William Octavius McCoy 55

(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

William Octavius McCoy ’55

Part of Bill McCoy’s vision for the UNC System and Carolina was shaped at quarterly breakfasts among a group of prominent Atlanta area alumni. There was no need for a menu—it was always the McCoy Special, oatmeal with raisins, bran muffin and hot tea that suited this humble, no-nonsense man. Never mind that the tablecloth had to be Carolina blue and that on one occasion the meeting was temporarily adjourned when raisins were not available.

Bill’s breakfast companions knew they were in the company of a rare brand of leadership. Former Chancellor Paul Hardin called him “one of Carolina’s priceless gems.” He came to Chapel Hill late in a distinguished career but very few have answered so urgent a call.

From tiny Arba in one of North Carolina’s most deeply rural and least prosperous counties, it was a fair trek to the Hill in 1952. Bill worked his way through in the library and as a residence hall manager and departed a Phi Beta Kappa with a business degree. He served as a Marine pilot, then took a job as a supervisor with Southern Bell. Bill moved through a succession of executive positions with Southern Bell, South Central Bell and AT&T, and his 35-year career culminated in his election as vice chair of BellSouth Corp. in 1983 and president of BellSouth Enterprises three years later. He also carries a master’s degree in management earned at MIT.

Throughout Bill’s busy career, he always managed to remember his alma mater. He has been a long-time advocate and fund-raiser for the Kenan-Flagler Business School, working diligently to build the business connections that lead to philanthropic support. His energy, enthusiasm and generosity were invaluable as he also chaired the National Development Council. He was a member of the steering committee for the University’s Bicentennial Campaign and the Board of Visitors, and is on the board of directors of the new UNC Health Care System.

“Nothing pleases me more than bringing home our most talented North Carolinians,” C.D. Spangler ’54 said when he brought Bill home for good in 1995 as vice president for finance for the UNC System. Bill brought a sterling national reputation in the fields of management and finance to the task of the UNC budget. His quietly competent approach  won him friends among state legislators and campus officials alike, and he earned the  respect across party lines that made him an effective voice in the General Assembly and behind the scenes.

Most people could retire handsomely on such a career, and in January 1999 Bill did just that. Just as quickly, the University called him back to service. A brief period as interim chancellor was followed by a request that he stay on, and he knew this one would keep him in the office for a year or more.

Who wanted to follow Michael Hooker ’69? Who wanted to take a brief turn at the helm in the middle of some of the most daunting challenges this University has faced in many years? It would have been a lot easier to get lost in the crowd avoiding South Building in those summer days than it was to step forward.

But an old Greene County boy was no stranger to hard work, or to fairness “He approached the position as he said he would, as if it were a permanent job—not as an interim in any way,” said Provost Dick Richardson. Carolina did not curl up into a holding pattern—we are moving forward.

Bill inherited a $10 million budget shortfall, and he resolved it in short order. He decided the University needed a much more systematic approach to its budget, and he put that in place. Said Richardson, “He has been extraordinary in the fiscal health of the University.”

Bill’s “tireless, selfless dedication” was recognized this spring with his induction into the Order of the Golden Fleece. To Bill and to Sara, we truly cannot thank you enough for the unexpected sacrifice you made for the good of your University.

James Harper ’56, clinical professor and cardiologist in the medical school, said about his boyhood friend, “It’s really a fairy tale story about one of the world’s nicest guys, a guy who was dedicated to life and succeeding.” For Carolina, which has benefited from Bill McCoy’s selfless dedication, the fairy tale, replete with oatmeal and raisins, has come to life.