations and people would say to themselves they can’t be too hard on this kid,” Tom recalls. “By the time Tony had cut their throat, they didn’t recover.”
He has used many of the same characteristics to skillfully blend expertise in government, academia and business. And Tony is still, Tom says, the same easygoing, approachable kid from Taylorsville. He has passed his love of Carolina along to his children-two sons and one daughter-in-law have graduated from UNC.
He has, Jack Kasarda says, “brought so much honor to the University.”