Rusty Carter Distinguished Service Medal

(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.)

Distinguished Service Medal Citation

Russell Miller Carter ’71

Rusty Carter has a reputation for asking hard questions. That’s why his Phi Gamma Delta brothers tapped him to tell Gov. Michael Easley ’72 there was no free lunch. Long before he was governor, Mike would join Rusty and some of the Phi Gam brothers for lunch at the fraternity house after history class. Some of the brothers thought that Mike was spending so much time at the house, he needed to be paying dues. Rusty sat him down and said, “Michael, we like you a great deal, and we don’t mind you eating lunch with us once in a while. But if you’re eating as much as you do, you need to go ahead and join.” Mike joined, and the two have been close friends ever since.

As chair of the Board of Trustees’ University Affairs Committee for the past five years, Rusty has had ample opportunity to ask hard questions. Almost every University issue flows through that committee, and committee members study a wide range of concerns and recommend solutions.

A former committee member, Jean Kitchin ’70, remembers when the committee was asked to examine declining Greek enrollment due to complaints about some of the fraternity activities. Rusty “butted heads” with some of the alumni advisers, she said, by standing firm in pushing accountability for fraternities. He did it because he cared so much about the students and the Greek system.

While studying the issue of faculty retention, Rusty recognized the value that top graduate students contribute, not only to retaining faculty but to the overall academic life at Carolina. He became engaged in reducing the financial burden on graduate students, lobbying for a portion of the funds from the Carolina First campaign to go toward creating good financial aid packages that would make the University competitive in attracting the best and brightest graduate students.

Tony Waldrop ’74, vice chancellor for research and economic development,  recalls the negotiations with state legislators to allow the University to keep overhead receipts from federal grants. Rusty arranged for someone from the governor’s office to meet face to face with Tony, who then made a personal plea. In the end, the governor’s budget supported the University. From the start, Tony had great respect for Rusty’s practice of  gathering all the information he needed to make a decision, then standing firm to defend it.

John Merritt ’72, a friend since they were Boy Scouts decades ago, said: “When your dad is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horace Carter, and you’re 5 or 6 years old and people are shooting through your house because your dad is writing articles against the Ku Klux Klan, you probably grow up to have a little something more to you than a lot of people.”

Rusty studied journalism at UNC and, after he graduated, joined his father’s business, freeing his father to return to producing The Tabor City Tribune. Rusty took the business in a different direction, emphasizing industrial markets and eventually acquiring a well-established equipment packaging company, a paper company in Charlotte and a shrink-wrapping business in Winston-Salem. Under Rusty’s leadership, Atlantic Packaging grew into a market leader in industrial packaging and customized converted products.

Over the years, Rusty has shown his commitment to UNC as an alumni club president for Columbus County, as well as for New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties. He served on the Board of Visitors from 1997 through 2001, then immediately took a seat on the Board of Trustees, where he has served as secretary since 2005. After the fire at the Phi Gamma Delta house in 1996, he took on the task of chairing the committee to rebuild the house. He also has contributed his expertise as a member of the Morehead-Cain Scholars Selection Committee. Last year, he and his two sisters established the W. Horace Carter Distinguished Professorship at the School of Journalism. In April, the graduate school presented him with the Dean’s Award for Significant Contributions to Graduate Education. He’s just wrapped up service on the chancellor search committee.

To Rusty, receiving an award such as this one is meaningful because, as he puts it, “the University understands that my passion and commitment are real. Someone said, we notice that you like working for this place. It’s about that simple for me.”

Rusty’s difficult questions pose challenges to fellow board members and University administrators. “But there’s not a question Rusty asks,” John Merritt said, “that is not for the purpose of making the University a better place.”