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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC faculty members receive state's highest civilian award

Dr. Roper is the dean of the UNC School of Medicine and the CEO of UNC Health Care. DTH/Sydney Hanes

Two UNC faculty will receive the highest civilian honor in North Carolina for their significant contributions to the state.

Michael McFee and William Roper are recipients of the North Carolina Award in literature and public service, respectively. They are two of only six people who are recognized each year and will join a distinguished group of winners. Past recipients include Maya Angelou, Billy Graham, Loretta Lynch and James Taylor.

“It is an honor to pay tribute to these outstanding individuals who have made North Carolina better by their extraordinary involvement in this state,” said Susi H. Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Each of them has enriched the lives of North Carolinians through their lasting achievements in the arts and public service.”

McFee, a writer and poet from Asheville, has published 11 volumes of poetry and two essay collections and edited several anthologies of North Carolina literature. Among his many honors are the James M. Johnston Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. He has taught in the UNC creative writing program since 1990 and currently teaches poetry writing classes.

“Writers and especially poets like myself, we spend so much time alone, working on our own writing, working on our words and poetry,” McFee said. “You’re intensely concentrating on each word and each sound, and you want to get the music and the rhythm exactly right, and to go from that privacy to this public notice – it’s a little peculiar, and it’s also great.”

McFee and Roper were both nominated for the award by their colleagues. A governor-appointed committee then selected them as recipients based on span and scope of career, voluntary public service, legacy of work, current projects and awards and honors.

Roper, pictured above, has worked as an advocate for health care issues in North Carolina by developing safe healing spaces for those with substance abuse, mental health and behavioral issues. His career has also expanded medical services to rural and urban areas and ensured medical students go on to practice in underserved communities across the state.

Roper is serving his final year as CEO of UNC Health Care but will become faculty next year, along with his other roles as dean of the UNC School of Medicine and vice chancellor for Medical Affairs. In 2010, he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare by “Modern Healthcare,” yet he emphasizes his colleagues’ support as the cause for his success.

“Everything I’ve ever accomplished has been a team effort,” he said. “I’ve been privileged to work with wonderful people.”

McFee and Roper will accept the North Carolina Award from Gov. Roy Cooper at a banquet in November. Both UNC recipients expressed gratitude above all else.

Roper called the award a "really touching honor."

Since 1961, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has presented this award to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in fine arts, literature, public service and science.

“For a person or a committee or a group of people to say to me, ‘you are worthy of being celebrated’ is really pleasing," McFee said.

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