As a young boy, I recall my mother once remarking that “health is wealth.” It’s a phrase many mothers have passed along to their children to remind them of their good — and perhaps unappreciated — fortune. As my mother further noted, too often we don’t treasure good health until we no longer enjoy it. Her comments proved all too prophetic years later when she bravely confronted and overcame stomach cancer and still later when my younger brother, Buddy, lost his battle with lung cancer.
Regrettably, news about our University’s two most senior administrative leaders prompted me to recall Mom’s comments in recent weeks. In mid-January, we learned the disturbing news that UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker ’69 had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and in late March, Provost Richard Richardson had a heart attack. A few weeks later, Chancellor Hooker decided to take a leave of absence for treatment at the National Cancer Institute. While undergoing chemotherapy in Chapel Hill, he had maintained a busy schedule, although some of his out-of-town travel had of necessity been limited. Provost Richardson is expected to return to work in June after several weeks of convalescence.
Each of us is deeply concerned about the health of and prognosis for both Chancellor Hooker and Provost Richardson. Those of us who have had the joy of working with and being led by each of these hardworking servants of Carolina are immensely grateful for their devotion to UNC but do not want their service to come at the expense of their health.
With Chancellor Hooker’s and Provost Richardson’s temporary absences, as well as with new deans (defined as having come to Carolina within the past three years) in the schools of business, education, information and library science, medicine, and public health as well as the College of Arts and Sciences and with recent searches concluded for new deans for the law and nursing schools, there may be concern among some about the institutional memory among the academic leadership of our campus.
It is during times such as these that we should reflect upon the resiliency of this oldest public university. We have come to expect much — perhaps too much — from our senior administrators. Increasingly, our chancellor and provost as well as others have responsibilities that can, and often do, require their personal presence and involvement seven days a week. And their presence is not all we have come to ask, for we also expect them to be all knowing, capable of conveying all the complexities of this robust billion-dollar-a-year-budgeted research university. While we can and do caution the conscientious and always present chancellor and provost to “pace yourself,” that pacing is hard to do when the invitations to attend events in and outside Chapel Hill continue to cascade in. Perhaps the time has come to moderate our expectations, to prioritize the importance of competing requests for personal attendance, and to share the responsibilities with others.
In more recent times, N. Ferebee Taylor ’42 had a heart attack late in his chancellorship, and his successor Christopher C. Fordham III ’47 had a stroke early in his chancellorship. Upon his retirement as chancellor, Taylor became a distinguished member of the faculty of the law school and earned a number of awards for outstanding teaching. Through great courage and determination, Fordham led Carolina through eight years of remarkable growth, longer than any chancellor other than Robert B. House ’16.
What has sustained Carolina over the years including those when our senior administrative and academic leaders have been confronted by serious health problems has been our shared University commitment. The health and vitality of our University rests not only with those who lead us but also upon all those who teach and are taught, those who serve and are served, and all who support Carolina.
Our prayers and best wishes go out to Chancellor Hooker and Provost Richardson and to their families. We anticipate their full recovery, are encouraged by each of their prognosis, and inspired by their courage. We know that each of them is comforted not only by the personal expressions of affection and support they have received but also by the University community’s willingness to accept our responsibility to provide assistance during this difficult period.
Yes, Mom, health is wealth. We are anxious for Carolina’s two most senior leaders to reclaim their personal health and confident that The University of North Carolina will remain healthy, sustained by the unconditional support we have received from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and North Carolina taxpayers for more than 200 years.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70