If Dwight Stone ’73 were to play basketball for Roy Williams ’72, no doubt he would earn the title of “tough little nut,” the coach’s highest praise for those stars who tower over him. Steady, focused, competitive, with a determined work ethic, Dwight has a reputation for doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Some of that moxie he learned at UNC. Dwight grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina in the tiny town of Spivey’s Corner, famous for its hollerin’ contest. His high school class had 82 students. No one else in his family had gone on to college, but when Dwight was a kid, still in single digits, his aunt took him to a Carolina football game, and he was hooked.
“That never went away,” he said.
Going away to a college that had a daunting academic pedigree and a class size 10 times larger than his hometown could have been intimidating. But at Carolina, Dwight learned he could perform as well as anyone else; he learned not to let any situation overwhelm him. When he eventually joined the family business, he applied those lessons to help him take risks and grow the company.
Dwight’s grandfather, who farmed during the growing season, started a construction company that brought in extra money once the crops were in. Dwight’s father later took over the business. But after college, Dwight went into banking, aided by a fellow Tar Heel. He honed his business skills in South Carolina and met the woman who would become his wife.
After six years, he felt ready to join the family business but was not ready to settle down to small-town life. He convinced his father to let him open an office of the custom-home business in Greensboro, where many of his Carolina friends lived. After his father retired, Dwight moved the headquarters of D. Stone Builders to Greensboro permanently.
Living in Greensboro put him within commuting distance of his alma mater, for which he holds a fierce love. And commute he did, especially once he was invited to join the board of the Educational Foundation in 2004, a commitment that lasted some 13 years, including a stint as chair. Fellow board members credit Dwight for the concept of the Blue Zone.
In 2011, he was asked to serve on the search committee for a new athletics director, in a very tight time frame. Shortly after the committee chose Bubba Cunningham, Dwight was asked to join another search committee, this time for a new chancellor. And no sooner had Carol Folt been installed in 2013 than Dwight was elected to the Board of Trustees.
Dwight’s consistency, his direct but understated leadership style and his reputation for letting the facts tell him what to do caught the attention of other trustees, and in 2015 they elected him chair.
“Being able to guide a place that you love is the best gift you can be given, outside of family,” he said, speaking of three of his children who are Carolina graduates.
It is a gift with plenty of challenges, to be sure. The University is a multibillion-dollar enterprise, and something unexpected always pops up. During Dwight’s service on the boards of the Rams Club and trustees, he dealt with a protracted NCAA investigation, transitioning to a new chancellor, the conflict over Silent Sam and adjusting to the politics and changes on the UNC System Board of Governors.
The chairmanship of the trustees, in particular, can seem like a full-time job, yet Dwight always made time to do what needed to be done. He would drive to Chapel Hill for an hour-long meeting or a 20-minute face-to-face conversation with a friend who needed his counsel, on occasion making that roundtrip two or three times in a single day. He accepts the responsibility of leadership thrust on him, as opposed to seeking out starring roles. Unlike leaders who cherry-pick the fun responsibilities for themselves and delegate the unpleasantness, Dwight took on whatever surprise emerged next.
Dwight stays close to family, friends and facts. His colleagues recognize him as a steady, thoughtful problem-solver who can show his teeth when necessary. He has a good sense of when to compromise and when to stand fast. He accepts differing viewpoints, a tolerance he learned as a student, arriving from a conservative region of the state amidst the protests on campus sparked by social justice issues and the Vietnam War. He lives his life with the personal integrity he puts forth professionally.
“If there’s a Mount Rushmore of Carolina,” said one of his colleagues, reflecting on the challenges of the past six to eight years, “Dwight should be up there.”
Perhaps with the inscription, “tough little nut.”
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.