Chapel Hill residents have been awarded Grammys, Nobel Prizes and Peabody Awards. This year, two men from Chapel Hill are receiving the North Carolina Award: the highest honor the state of North Carolina can grant to its citizens.
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee is receiving the North Carolina Award for public service, while radiologist Everette James is receiving the award for his involvement in the fine arts.
Lee’s political career was launched in 1969, when he became mayor of Chapel Hill. This marked the first time an African-American was elected mayor of a predominantly white Southern town. During his time in office, Lee started the Chapel Hill transit system.
Lee credits Chapel Hill with his success. “I’ve always found it to be quite satisfying to represent Chapel Hill because it is here that my foundation was built,” he said.
Lee went on to serve in several North Carolina Governors’ cabinets as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Education Cabinet and the Secretary of Natural Resources, where he established the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea trail.
Most recently, Lee founded the Howard N. Lee Institute, which focuses on providing quality education to high potential students in low-performance areas.
James said he was always interested in the arts, but his passion really developed while he was enrolled at Harvard Medical School.
“I was introduced to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the collection of American arts there really drew me into the fine arts,” James said.
Since then, James has dedicated much of his time to collecting, researching and writing about American art.
As a radiologist, James hopes his work has benefited those outside the art community.
“I believe science and medicine need a humanitarian focus as well,” he said. “I hope I have promoted the arts in places it is underserved.”
Both James and Lee are honored to be receiving the North Carolina Award.
“It was definitely a surprise,” James said. “It’s a great honor and I am appreciative of the people who have supported me in this endeavor.”
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