“I shouldn’t say this in front of my dean because in academic life one has to pretend that you are willing and able to move to other universities, but it is my hope to continue to do research and teaching and service for you for 30 or 40 more years.”
These were the closing comments made at a GAA Board of Directors’ dinner in 2002 by that year’s recipient of the GAA’s Distinguished Young Alumnus Award — a Fayetteville native; a Kenan professor of chemistry at UNC; and, at the time of those remarks, director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center — Holden Thorp ’86.
Holden Thorp has had a meteoric rise to become Carolina’s 10th chancellor. He moved from the Morehead assignment to become chair of the chemistry department and then, just a year ago, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Not since Dr. Christopher Fordham ’47 became UNC chancellor in 1980 has a native-born North Carolinian with an undergraduate degree from Carolina moved from administrator at UNC to become Carolina’s chancellor.
Some have observed that at 43, Chancellor Thorp is among Carolina’s youngest chief executive officers. However, he is older than former Chancellor William Brantley Aycock ’37 (MA) was when Aycock took office, and he is older than Robert B. House ’16 was when, in 1934, House became dean of administration, the title that then designated Carolina’s chief executive officer. (As shown in the chart on page 24, the first campus chief executive officer, David Ker, who also was from Fayetteville, was the “presiding professor.”) Edward Kidder Graham (class of 1898) was only 38 when he became Carolina’s president in 1914.
Patti and Holden Thorp, their 9-year-old daughter, Emma, and 13-year-old son, John, are no strangers to the GAA. For three consecutive summers, all four participated in Camp Blue Heaven, the GAA’s alumni family camp, and he served a one-year term on the GAA Board of Directors as the faculty representative. GAA Treasurer Tony Rand ’61 and Chancellor Thorp’s father, the late Herbert Holden Thorp ’54, were law partners in Fayetteville. (Herb Thorp’s office was in Cool Spring Tavern, where in 1789 the same legislators who approved the charter for The University of North Carolina often gathered.) Chancellor Thorp’s mother, Olga Bernardin “Bo”Thorp ’56, is the much revered, longtime artistic director of the Cape Fear Regional Theater. His younger brother, Clay Bernardin Thorp ’90 and Clay’s wife, Laura Evlyn Francis-Thorp ’91, who also earned her master’s in social work from UNC in 1998, are all Carolina graduates. (And all also are GAA members.)
In leading our campus, Chancellor Thorp will be able to draw upon his diverse University experience and his many relationships across campus and among our alumni. His knowledge of North Carolina, keen intellect and strong work ethic, impeccable academic credentials in the sciences, business acumen and experience, and his talents as a musician, song writer and playwright, along with his easy sense of humor, should serve him and our campus well.
In a Carolina Alumni Review article in 2002, then-Professor Thorp said: “I think it should always be hard to get into Carolina. If you’re a North Carolinian, it’s an accomplishment and an honor to get admitted to this University. It is not a right. If we stop being selective, then we won’t apply that pressure to people all over North Carolina. There are people out in Iredell County who are doing well in high school because they want to come here. That’s a motivating factor that no high school teacher in the world can apply, and we cannot dilute that. That’s driving the quality of our education system in a way that no amount of standardized testing, Smart Start or anything is going to do.” At a time when there is understandably growing pressure for Carolina to produce more and better teachers, then-Professor Thorp challenged us to understand that maintaining our academic quality might be our University’s greatest gift to improving K-12 education.
In his final State of the University Address delivered last September, then-Chancellor James Moeser identified four challenges that would face his successor:
Speaking on the occasion of being named chancellor-elect, Holden Thorp charted an audacious agenda when he said: “Our to-do list is nothing less than the greatest problems of our time: Cure diseases, and get those cures to all the people who need them. Find and invent clean energy. Inspire students in our public schools. Feed 7 billion people. Describe the world, and replace conflict with understanding.”
By responding to the challenges that Moeser thoughtfully identified, Carolina can confidently address Chancellor Thorp’s agenda. His inspiring vision just might lead Carolina on a journey that could last “30 or 40 more years.”
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70