Former North Carolina Senator Howard Lee Honored for Service to Public Education – BladenOnline.com
ATLANTIS — Howard N. Lee, whose distinguished career has included service as a North Carolina state senator, chairman of the state Board of Education and senior education advisor to two governors, is the recipient of the first Jack Hill Champion of Education Award from the Southern Regional Education Board.
Lee received the award on June 26 at the SREB annual meeting.
The award honors heads of state who make significant, long-term contributions to the education and work of SREB on behalf of the 16-state region. It also recognizes leaders who share a commitment to civility, cooperation and public service.
“Senator Lee has worked most of his life to improve the education and lives of all North Carolina residents. He shared his leadership, generosity, warmth and wisdom with all of us at SREB, and many Southern leaders strive to follow his lead,” said SREB President Stephen L. Pruitt.
Born in Georgia, Lee grew up on a farm in Lithonia, graduated from Fort Valley State University in Georgia, and served in the U.S. Army in Korea. After a stint as a juvenile probation officer in Savannah, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a master’s degree in social work.
In 1969, he was elected mayor of Chapel Hill – becoming the first black mayor of a predominantly white Southern town – and served three terms until 1975.
He served in Governor Jim Hunt’s cabinet from 1977 to 1981 as secretary of the agency then known as North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Ccommunautary development.
He served as a trustee at Duke University and taught at Central University of North Carolina at Durham, then joined the faculty of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work from 1982 to 1991.
In 1990, he was elected to the North Carolina Senate, where he served for 13 years and chaired committees on education, transportation, and appropriations. He successfully lobbied for new early childhood programs, increased funding for education and teacher salaries, and higher standards for teachers and student achievement.
He served as Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education from 2003 to 2009. He was then appointed as the first Executive Director of the North Carolina Education Cabinet by Governor Beverly Eaves Perdue, from 2009 to 2011.
Upon retirement, he founded the Howard N. Lee Institute for Equity and Opportunity in Education to focus on closing the achievement gap and improving academic performance for minority men.
Lee was appointed to the SREB Board of Directors in 1999. He served on the SREB Legislative Advisory Board, the SREB Executive Committee and as Treasurer of the Board of Directors from 2001 to 2003. He also served on the SREB commission on the objectives of education and the SREB college commission.
For the award presentation, Lee was joined by his wife, Lillian; son and daughter-in-law, Noel and Janet Lee; and one granddaughter, Jillian Lee. His daughter Karin was unable to attend.
The award is named after the late Georgia State Senator Jack Hill, who died in 2020. The SREB Executive Committee created the award to honor Hill’s 29 years as a legislator and his dedication to improving education in Georgia.
A resident of Reidsville, Georgia, Senator Hill served on the SREB Board of Directors for 26 years, including serving on the SREB Executive Committee, as Treasurer of the SREB Board of Directors and Chair of the Legislative Advisory Council of the SREB – always in a spirit of goodwill, friendship and public service.
The award recognizes the recipients’ considerable years of work to improve education, including efforts to provide opportunities for students in underserved areas. It honors recipients who understand the role of the state’s long-term fiscal commitment to education, serve as voices for civility and work down the aisle and participate in SREB’s ongoing work to strengthen education in the region.
The first committee to nominate and select recipients of the Jack Hill Champion of Education Award was chaired by Senator Bob Plymale of West Virginia and included Commissioner Greg Dozier of the Technical College System of Georgia, Senator Mamie Locke of Virginia, Rep. Terri Collins of Alabama, Senator Joyce Elliott of Arkansas and Rep. Mark White of Tennessee.
For more information, contact SREB Communications.