WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Former Cape Fear Community College President Eric McKeithan got a big surprise at a Rotary Club lunch today. He received one of the highest civilian honors in North Carolina.
Dr. McKeithan was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for his service of more than 30 years to the state. He retired in June from CFCC after serving as president for nearly two decades.
"Makes me feel grateful for having the opportunity to serve at Cape Fear Community College for these last 18 years," McKeithan said. "What a capstone to a career that I've had."
CFCC Board of Trustees Chairman Barren Nobles said McKeithan is a worthy recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine because it recognizes and celebrates a life given in service to the citizens of North Carolina.
"He is to be commended and admired for his life-long commitment to developing and improving educational opportunity in our state, especially at Cape Fear Community College," Nobles said.
McKeithan was president of CFCC from 1994-2012. He led the college during the largest period of growth in the school's history. During his time, annual student enrollment more than doubled. In addition, the number of academic programs increased from 33 to 78 - and the size of the facilities grew from 221,000 square feet to 1.3 million square feet.
Before taking the helm at CFCC, he served as president of Caldwell Community College for ten years.
Since the Order of the Long Leaf Pine was created in 1965, more than 6,000 people have received the award. Originally, the Order was a symbolic honor for visiting dignitaries, but later it became an honor for notable North Carolinians. McKeithan joins the ranks of previous award winners, which include notable Tar Heels such as Maya Angelou, Michael Jordan and Andy Griffith.