During Runion Weekend 2012, Converse College presented the following awards recognizing quality of character and achievement in careers, in community service, and in serving Converse.
Distinguished Alumna Award: Victoria Hunt Cox ’62
The Distinguished Alumna Award is given each year to a Converse alumna in recognition of outstanding achievement in her field, service to her community or society and loyalty to Converse.
As the FAA’s Assistant Administrator for NextGen, Victoria Cox leads the on-going transformation of the nation’s air transportation system. She is responsible for research and technology development, test and evaluation and lifecycle systems integration of the multi-billion dollar Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). NextGen has been called the most complex systems integration challenge ever undertaken by the federal government.
Within the FAA, Cox has served as a Senior Vice President in the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), the Director of the ATO’s International Office, the Director of Flight Services Finance and Planning and the Program Director of the Aviation Research Division.
Prior to joining the FAA, Cox was Director of International Technology Programs in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering. She has an extensive research and development and program management background, having supported the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Science and Technology as DOD Laboratory Liaison. She also worked as a Program Manager for a number of ballistic missile defense technology programs for the U.S. Air Force. Cox served as Chief of Physics and Scientific Director of the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development in London. She also worked as a scientist responsible for thermal vacuum conditioning and testing of the Hubble Telescope for NASA.
Victoria graduated from Converse in 1972 and received a Master’s degree from East Carolina University. She has a certificate in US National Security Policy from Georgetown University and is a DOD Level III Certified Acquisition Professional in Systems Planning, Research, Development and Engineering. She also earned her private pilot’s license in 1985.
Converse 100 Award: Gail Rawls Jeter ’77 of Columbia, SC
The Converse 100 Award, first presented during the College’s Centennial Celebration, is given to an alumna who clearly embodies the qualities of character and achievement that Converse alumnae hold dear.
Gail earned her Bachelor of Arts in biology from Converse and graduated summa cum laude. She went on to receive her Master of Arts in public health from the University of South Carolina. Upon graduating from USC, Gail worked for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for 31 years, holding such positions as Field Technician/Chemist in the Occupational Health Laboratory, Environmental Health Manager for Solid and Hazardous Waste Enforcement, Risk Assessor in Site Assessment, and Remediation and Brownfields Coordinator for South Carolina. For 11 years Gail served as an Environmental Health Manager for DHEC and in 2006 became the Program Manager for Brownfields/Voluntary Cleanup Program. In 2008 Gail joined Concurrent Technologies Corporation in Columbia as a Brownfields Specialist to assist communities in developing sustainable brownfield program. Her work includes fostering community involvement and redevelopment planning, environmental assessments and cleanups, and identifying and obtaining funding for these programs.
Gail is an active member of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia and is a previous Cub Scout leader. She is a sustaining member and former Board Member of the Junior League of Columbia and an active member of the Columbia Garden Club and the Delta Omega Honorary Public Health Association. She has served on the International Association for Public Participation, as coordinator of South Carolina and Georgia Chapters of the National Brownfields Association, the Advisory Board of the National Brownfields Association, and the Urban Land Institute.
Gail has received numerous honors for her work in the Public Health and Environmental Control field, such as Environmental Quality Control Manager of the Year in 2004, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Outstanding Customer Service Award in 2006, and the Order of the Palmetto for Brownfields and Community Work in 2008. Gail is a 2006 graduate of Leadership South Carolina.
Converse Star Award: Leigh Anne Mitchell Terry ’02 of Fountain Inn, SC
The Converse Star Award is given in recognition of an alumna who has actively and admirably served Converse in the area of student recruitment.
As a student at Converse, Leigh Anne developed her love for working with prospective Converse students by serving as a member of the Student Admissions Board. After Leigh Anne graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in history and a minor in secondary education, she began teaching geography, psychology and sociology, as well as serving as the Freshman Student Council Sponsor at J.L. Mann High School in Greenville, SC.
Leigh Anne earned a Master of Arts with a concentration in school leadership from Furman University; and went on to teach social studies at Hillcrest High School in Simpsonville, SC; where she now serves as Assistant Principal. She has been named Who’s Who Among American Teachers numerous times, served as a Greenville County Schools Curriculum Guide author, was named Hillcrest High School Global Studies Teacher of the Year, and served as the high school representative for the Greenville County Schools Safety Committee.
Leigh Anne and her husband, Zac, enjoy spending time with their two-year-old daughter, Eliza.
Career Achievement in Music Award: Novie McCree Greene ’62 of Orlando, FL
The Career Achievement in Music Award recognizes an alumna who has dedicated herself to excellence in her profession in music and for notable achievements credited over a continual period of time.
