125 Years of Leadership

Ben Coulter MS ’94 and his daughter, Abby Coulter, view the panel honoring their father and grandfather, the late Myron “Barney” Coulter (chancellor from 1984-1994), during the gallery unveiling in December 2012.

A gallery at the Chancellor’s Residence provides a look at the domestic lives of our institution’s first families


Shortly after David and I moved into the Chancellor’s Residence, we realized that the freshly painted and decidedly blank walls of our new home offered an empty canvas upon which we might pay homage to Western Carolina University and those people – past and present – upon whose shoulders we stand.  Newly ensconced in the house that has been home to WCU first families since 1953 – an abode still alive with the imprint of its former inhabitants – questions arose in my mind regarding the families of our institution’s past leaders. Who were they? Where and how did they live? What role did they play in the life of the university that they came to serve?  

The questions became a quest, and the quest became a project, with its end result being the development and installation of a “Chancellors Gallery” in the residence – a unique pictorial essay chronicling our university leaders and their families, and offering a glimpse into the domestic lives they lived within the campus community they served.

By design, the gallery focuses on photos and descriptors of each man (and so far, all of the university’s leaders have possessed the Y chromosome!), his spouse, their children, their residence (the very first university-owned president’s home was a field hands’ farmhouse located across from present-day Albright-Benton residence halls) and their home life. It also offers a sense of institutional context by providing “snapshots” of campus life or the campus footprint during the time each was in office.  

Not all of the data needed to create the gallery was readily available; dates, names and locations were missing. Through extensive research on the part of WCU Special Collections, much new information was “mined” from early documents and close inspection of photos. As a result, the gallery has served to further expand our knowledge and understanding of our institution’s past.   

The gallery was unveiled during a reception in December 2012, with members of the families of four former leaders of the institution on hand for the dedication ceremony – Jim Madison, grandson of university founder Robert Lee Madison, and his wife, Sara Sutton Madison ’54 MAEd ’60; Josie Robinson Bewsey, daughter of the late H.F. “Cotton” Robinson (chancellor from 1974-1984), and her husband, Jeff Bewsey ’90 MBA ’92; Barbara Coulter, wife of the late Myron “Barney” Coulter (chancellor from 1984-1994), children Ben Coulter MS ’94 and Nan Coulter, and granddaughters Abby Coulter and Mary Coulter ’13; and Sue Wakeley, wife of the late John “Jack” Wakeley (interim chancellor from 1994-1995).

The gallery would never have come into being without the contributions of the many WCU staff and faculty members who collectively made it possible. George Frizzell ’77 MA ’81 and his assistant in Special Collections at Hunter Library, Jason Brady ’99, worked tirelessly to conduct research, locate photographs, track down the names of spouses and children of past leaders, and document historical highlights from each leader’s tenure. Thanks go to university photographers Mark Haskett ’87 and Ashley T. Evans, to creative services director Rubae Schoen and Greg McPherson MFA ’06 from the School of Art and Design and to local artist Susan Lingg for designing, printing and framing each piece so beautifully.  I also thank the Office of the Chancellor for its financial support of this new university gallery.

I hope that you enjoy a selection of images from the gallery. We gratefully acknowledge our university’s previous leaders – and those family members who, often behind the scenes, provided the support and encouragement to enable them to serve this wonderful institution.   

See the art for these tributes at:

Robert Lee Madison
Alonzo Reynolds
Hiram T. Hunter
W. Ernest Bird
Paul A. Reid
Alexander S. Pow
Frank H. Brown, Jack K. Carlton, W. Hugh McEniry, John H. Wakeley
H.F. Robinson
Myron L. Coulter
John W. Bardo