Western Carolina University’s Distinguished Service Award for 2014 went to Robert Edwards ’77, who retired in December after four years of filling the role of vice chancellor for administration and finance, and a total of 37 years of service to the university.
Edwards joined the payroll staff at WCU after graduating from the institution with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1977. Edwards eventually became WCU’s internal auditor, a position he held for 27 years. He moved into the role of interim vice chancellor for administration and finance in January 2011.
As Chancellor David O. Belcher presented the award during a Homecoming weekend ceremony, he said one of his first actions on his first day as WCU chancellor – July 1, 2011 – was to take the “interim” out of Edwards’ title. “I knew at that time that with the budget challenges facing the university that I needed someone with Robert’s expertise, experience, long-term perspective and passion for Western Carolina University on my leadership team in that time of transition,” Belcher said.
“Robert, though, hasn’t just helped me out by being on my leadership team,” Belcher said. “He has been a rock-solid integral part of the team, which has led to the building of momentum that we’re experiencing at Western Carolina today.” Belcher said Edwards has twice delayed his retirement when WCU has needed him to fill the vice chancellor’s role. “He has ignored the siren song of the local golf courses because he loves this university,” Belcher said.
Edwards recently provided funding for the establishment of an endowed scholarship fund to benefit students who are part of WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band. The new scholarship honors Edwards’ parents, Roy and Hazel Edwards, and Bob Buckner ’67, Robert Edwards’ band director at Sylva-Webster (now Smoky Mountain) High School who later became director of the Pride of the Mountains at WCU.
In accepting the Distinguished Service Award, Edwards said his parents endured a lot of sacrifices, financial and otherwise, to allow him and his brother, Wayne Edwards ’79, to attend and graduate from WCU. Aside from his parents, Buckner is the one person who has had the most influence on his life, he said. “(Buckner) taught me that perfection is only obtained through hard dedicated work. I learned how to be a winner with humility and modesty and I learned how to accept losing with dignity and grace,” said Edwards, who also served as grand marshal of the Homecoming parade in October.