Tutu, Five Others Receive Honorary Degrees

A renowned anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner, an industrialist and philanthropist, the “poet laureate of Southern Jews,” a medical and pharmaceutical leader, a champion of American Indian rights and self-determination, and a cultural force in the literary life of the state, the South and the nation received honorary degrees Sunday at UNC’s spring Commencement.

The recipients were:

  • Desmond Mpilo Tutu, recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in opposition to South African Apartheid, who received a doctor of divinity degree;
  • William J. “Billy” Armfield IV ’56, a textile executive and philanthropist, who received a doctor of laws degree;
  • Eli N. Evans ’58, a writer and philanthropist, who received a doctor of laws degree;
  • Charles A. Sanders, a leader in health care administration and former member of UNC’s Board of Trustees, who received a doctor of science degree;
  • Helen M. Scheirbeck, a Lumberton native and advocate for American Indian rights, culture and education, who received a doctor of laws degree; and
  • Lee M. Smith, the author of more than a dozen award-winning books and a teacher of creative writing, who received a doctor of letters.

Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 presided at the ceremony, his first as chancellor. The ceremony was held in Kenan Memorial Stadium, with Tutu as the featured speaker.

Desmond Tutu

Tutu, along with Nelson Mandela, was a central figure in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. A rigorous advocate of nonviolence, Tutu rose to worldwide prominence in the 1980s, leading popular protests within South Africa while championing international efforts to pressure the government to end its system of racial segregation.

He also served as the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and later chaired the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body created to probe human rights violations that occurred under apartheid.

Tutu continues to work globally to advocate for democracy, freedom and human rights, as well as campaigns to fight AIDS, poverty and racism. He is a fellow of King’s College, University of London, and chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Tutu’s honors include more than 130 honorary degrees from institutions throughout the world; South Africa’s Order for Meritorious Service (Gold); the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion; the Onassis Foundation’s Prix d’Athene; the Family of Man Gold Medal Award; the Mexican Order of the Aztec Medal (Insignia Grade); the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; the Sydney Peace Prize; and the Gandhi Peace Prize.

Billy Armfield ’56

An Asheboro native, Armfield earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Carolina in 1956. After receiving his MBA from Harvard in 1962, Armfield began his a career in the textile industry as vice president for marketing of the Madison Throwing Co.

With Dalton L. McMichael Sr. ’38, he co-founded Macfield Texturing Inc., which later merged with Unifi Inc., a processor of multifilament polyester and nylon textured yarns. He left Unifi in 1995 to become president of Spotswood Capital LLC, a private investment firm.

Armfield served on the Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2001. He also has served on the UNC’s Board of Visitors, the Kenan-Flagler Business School board of visitors, the Jordan Institute Community advisory board and the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation Board. He was national co-chair of UNC’s Bicentennial Campaign from 1990 to 1995 and an honorary member of the steering committee of the Carolina First Campaign.

Eli Evans ’58

A native of Durham, Evans graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UNC in 1958, then served in the U.S. Navy for two years before entering Yale Law School. After graduating in 1963, Evans worked for two years as a speechwriter for President Lyndon Johnson, then as staff director of a study on the future of the states headed by Terry Sanford ’41. From 1967 to 1977, he traveled extensively in the South as a senior program officer for the Carnegie Corp.

From 1977 to 2003, Evans served as president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, where he oversaw grants to Jewish philanthropy, urban affairs, education and biomedical research.

He is the author of several books including The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South and The Lonely Days Were Sundays: Reflections of a Jewish Southerner.

Evans has helped guide the development of Carolina’s Jewish studies program and chairs the advisory board for the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies.

Charles Sanders

Sanders has served the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the state of North Carolina and UNC in multiple capacities.

As former CEO of the Massachusetts General Hospital, he oversaw one of the nation’s largest and most respected institutions of medical research, teaching and tertiary care. As a senior executive at Squibb and later as CEO of Glaxo, he led research and development programs.

He served on the Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2001 and the board of directors of the University of North Carolina Foundation from 1990 to 1994. He has served as chair of the board of directors of the UNC Health Care System since 2001.

Sanders also has been a senior adviser to the U.S. government on a range of health issues. Closer to home, he was the first chair of the N.C. Education Lottery Commission from 2005 to 2006 and has served on the boards of the Commonwealth Fund, the N.C. Healthy Start Foundation and Project HOPE. Currently, he is a member of Gov. Beverly Perdue’s Budget Reform and Accountability Commission.

Helen Scheirbeck

A member of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, Scheirbeck recently retired as senior adviser for museum programs and scholarly research at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Scheirbeck began her career as a staff member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights chaired by former Sen. Sam Ervin ’17. On her recommendation, Ervin held hearings that culminated in the Indian Bill of Rights.

In 1968, she was named director of the Office of Indian Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, where she led efforts to pass the Indian Education Act of 1975. As a member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission, she worked to craft reforms that led to the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978.

She later served as founding director of the N.C. Indian Cultural Center in Pembroke and directed the Indian Head Start program.

Lee Smith

Smith has been a cultural force in the literary life of North Carolina, the American South and the U.S. for more than three decades, writing with a keen feel for the landscapes, culture and language of Southern Appalachia. In particular, she has given voice to the courage, endurance and creativity of Appalachian women.

She is author of 15 award-winning novels and collections of stories, including Fair and Tender Ladies, Family Linen and On Agate Hill.

Over the years, Smith has held faculty appointments in creative writing at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va.; Duke and N.C. State universities; and Carolina. With the aid of a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest grant, she has worked with writing students in many settings, including a three-year period spent with the Hindman Settlement School in eastern Kentucky, elementary school students in western North Carolina and high school students in her hometown of Grundy, Va.

Her honors include two O. Henry Awards, the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, the Robert Penn Warren Fiction Prize and the North Carolina Award for Fiction.

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