(Editor’s Note: 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.)
Together, Mary Ann Massey ’59 and her husband, C. Knox Massey Jr. ’59, form a left-brain, right-brain combo that works even beyond their more than half-century-long marriage. Case in point: Mary Ann became a fan of Steve Jobs early on in his career. She loved the intuitiveness of his Mac computers and appreciated his energy and entrepreneurship. She convinced Knox to buy stock in Apple at the start. That very profitable investment has done a lot of good in a lot of places. Some of it has found its way to Chapel Hill.
The Masseys’ connection to Carolina runs deep. Knox’s father and grandfather were UNC alumni, as are Knox’s and Mary Ann’s three children and Mary Ann’s brother and her twin sister. Knox and Mary Ann met and began dating during their senior year at Carolina, an event that makes the University all the more special to them, Knox said.
Philanthropy and service are in their blood. Knox and Mary Ann were among the charter board members of UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and Knox has served on UNC’s Board of Visitors and the GAA’s Board of Directors. Over the past 30 years or so, they’ve lent their expertise and wisdom as board members on a number of civic and charitable organizations based in Atlanta, where they’ve made their home.
Knox made a very successful career in advertising, following in his father’s footsteps. Mary Ann was a sculptor during whatever time she could carve out while raising their children. After a plane crash in Paris in 1962 killed 122 of Atlanta’s most prominent arts patrons, Mary Ann filled the vacuum by helping to organize the Forward Arts Foundation that ensured support of the arts. She also has chaired the Georgia Council of the Arts and provided similar leadership to raising money for the Atlanta Opera. Her eye for aesthetics never closes. Upon noticing a vacant lot next to her church, she disentangled state and city government red tape to turn the land into a park.
Knox and Mary Ann have unobtrusively made a difference for many people in many ways. They’ve supported the Lovette School, from which their children graduated, and took an active role in the renovation of their church, where Mary Ann served as junior warden. They have staunchly supported the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, where Mary Ann grew up, and the Bascom Visual Arts and Education Center in Highlands, where they have a home.
Julia Grumbles ’75, former vice president of Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta and now interim vice chancellor for University advancement, developed a deeper friendship with the Masseys as a board member of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.
“They are understated people, and they shouldn’t be,” Julia said. “They have so many reasons to be overstated.”
At UNC, the Masseys often joined forces with Kay and Van Weatherspoon ’54 — Kay is Knox’s sister — to create the Massey Awards that honor University employees whose extraordinary service rarely is acknowledged outside their own departments; and the Carolina Seminars, which have brought distinguished speakers, such as Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and novelist Tom Wolfe, to lecture on a wide spectrum of topics. The two couples also honored Knox Massey Sr. ’25 with a professorship at Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the Masseys established the Ruel Tyson Distinguished Professorship.
Knox and Mary Ann attend the dinners and presentations for the winners of the awards and scholarships they support at UNC. They want to make that personal connection with the recipients, without being overbearing.
In 2008, Knox received the UNC Board of Trustees’ William Richardson Davie Award, its premier honor for service to the University.
Jim Peacock, director of the Carolina Seminars, appreciates their approach. “They’re interested and supportive,” Jim said, “but they don’t try to run things.”
Left brain, right brain, big hearts, hands off. Knox and Mary Ann embody all the components of a generous spirit.
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.