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Atrium administrator inspires fall grads with universal, personal truths

by Luanne Williams

“You don’t have to have a privileged background to be successful. And when you help others, you help yourself.”

Atrium Health’s northern division president, Phyllis Wingate, based her advice to Wingate University graduates on Saturday on these two universal truths. 

The daughter of a small-town Baptist minister and a mill worker, Phyllis Wingate told those crossing the Cuddy Arena commencement stage that they should not let their circumstances limit their vision or success.

“They had seven children and very little wealth,” she said of her parents. “But they instilled in their children a belief that education makes you a better person and gives you a better life.”

Graduates happy after receiving diplomas

In the University’s third fall Commencement, healthcare was once again front and center. Of the more than 230 students walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, 91 had earned physical-therapy or physician-assistant degrees. Before diplomas were handed out, three Union County physicians were awarded honorary doctorates for their longtime service to the medical community.

Phyllis Wingate has also devoted her working life to providing healthcare to the masses, though on the administration side. She spent 20 years in healthcare roles in Virginia and Maryland before joining Carolinas Healthcare System in 2002. The division she heads includes three hospitals. She said her career has given her many opportunities to help others.

“Working in healthcare provided me a natural environment to be of service to others. That’s why a lot of people enter healthcare, to serve,” the speaker said. “For these healthcare-field graduates, you will learn to understand this truth by simply doing your job and doing it well. If you are entering a non-healthcare field, such as education, business/finance or sports management, there will still be occasions for you to be of service.”

When those occasions arise, she offered this advice: “Give back what’s on loan to you: your talents, your time, your resources. Your life will be richer, fuller and bolder for it, and you just might find true success.”

“There is much research that shows that people who give of themselves, their talent and resources are more likely to be satisfied with their life,” Phyllis Wingate said, citing the generosity of celebrities such as Bono, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey as well as local examples with whom she shared the commencement stage.

“The physician honorees today are being recognized for their service. It is part of their legacy and a testament to their lives well lived,” she added, referring to Edward Bower, John Vick and Lane Ormand, each of whom had been awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters earlier in the program. 

Combined, the trio have practiced medicine for nearly 150 years. 

Ormand was Union County’s first board-certified OB/GYN specialist and was instrumental in creating the Union County Division of Public Health High Risk Maternity Clinic. Upon his retirement, the Monroe Women’s Clinic was renamed the Ormand Center for Women in his honor.

Bower introduced highly specialized surgical techniques to Union County and established the wound-care center at Atrium Health Monroe. He was named Union County Man of the Year in 2007 and has received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.

Vick joined Union Family Practice in 1982, and he has been the driving force behind the practice’s rural residency program, which allows doctors to complete their residency requirements by providing care to the medically underserved. His parents, Frances Cuthbertson Vick and Major Giles Vick Jr., taught at Wingate.

Wingate President Dr. Rhett Brown called the three men the “founding fathers of modern healthcare in Union County.”

In addition to the three honorary degrees, the University awarded 49 Master of Physician Assistant Studies degrees and 42 Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees, including two to a married couple, Dylan and Aerial Burleson of Gastonia. Eleven MBAs and six Master of Arts in Sport Management degrees were handed out on Saturday. Eighty-nine undergraduates were also presented with their diplomas (74 bachelor of science, eight bachelor of arts and seven bachelor of liberal studies). 

Among the undergrads were Taylor Rodier, who picked up her political science degree (cum laude) on the way to pursue a master’s in diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. 

“My Politics and Development class and Foreign Policy class with Dr. (Jacob) Wobig and my public policy class with Dr. (Joseph) Ellis definitely helped me find my path,” Rodier said. In the not so distant future, the Marion, N.C. resident hopes to find herself working for the State Department formulating refugee policy in the Middle East as a foreign service officer.

It was the University’s health sciences reputation that attracted Rock Hill, S.C., resident Rosalyn Robinson, who earned her bachelor of science in biology. 

“I want to become a sonographer and then get into neuroscience,” said Robinson, who began her studies in pre-pharmacy, but decided she preferred biology to chemistry. “There were still a lot of programs here with medical, so I knew it was a good choice. The teachers were able to know me and know what I needed help with.” 

Michela Verpelli, a tennis All-American with a 4.0 GPA, earned the H.K. Helms Award, presented annually to the graduate achieving the highest scholastic average. The award honors the memory of former Wingate mayor H.K. Helms.

Hundreds of family members and friends packed into Cuddy Arena for Commencement, with others watching the ceremony via live-stream in Austin Auditorium.

December 14, 2019