Gov. Roy Cooper presented Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher with one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in recognition of his contributions to the state.
Cooper bestowed the honor upon Belcher during a surprise ceremony Monday, April 23, at Haywood Regional Fitness Center as part of a two-day swing through Western North Carolina.
“My mission is to have a North Carolina where people are better educated, where they are healthier, where they have more money in their pockets, where they have the opportunity to live a more abundant and purposeful life. That’s the mission I want, and there are a number of people in Western North Carolina who are helping to make that mission every day,” Cooper said during the presentation.
“We’ve got some great educational institutions here in Western North Carolina, and one of them is Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. We are very proud of this university and I want to honor a person here today who has helped make that university great,” he said. “Dr. Belcher, I cannot think of a greater recipient than you.”
With a small group from WCU in attendance, Cooper praised Belcher for leading the university through a period of unprecedented enrollment growth and for embracing the institution’s role in regional economic development by providing higher education opportunities to the people of the mountains.
Cooper closed the presentation by reciting the opening verse of the North Carolina state toast: “Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine, the summer land where the son doth shine, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great. Here’s to ‘down home,’ the Old North State.”
Among the most prestigious awards given by North Carolina’s governor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals with a record of exemplary service to the state and its communities.
Belcher, who has difficulty speaking because of the effects of brain cancer that he has been battling since April 2016, asked his wife, Susan, to express his appreciation for the honor after the presentation.
“David believes in North Carolina – its people, its promise – and in the power of education to make that promise into living reality,” she said on his behalf. “His call to action at Western Carolina University is, ‘We are in the business of changing lives,’ but he knows that change does not come without the combined efforts of government, educators, businesses, private concerns and dedicated individuals who are willing to serve. He is grateful to Gov. Cooper for bestowing this award upon him, and honored to be invited into this prestigious order of public servants. Students are David’s inspiration and greatest joy; he lives to serve them, to further their dreams and ambitions, so that they in turn can become successful, engaged citizens of our state and our world.”
Chancellor at WCU since July 1, 2011, Belcher began taking medical leave Dec. 31, 2017, and does not expect to return to the position.