Novie Greene has operated a private voice studio in Orlando, Florida since 1981. She has taught hundreds of students of all ages, including over a hundred young men. Her students have gone on to become professional singers, voice teachers, public school music teachers, choral conductors, music therapists and church musicians. She has taught many actors who are performers on Broadway and are in touring and regional companies. She specializes in teaching adolescent singers and preparing them for performances, competitions and college auditions. Her students have been accepted at prestigious music schools and drama programs across the country.
Ms. Greene earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Converse in 1962 and a Master of Music from Florida State University. She has been a National Association Teachers of Singing member since 1984 and served as the Central Florida Chapter’s founding president. She has given many lecture demonstrations and workshops on adolescent voices including Boys to Men: the Adolescent Male Voice at the NATS Nashville Conference 2008. She will be presenting Cross Training in the Private Studio: Successful Vocal Strategies for Adolescent Singers at the NATS National Conference in Orlando, June 2012. She also serves on the planning committee for that conference.
Her son, Dudley Greene and his wife Melinda live in Rock Hill, SC with their two daughters, Sara and Lizzy, who love singing, swimming, math and science. Sara studies piano with Kris Loomis, a Converse graduate.
Community Service Award: Marian McGowan Nisbet ’62 of Charlotte, NC
Community Service Award recognizes an alumna who displays the qualities of a vibrant citizen through her active involvement in her community, church and state.
Marian came to Converse in the fall of 1960 and went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of South Carolina in 1962. After leaving USC, Marian attended the New York School of Design, concentrating on Interior Design. Marian and her husband, Olin, settled in Charlotte, NC where she formed her interior design company, Interiors Unlimited, in 1975 and remains as president today.
Marian has been a tireless champion for Converse for many years, serving on the Development Committee of the Alumnae Board and as the chairperson of the Enrollment Committee on the College’s Board of Trustees. She has hosted and attended numerous events for the College and has been a consistent participant in sustaining Converse both through her time and resources.
In 2000, Marian and Olin made their most important contribution to Converse yet by establishing the Nisbet Honors Program. Designed to attract and retain gifted students, the program celebrated its 10th anniversary during the 2010-11 academic year. Through this prestigious program, students have the opportunity to pursue research in their field of major or minor studies, to take classes beyond their majors, to explore and debate issues and ideas with fellow honor students and to receive priority in study abroad programs. Since 2007, more than 20 students have completed the honors program each year, with 120 students consistently on the roster.
Marian is a previous Board member for the American Society of Interior Design, The Lynnwood Foundation/Duke Mansion, the NC Dance Theater, and The Ivy in Charlotte. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Davidson College and Spoleto Festival USA. She is a deacon at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and a volunteer coordinator for Room-In-The-Inn.
Marian has two sons, Walter Olin Nisbet IV and William McGowan Nisbet, and two grandchildren.
Mae Kilgo Spirit Award: Sandra Sherard Bethea ’67 of Georgetown, SC
The Mae Kilgo Spirit Award is given to an alumna who, by her constant and loyal service to Converse College, has kept the college visible to other alumnae and her community.
A graduate of the Class of 1967, Sandra affirms that “Converse has been an important part of my life from the day I opened my acceptance letter in 1963.” Sandra has devoted countless hours over the past several decades to sharing her love and enthusiasm for our alma mater. She has served as her Class Fund Chair, her Class Representative and is a past President of the Converse College Alumnae Board, having served on that Board for 10 years. In addition, she has hosted numerous Converse events in her area, written many letters to prospective Converse students, is a past recipient of the Star Award and has served on our College’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to her service to Converse, she has also enjoyed volunteering in Richland County schools through the SC Dental Auxiliary; the Baptist Hospital Woman’s Board, the Baptist Hospital Foundation, Hammond School Parents Association, and as deacon, elder and 1st vice-moderator for Eastminster Presbyterian Church. She has also completed mission work in Brazil.
Sandra and her husband, Robert, now live in DeBordieu Colony in Georgetown, SC and enjoy golf, bridge, and most of all spending time with their two sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren.
Career Achievement Award: Margaret “Peggy” Merriss ’82 of Decatur, GA
The Converse Career Achievement Award recognizes an alumna who has dedicated herself to excellence in her profession and has distinguished herself by notable achievements credited over a continual period of time.
