(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.)
Where some of us live life as pencils, Kay and Van Weatherspoon ’54 appear as indelible ink markers. Where they make their mark, their impact can’t be erased.
The Weatherspoons have developed a reputation for putting their time, talent and treasures into projects in which they believe. The two of them — Van and Kay work as a team — have imbued lasting benefit to Hollins University, Kay’s alma mater; their church; and various civic projects, including rescuing the history museum in Charlotte. Then, of course, there’s Carolina, from an endowment, scholarships, lecture series and an awards luncheon at Kenan-Flagler Business School, to the medical school, library, the Ackland Art Museum and the performing arts.
Van and Kay grew up in Durham and dated in high school. When Van had his choice of football scholarships to Duke, Davidson or UNC, Kay’s father, Knox Massey Sr. ’25, pointed him toward UNC. Football fans note that Van was the first T-formation quarterback in UNC history. After college, Van and Kay married — 58 years ago and counting — moved to Charlotte and built a house, the same one they live in today.
Van began a career in broadcasting before transitioning to a very successful career in commercial development. Kay raised their son and two daughters and took on various community projects. She showed her mettle in the early 1970s when Charlotte became embroiled in a busing controversy related to school integration. While some of their friends enrolled their children in private schools, the Weatherspoon children remained in public schools, and Kay volunteered as a tutor. Forty years later, she still tutors once a week at Cotswold Elementary.
Over the years, Van has served on the UNC Board of Visitors and been honored with the Kenan-Flagler Business School’s BSBA Alumni Merit Award in 2001 and Leadership Award in 2004. In 2003, the University’s Board of Trustees bestowed on him the William Richardson Davie Award, the trustees’ highest honor for service to the University. His longtime Phi Delt fraternity brother Ty Boyd ’54 calls him “as dependable as the sunrise,” right down to reliably hooking the ball when he plays golf. Van does little to draw attention to himself. Ty said, “It’s not hard to get a smile out of him; it’s just that he doesn’t have to play a trumpet at the same time.”
Close friend and former business school dean Jack Evans said: “Quietly and without fanfare, the Weatherspoons helped out where needed. They don’t approach giving solely in terms of what they would like to do. They want to know what would help the school. They’re the most remarkable couple because of their generosity and the way they go about it.”
If it were up to them, their names wouldn’t appear on so many of the projects they’ve brought to fruition. “But the development people felt that having donors’ names on something spurs others to give, too,” Kay said. “It encourages others to be generous. If we can do it, so can a lot of people.”
Two endowed neuroscience professorships that bear the Weatherspoon name honor the memory of their only son, Van Weatherspoon Jr. ’84, who succumbed in 1989 to a brain tumor in his mid-20s. The Weatherspoon Family Brain Tumor Research Award recognizes faculty members and researchers who have made significant contributions to brain tumor research. Another Weatherspoon professorship in pathology and laboratory medicine was established to honor Nobel Laureate Dr. Oliver Smithies for his discoveries that laid the foundation for today’s research into gene therapy.
In addition to their involvement with the Massey Awards, Van and Kay have supported initiatives in diverse areas. They funded the Carolina Seminars, including the Douglass Hunt Lecture, and the Weatherspoon Lecture Series in the Kenan-Flagler Business School that have brought to UNC a wide range of speakers, among them: former president of Mexico Vicente Fox; publishing executive Steve Forbes; New York Times columnist David Brooks; former United Nations ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad; and journalists Cokie Roberts, Gwen Ifill and Tom Friedman.
Van and Kay provided the means for UNC’s library to purchase the 20,000-plus Russian books, serials, manuscripts and photographs comprising the Savine Collection. They have contributed to the Baddour Leadership Academy. Their support enabled the Bolshoi Ballet to make UNC one of its three stops in the U.S. on a recent tour, and filled in funding gaps to produce The Rite of Spring. When they noticed that the chancellor’s house badly needed a renovation, they paid the bill.
The Weatherspoons appreciate the friendships they have developed with people in academia at Carolina. With all they’ve done for UNC, Kay insists, “Van and I have received much more than we’ve given.”
The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal has been awarded since 1978 to alumni and others who have provided outstanding service to the GAA and/or to the University. The award is presented at the annual Alumni Luncheon on the weekend of reunions and Commencement in May.