Jo Watts Williams '55 awarded Order of the Long Leaf Pine

Elon University’s vice president emerita received a top North Carolina honor conferred by Gov. Pat McCrory and presented by State Sen. Rick Gunn and Elon University President Leo M. Lambert.

One of Elon University’s most dedicated and loyal staff members for nearly half a century was awarded North Carolina’s top honor on May 30, 2014, for her faithful service to the state and her community.

Jo Watts Williams ’55 was bestowed with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in McCrary Theatre during the university’s annual Staff Appreciation Day. State Sen. Rick Gunn of Alamance County and Elon University President Leo M. Lambert presented the honor on behalf of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is among the most prestigious awards presented by North Carolina governors. Since 1963 it has recognized individuals who possess a proven record of extraordinary service to the state, make contributions to their communities, exert extra effort in their careers, and dedicate significant years of service to their organizations.

Wiliams was joined on the stage by her son, Lee, and his wife, Beth. Daughter-in-law Elizabeth, who is married to Williams’ son Randall, also accompanied the family, though her husband was unable to attend.

“Jo, today you join an esteemed group of recipients that includes Maya Angelou, the Rev. Billy Graham, Dean Smith, Charles Kuralt, John Hope Franklin, William “Bill” Friday, and Elon’s own President Emeritus, Dr. Earl Danieley,” Gunn said. “I cannot think of a more deserving individual for the order of the Long Leaf Pine.”

A native of Anson County, Williams earned her bachelor’s degree from Elon College in 1955 and served as a public school teacher in Burlington, Concord and Alamance County for 14 years. She held leadership positions in several education organizations, including the North Carolina Association of Educators, before returning to her alma mater in 1969 as an instructor in the department of education and psychology.

As Williams rose through the faculty ranks at Elon, she also continued her own education, earning her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 1977 she was named Elon’s associate dean of academic affairs and director of the learning resource center, which included a language laboratory, computer-assisted instruction program, tutoring and audio-visual services.

Williams became vice president of development in 1979, leading Elon through highly successful capital campaigns. During her 16-year tenure in development, alumni giving increased from 9 percent to 46 percent, and annual giving increased 92 percent. She retired from that position in 1995 and was named special assistant to the president.

“As a new college president I was grateful to have Jo by my side with her deep knowledge of Elon and the community. Jo has always been the best kind of adviser, someone who focuses on what is best for the institution,” Lambert said. “Few people know the family tree of Elon or Alamance County better than Jo Williams, and we are a stronger institution because of her efforts.”

In addition to her work with the university, Williams has been devoted to the larger community, serving on the boards of several organizations, including Alamance Regional Medical Center; Alamance Extended Care, the Village at Brookwood; Alamance County Chamber of Commerce; Wachovia Bank & Trust Co.; United Way; The Alamance Foundation; Alamance County Habitat for Humanity; Hospice of Alamance County; the Alamance County chapter of the North Carolina Symphony; Salvation Army; and Burlington Boys and Girls Club. She is also a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church and was named Woman of the Year by the Burlington Civitan Club in 1982.

She was named Elon’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 1995 and received the Elon Medallion for outstanding service to Elon in 1998. In 2013, the university named a residence hall on campus in her honor.