Peggy graduated from Converse in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts in politics. After working as a Research Assistant for the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, NC, Peggy went on to earn her Master of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She then took a position as the Personnel Director for the City of Decatur, GA which she held for six years. She was promoted to Assistant City Manager for the City of Decatur in 1989 and became their City Manager in 1993, a position she still holds today. Some of her more recent accomplishments as City Manager include involving over 1500 community members in developing a strategic plan for the City, assisting in securing Decatur as one of the first Gold level green communities by the Atlanta Regional Commission, getting Decatur designated as a Silver Walk Friendly Community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, and succeeding in having Decatur selected as a Georgia “City of Excellence” and “City of Ethics” by the Georgia Municipal Association.
Some of Peggy’s many professional activities include being a member of the Georgia Municipal Association’s City Managers Advisory Team, past-President of the Georgia City and County Management Association, past-President of the International City/County Management Association, Past Board chair for the Alliance for Innovation and the IRMC-RC Board of Directors. Peggy received the GCCMA Pillar of Professional Excellence Award in 2008, the Georgia Excellence in Public Service Award from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government in 2003, was appointed to the State and Local Government Advisory Committee to the US Department of Homeland Security, and was named one of the “40 Under 40” Rising Stars by Georgia Trend magazine in 1997. She is a graduate of the Atlanta Regional Commission Leadership Institute, a graduate of Leadership DeKalb and is a member of the Decatur Rotary Club.
Peggy has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Western Europe, Ireland, Russia, Australia and China. She enjoys reading historical non-fiction and mysteries and is a High-B level tennis player.
Young Alumna Award: Kimberly Varnadoe Kent ’97 of Greenville, SC
The Young Alumna Award is given to an alumna within 15 years of graduation who embodies the qualities of character and achievement that Converse alumnae hold as their ideal.
Kim attended Converse on a tennis scholarship and graduated in 1997 with a major in politics and a minor in English. After Converse, Kim attended the University of South Carolina School of Law where she was selected as a member of the Moot Court Bar. She graduated in 2000 and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar.
Seeking a non-traditional legal career, Kim began her legislative and legal career as the Vice President of Government Relations and General Counsel for the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance (SCMA), a membership organization for the state’s manufacturing companies. After three years with SCMA, Kim accepted the position of Governmental Affairs Director and Assistant General Counsel for the SC Department of Commerce (DOC). Seeking to round out her policy experiences, Kim left DOC in 2005 to serve as the Chief Policy Officer for the SC Medical Association, a statewide trade association that serves over 6000 physicians in South Carolina.
In the fall of 2008, Kim joined her partners at MG&C Consulting LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the McAngus Goudelock and Courie law firm. Based in Columbia, SC, this pro-business, government relations consulting practice works with a large group of clients on public policy and legislative initiatives before federal, state and local government.
Kim and her husband, Mark, live in Greenville, SC with their twins, Henry and Amelia. They are active in their community supporting the American Red Cross – Upstate Chapter, Meals on Wheels of Greenville and the American Heart Association. Kim is active in business groups like the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, and the Upstate Alliance. She is a member of Greenville Women Giving, has served several times as Converse Class Fund Chair, and has hosted Converse Alumnae events for Greenville alumnae in her home. She enjoys traveling, cooking, golf, reading and spending time with her family.
Honorary Alumnus Award: Jeffrey R. Willis, Andrew Helmus Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Director of Archives
The history of Converse College shows no record of the naming of an honorary alumnus, and for good reason. It is a rare man who wins the affection of an entire community of women. Dr. Jeffrey R. Willis is the embodiment of a gallant gentleman, a benevolent teacher whose passion for history has inspired generations of learners, a magnanimous man whose quiet chivalry speaks volumes about his impeccable character.
Our humble honorary alumnus, Dr. Jeffrey R. Willis, is a noble and worldly man who loves Converse College and is loved by Converse women all over the world. The history of Converse College shows no record of naming an honorary alumnus, and for good reason. It is a rare man who wins the affection of an entire community of women.
Dr. Willis received his undergraduate education at Furman University and MA and PhD degrees in history from the University of Virginia. He has known the Converse College campus for 44 years. He taught history at Converse for 38 years, serving for 15 years as chair of the History Department. At the time of his retirement in 2005, he became the Andrew Helmus Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus. Since his retirement from teaching, he has served as Director of Archives & Special Collections.
He is the immediate past president of the Spartanburg County Historical Society and is past president of the South Carolina Historical Association. Currently he serves on the board of the Spartanburg County Historical Society and the Greenville County Historical Society. He is the author of several books and articles on local history, including a pictorial history of Converse. He received the South Carolina Governor’s Award for the Humanities in 2007.
Dr. Willis is the embodiment of a gallant gentleman, a benevolent teacher whose passion for history has inspired generations of learners, a magnanimous man whose quiet chivalry speaks volumes about his impeccable character. Through his many years of association with Converse, Dr. Willis exemplifies the finest qualities of our alumnae.