Photo of Ron Rash courtesy of Western Carolina University.

From the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, shared Sept. 29:

RALEIGH – A group of distinguished North Carolinians will receive the North Carolina Award, the highest civilian honor the state bestows, at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, at the N. C. Museum of History. Honorees this year are Charles E. Hamner, Jr., of Chapel Hill and H. Martin Lancaster, of Raleigh, both for Public Service; Trudy F.C. Mackay, of Raleigh, for Science; Ron Rash, of Cullowhee, for Literature; and Vollis Simpson, of Lucama, and Branford Marsalis, of Durham, both for Fine Arts. The Awards are administered by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

“Each year, the North Carolina Awards are a chance for us to honor men and women who reflect the very best in imagination, exploration, creativity, and humanitarian service,” said Cultural Resources Secretary Linda A. Carlisle.

Public Service: Charles E. Hamner, Jr.

Dr. Charles Hamner is credited with helping to propel North Carolina to preeminence within the biosciences industry. His success at the University of Virginia in converting research into viable commercial applications attracted the attention of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and in 1988 he took the helm of the organization. After retiring in 2002, he was shortly thereafter appointed Chairman of the Board of the Chemical Institute for Industrial Toxicology, renamed the Hamner Institutes for Health Services in his honor. The Hamner, as it is known, guides innovative chemical and pharmaceutical development with an emphasis on product safety.

Public Service: H. Martin Lancaster

A lawyer by trade, Martin Lancaster has served in the North Carolina Legislature, in the U.S. Congress, and as president of the state’s Community College System. Lancaster’s imprint on education extends beyond the state and nation, as he advised on skills training in Thailand and in Northern Ireland, where the University of Ulster presented him with an honorary doctorate in 2005. Earlier this year Prince Charles acknowledged Lancaster’s work by making him an honorary Officer of the British Empire. A past chair of the North Carolina Arts Council, he is known for his commitment and service to the arts community in North Carolina.

Science: Trudy F.C. Mackay

Dr. Trudy Mackay is an internationally renowned quantitative geneticist, whose work has redefined the boundaries of the genetics of complex traits. Her sequencing of 192 lines of the Drosophilia fly, which she makes available to other researchers, has become a major, standardized, resource for the scientific community to use for gene discovery and evolutionary studies. Her work in quantitative genetics has contributed to the understanding of health concerns including diabetes, cancer, glaucoma, alcohol abuse, high blood pressure, and longevity.

Literature: Ron Rash

Photo of Ron Rash courtesy of Western Carolina University.

Ron Rash’s work shows his deep respect for mountain people, language, history, and culture. He is the author of 14 books, which range from novels to collections of short stories to volumes of poetry. The holder of the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University, Rash has reaped a harvest of prizes, among them the Novello Festival Novel Award, the O. Henry Award, the Sir Walter Raleigh Award, and the Frank O’Connor Award. In 2004 his life and work was the focus of the annual literary festival at Emory and Henry College, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Fine Arts: Vollis Simpson

An internationally recognized artist who never set out to become an artist, Vollis Simpson entered the art world at an age when most people enter retirement. He worked for years creating and building machines that could lift heavy items. He also earned a living repairing farm machinery. At about age 65, Simpson turned his mechanical abilities to the creation of large-scale wind-driven kinetic metal sculptures. The sculptures—Simpson calls them windmills, others call them whirligigs—are without equal and have delighted and astonished people worldwide.

Fine Arts: Branford Marsalis

Over the years, Branford Marsalis has played music that ranges from classical to folk to jazz. Along with his family, Marsalis was honored in 2011 by the National Endowment for the Arts with an unprecedented Jazz Masters Fellowship group award. When he moved to Durham 10 years ago, he brought with him a strong commitment to public service. Marsalis has served as the spokesman for the Library Card campaign for the State Library of North Carolina, and, as a board member of the N.C. Symphony, he helped organize and performed for a benefit in 2010 that brought in more than $145,000 to the orchestra.

Created by the General Assembly in 1961, the North Carolina Awards have been presented annually since 1964. The award recognizes significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science. For additional information on the North Carolina Awards call (919) 807-7389 or (919) 807-7256.

An awards committee chaired by Jack Cozort of Raleigh selected recipients from nominations submitted by the public. Other committee members are Selma Fox of Charlotte, Charles Sanders of Durham, Marsha White Warren of Chapel Hill, and Pamela Myers of Asheville. Past recipients include William Friday, Romare Bearden, James Taylor, Gertrude Elion, John Hope Franklin, David Brinkley, Maya Angelou, and Billy Graham. For a complete list of recipients and more about the awards, go to

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state supported symphony orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council and the State Archives. The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources serves as a champion for North Carolina’s creative industry, which employs nearly 300,000 North Carolinians and contributes more than $41 billion to the state’s economy. To learn more visit

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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