(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.)
For some folks, hosting and producing a weekly television talk show that covers topics from public affairs to cooking and health care would be a full-time job. For Jean Kitchin ’70, it is the equivalent of a morning jog, something to get her blood flowing before she really starts her day. During all the time she was coming up with topical issues to feature on her show, finding people to talk about them and studying to become well-versed on the subject to keep up her end of the conversation, she still managed to run a group of independent pharmacies, chair the local school board, and serve as a GAA director and officer and on the Board of Visitors. Once her school board commitment ended, she took on the chair of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce, joined UNC’s Board of Trustees and completed the three-year cycle of GAA board chair. And she still made time for her husband and children.
“Only Jean could balance all of that successfully simultaneously,” said her former classmate, Richard Stevens ’70. “She’s a person of incredible ability and talent.”
Jean downplays her professional and civic contributions as something to be expected from a Carolina graduate. When she moved to Rocky Mount, she said she discovered that the people heading the nonprofits in the area all were Carolina alumni who, in her words, “take that spirit of caring about our state and bring it back to their communities.”
The former Governor’s Volunteer of the Year for Nash County in 1992, Jean has done more than her share of community service. But her service to UNC will be her legacy.
Jean joined the Board of Trustees in 1999, just before voters passed a $3.1 billion bond referendum for higher education. During her years as a trustee, UNC has launched and completed numerous construction and renovation projects. As a trustee she has wrestled with weighty decisions of tuition increases, faculty compensation and sports budgets. But students always have been her top priority. They claim her heart, she said, and her ear.
A member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, Jean initiated greater accountability for the Greek system. In the six years since she took on the issue, hazing and infractions have dropped dramatically. She advocated strongly for campus-wide accessibility for disabled students, helped reinvigorate the University’s honor code, and worked to strengthen the student advising system. She pushed for more merit scholarships, at the same time preserving the commitment to Carolina Covenant Scholars, Carolina Public Service Scholars and need-based scholarships.
Jean considers her work, as she says, “a chance to feel that in some small way I’ve been part of a huge, wonderful educational endeavor that goes so beyond Chapel Hill.”
Bob Blouin, dean of UNC’s Pharmacy School, got to know Jean as he worked through the complexities of setting up a pharmacy school at Elizabeth City State University that relies on video participation in classes transmitted from Chapel Hill. He appreciated the way she looked at even the most daunting problems from a can-do perspective. He considers her the epitome of the Carolina graduate.
“Jean obviously had a wonderful experience as a student here and can attribute much of her success to the time she spent in Chapel Hill,” Blouin said. “She really is a great ambassador for our alumni association.”
Jean grew up in Raleigh and was among the first women admitted to Carolina as a freshman in 1966. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, she lived in Charlotte, Wilmington, Scotland Neck and Rocky Mount, and taught in three school systems over the years. Along the way, she wrote two cookbooks, hosted a cooking show for UNC-TV and was ordained a deacon in the Presbyterian Church. A striking woman with a disarming personality, Jean doesn’t hide her passion for her alma mater. She was active in the Bicentennial Committee and welcomed the new-faculty bus tour to Rocky Mount every year. As an alumni club president in Nash County, she encouraged fellow alumni to sign up for lifetime memberships in the GAA.
“I have loved the GAA,” she said. “It’s this wonderful opportunity to come back to Carolina. For a brief period of time, I almost feel like I’m a student again. But I don’t have to take any tests.”