Ray McKesson, retired Vice-President of Finance and Administration at McDowell Technical Community College and member of the college’s board of trustees and the MTCC Foundation, was recently awarded North Carolina’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Roy Cooper. The award was presented in a surprise ceremony at McDowell Tech when McKesson and friends were gathered for a separate dedication ceremony. Members of the McDowell Tech Board of Trustees, Don Ramsey and Nancy Hunter, and Attorney Sharon Parker facilitated submission of the award.
“McKesson has been an exemplary public servant, a devoted community leader and remarkable change agent in McDowell County,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “We are proud to honor him and recognize his contributions to both the college and our community.”
Order of the Long Leaf Pine
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, reserved “…for persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” Individuals receiving the award become North Carolina “Ambassadors” and members of “The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society.” Don Ramsey, himself a former McDowell Tech employee and community leader who has served with McKesson on the MTCC Board of Trustees, formally applied for McKesson to receive this distinguished honor with assistance from Nancy Hunter and Sharon Parker.
McKesson: The Public Servant
After serving as a Spec 5 in the United States Army from August 1970 to August 1973, McKesson completed his associate’s degree at McDowell Tech in 1975 and his Bachelor of Technology Degree in Business Administration from Appalachian State University in 1977. Shortly thereafter, he became a Medicaid eligibility worker and, later, a social worker at McDowell County Department of Social Services before becoming a purchasing agent and equipment coordinator at McDowell Tech in January, 1981. Continuing his education, he received his Master’s Degree in Business Administration in 1982.
In 1989, McKesson was promoted to Chief Financial Officer at the college. During his tenure, he served under the college’s first four presidents: Price, Boggs, Mitchell and Wilson. The college experienced tremendous growth from his first years at the college until his retirement in 2007. On his first day of employment at McDowell Tech, there were approximately 500 curriculum students and the college’s asset base was approximately $2.3 million. The year he retired, there were approximately 1,200 curriculum students and an asset base of $7.1 million. Two new buildings and another building expansion took place during his tenure.
Also during that time, the college moved from a quarter system to a semester system, and the first ever articulation agreement between the North Carolina Community College System and the University of North Carolina System lead to a true college transfer degree program at McDowell Tech and throughout the state. As the college grew, so did the number of areas for which McKesson was responsible, including bookstore operations, daycare services, maintenance and custodial staff, financial management of the MTCC Foundation, cafeteria services, payroll and business operations. He left the college with a string of “clean” financial audits.
McKesson: The Community Leader and Change Agent
When he transitioned to official state retirement, McKesson also transitioned to his new role as a community leader. In her nomination of Ray for the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, Attorney Sharon Parker focused on four particularly important non-profit organizations which serve citizens in McDowell County: Hospice of McDowell County, Health Coalition of McDowell County, the McDowell Technical Community Foundation, the McDowell Endowment Board, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
On each of these boards, McKesson held a number of essential committee assignments, including Finance and Executive Committees, and often as Chairperson of the Boards of Directors. Of particular note, McKesson stepped aside from his service on the board of directors for Hospice of McDowell County to serve as Interim Executive Director during a particularly difficult and tumultuous time in the organization’s history—and did so without pay.
As a member and Chairperson of the Health Coalition Board, McKesson served on the founding committee which secured the first funding for the West Marion Community Forum, where residents are engaged to become leaders and change agents within the community, focusing on racial equity and related issues. The West Marion Community Forum went on to train other empowering strategies to other communities within McDowell County.
In addition to the organizations which Parker focused on in her nomination, McKesson also served on the Mission McDowell Hospital Board of Directors, lead the Staff Parish Committee at Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church, and lead and founded the McDowell Chapter of the NAACP.
“…Our county would not be as vibrant and cohesive today if Mr. McKesson did not give of his time, wisdom and talents,” said Parker.
Nancy Hunter, retired Human Resources Manager at Western Carolina Center, wife of Judge Bob Hunter, also a member of the McDowell Tech Board of Trustees and MTCC Foundation, also recommended McKesson for the honor he received. Like Parker, who had served with McKesson on several boards, Hunter also served with McKesson on the two college boards, but also served on the board of trustees prior to McKesson’s retirement at the college. She has known him for many years and also recommended McKesson without reservation as an unparalleled leader in the community
“McDowell Tech and McDowell County are most fortunate to have someone of Ray’s caliber serving our college and the community,” said Dr. Merritt, the MTCC President. “His strength of character, wisdom and tenacious commitment to progress and change, especially on racial equity issues, have made—and continue to make—a real difference in the lives and success of individuals and organizations in our community. Like Don, Nancy and Sharon, I can think of no one more deserving of this honor and look forward to many more great things from him and his colleagues on these many boards. Congratulations, Ray!