WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Andy Griffith, Maya Angelou and even the talk show queen herself, Oprah Winfrey, have been recognized with one of the state’s highest honors: the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Alongside these Hollywood names is UNCW Vice Chancellor, Mary Gornto. She discovered the news of her award a few weeks ago at a reception in honor of her upcoming retirement.
“I was incredibly surprised, humbled and honored,” Gornto said.
The award honors people who have shown extraordinary service to the state, through years of service and extra efforts in their careers.
Gornto says a life in education is not what she had originally planned.
“I had spent nearly 20 years in public service and was fired as city manager by a new mayor and city council,” Gornto said.
Her firing eventually led to her hiring at UNCW and it didn’t take long for her excel in fundraising. Since day one, Gornto’s goal has been to leave a stamp of giving.
“Over more than a decade, we’ve seen a very significant increase in philanthropic support,” Gornto said. “The same time, the university has continued to increase in its quality and its service to the community.”
Gornto’s colleagues say the impact she leaves behind is a big one, one that won’t easily be replaced.
“I think she’s been able to use the relationships that she has with Wilmington, with the community to really advance the university,” UNCW Assistant Vice Chancellor Eddie Stuart said.
Now, after more than 11 years on the job, Gornto is set to retire next month. She says although she’ll miss the people, she’s looking forward to not setting her alarm clock and one more thing.
“I’ve worn hose and high heels every day for 40 years and I’m ready to give those up.”
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