Six win North Carolina's highest honor for civilians

From staff reportsOctober 23, 2013 

Editor's note: A story about the North Carolina Awards incorrectly said Gov. Pat McCrory would present the awards Thursday. He will do so Nov. 21.

A scientist who helped discover how to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDs, a longtime educator who came up with a way to merge the state’s black and white teachers associations, and a linguist famed for his work with dialects such as the “hoi toide” brogue of the North Carolina coast are among six new winners of the state’s highest civilian honor.

Gov. Pat McCrory will present them with the North Carolina Award in a ceremony Nov. 21 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham.

The 2013 honorees are Myron S. Cohen of Chapel Hill for science, John E. Cram of Asheville for fine arts, John M. H. Hart Jr. of Keswick, Va., for literature, Phillip J. Kirk Jr. of Raleigh for public service, John Harding Lucas of Durham for public service and Walt Wolfram of Cary for public service. The awards are administered by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

Cohen has devoted much of his professional career to understanding HIV transmission and trying to prevent it. In 2011, his multinational research team demonstrated that treatment of HIV infection with antiretroviral drugs stopped transmission. Science magazine heralded the study as the “breakthrough of the year.”

Cram opened New Morning Gallery in Asheville in 1972 with $500, and since then has been a major force in shaping the city into a cultural destination. His first exhibit of a few pieces of pottery mounted on painted crates blossomed into five successful galleries and shops. He embraced the creative economy, opened a highly respected studio, and launched the Village Art and Craft Fair.

Hart, a former attorney, landed on The New York Times best-seller list with his first published effort, “The King of Lies,” in 2006. With the release of his second book, “Down River,” in 2007 and his third, “The Last Child,” in 2009, he continued to appear on best-seller lists and became the only author ever to win consecutive Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. Salisbury and Rowan County provided inspiration for his early books, and his fourth effort, “Iron House” in 2011, alternates between North Carolina and the criminal underworld of New York City.

Kirk served as a member of the state Senate, as chief of staff to two governors and a U.S. House member, and as secretary of the N.C. Department of Human Resources (now the Department of Health and Human Services) during two administrations. He lent his time and experience to more than 30 boards and commissions during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Kirk had dual appointments as director of the N.C. Council for Business and Industry (now the N.C. Chamber) and as chairman of the State Board of Education.

Lucas, 93, triumphed over the knotty problem of integrating the white N.C. Education Association and the black N.C. Teachers Association, proposing what came to be known as the “Lucas concept.” He proposed that a new organization be formed rather than force a merger, and in 1970 the N.C. Association of Educators was created. He was elected to the first school board of the newly merged system in Durham County, and has served as president of Shaw University. Lucas Middle School in Durham and other community institutions bear his name.

Wolfram is an internationally acclaimed linguist who has transformed the appreciation and understanding of the historical and social importance of North Carolina’s rich language and dialect heritage. Appointed in 1992 as the William C. Friday Distinguished professor at N.C. State University, he founded the N.C. Language and Life Project, which has become a national model for sociolinguistic engagement and the dissemination of knowledge to the public. He continually engages the community through his work creating museum exhibits, appearing at the State Fair, serving as consultant to popular TV shows such as Sesame Street, and creating eight documentaries on the dialects and languages of North Carolina.

The General Assembly created the North Carolina Awards in 1961. They have been presented annually since 1964.

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