(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.)
Sallie Shuping-Russell ’77 went to St. Mary’s College her freshman and sophomore years, because that’s what women in her family did. Thus having checked “tradition” off her list early on, she transferred to Carolina her junior year. And nothing about her life has been traditional ever since.
When Sallie hit campus in the mid-’70s, women could not be chosen as Morehead Scholars or Rhodes Scholars. The Equal Rights Amendment seemed close to passing, and Sallie found that feminism fit her to a T. As head of the Woman Students’ Association, she rattled all sorts of doorknobs and pushed against the glass ceiling. But it was her keen mind and financial acuity that opened doors for her that had been closed to other women. She made a career in investment management. Barriers fall when you know how to make people rich.
Flipping through the 1973 yearbook for Page High School in Greensboro, where Sallie grew up, you’d think she belonged to every club and was head of most of them. As yearbook editor, she penned an inscription that includes the phrase “the endeavor of each of us to make the most of our days …” It was prophetic, said high school classmate Davy Davidson ’77. “That’s Sallie,” he said. “That’s what she’s done for the past 40 years.”
The description under her photo as Outstanding Senior also foreshadowed her future: “A dynamic individual who is an excellent achiever and organizer.”
After getting her Carolina degree in English and political science, and an MBA from Columbia, Sallie went to work for Cambridge Associates in Boston, advising universities about investment and financial matters and working with their endowments. UNC was one of her clients. When she moved back to the Triangle in 1985, she joined the board of the Arts & Sciences Foundation. Later, she was tapped for the UNC investment board and, after that, the School of Public Health advisory board.
All the while, her “day job” was with Duke Management Co., where she was one of its founding members. Yet when then-Chancellor Michael Hooker ’69 offered her a permanent position at UNC, she turned him down.
“I told him I couldn’t because I loved UNC too much,” she said. “I don’t think you can make a fair assessment of something when you love it as much as I love Carolina.”
Sallie continued to collect a paycheck from Duke for 15 years and paid Carolina through her hard work and generosity. She served on the UNC Health Care System Board of Directors and on the UNC Board of Visitors. She was a trustee of the Endowment Fund and on the board of the UNC Foundation Investment Fund. In 2007, she began a term on the Board of Trustees, and the following year established the Margaret R. Shuping ’44 Distinguished Professorship in creative writing to honor her mother.
Even while working diligently to see that Duke’s investments thrived, Sallie let her true colors show. She and another Carolina fan who worked at DUMAC started a tradition before Duke-Carolina basketball games of filling the glass-walled conference room just inside the entrance to the DUMAC suite with Carolina blue and white balloons.
Sallie’s wry sense of humor has helped her win acceptance at the table, particularly during the years when a woman in the boardroom was an anomaly some men viewed with suspicion. Eugene McDonald recruited Sallie to Duke after working with her on a project he’d hired Cambridge to do, and later, when he moved on to Quellos Private Capital Markets, he enticed her to follow. The company was later acquired by BlackRock, where Sallie now is managing director.
“She has a great determination to solve problems, to understand them first, then lay in place the best strategic approach to resolving them,” Eugene said. “She’s fiercely loyal to people and institutions. And she has an inexhaustible supply of jokes.”
Some have been inspired to come up with their own funny stories, just to hear her high-energy laugh. Those who know her well call her a dynamo and a delight, and say she serves Carolina fiercely, steadily and with joy.
The University is in good hands with Sallie as chair of the Audit and Finance Committee during this time of tight budgets. Though donations haven’t dropped, Sallie is troubled by budget cuts that widen the disparity between public and private universities. What will get Carolina through, she said, is the University’s very deep sense of core values.
“People feel they belong here, and that sense of belonging doesn’t every really leave, even when they do,” she said.
Davy Davidson said that Sallie is everything you’d want to see in someone getting the Distinguished Service Medal. “She’s a doer,” he said. “She’s successful, smart, generous, a go-getter and an extraordinarily nice person.”
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. Recipients of the 2011 Distinguished Service Medals are John P. “Jack” Evans, former dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School; Erskine B. Bowles ’67, who recently retired as president of the UNC System; and Sallie Shuping-Russell ’77, a member of the UNC Board of Trustees.