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Social Mobility: Honors Student Takes Next Step in Career

by Chuck Gordon

When Becky Beachum Bullard ’63, ’81 raves about the nurturing, caring way that Wingate faculty and staff members go about their jobs, she really knows what she’s talking about. Across the decades and from a couple of important angles, Bullard has observed and been involved in the Wingate experience.

In the early ’60s, Bullard attended Wingate Junior College because it was close to her home in Peachland, and she found a welcoming environment that opened her eyes to the world. Since 2004 she has been a University trustee, serving on just about every committee in a bid to help Wingate continue to grow and prosper.

In between, she came back to Wingate in the late 1970s looking to better her prospects for career advancement. It was then that she got a life-changing taste of the One Dog spirit. A semester away from graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Bullard was short of money to cover tuition. Her advisor suggested that she talk to John Cox Jr., who wore many hats during his years at Wingate, including assistant to the president. Bullard, a wife and working mother, told him that she was probably going to have to drop out and go back to work fulltime for a while.

“How much do you need?” he asked.

Cox found the $250 she was lacking, thanks to a scholarship established by the Tucker family in Wadesboro, and Bullard was able to finish her degree (with honors, it’s worth noting).

“That was a red-letter day,” she says. “I wrote the Tuckers a couple of letters and told them how much it meant to me. Two hundred and fifty dollars doesn’t sound like much money at all now, but at the time it was a fortune.”

Bullard repaid Cox’s and Wingate’s trust in her, and continues to. Within months of graduating she had secured a job in the human resources department of Life of Virginia, the start of a 30-year HR career that culminated with her retirement as vice president of human resources for the athletic-footwear giant Converse. 

Becky Bullard yearbook photo

Bullard’s various HR jobs enabled her to travel the world and have a fulfilling career that played upon the strengths she first displayed as an honor student at Wingate. In school and at work, Bullard was organized and diligent. Having grown up in rural Anson County, she highly valued every penny she and her parents spent on her education, and she strived to get the most out of it by being an active and engaged student.

“The first day I walked into an economics class, one boy said to another boy, ‘Well, there goes our curve for the semester,’” Bullard says. “He knew I was going to make a hundred, or at least an A.”

As an HR director, Bullard valued good communication. That meant listening as much as it did speaking and writing clearly. Bullard was tuned into the needs of the employees, which is how she wound up serving on the boards of various banks over the years, including United Carolina Bank, BB&T and Truist.

At one stop on her career journey, she realized that many of the company’s 600 employees were having trouble saving money. “I talked to a bank manager about letting every employee set up a savings account and deduct five, 10, however many dollars a week from their salary,” she says. “The bank manager thought that was a great idea, so we did that. They got 600 new accounts, and they didn’t have to do a whole lot of work, because we deducted it from their payroll. A lot of employees used it for their Christmas money.”

Bullard wound up on the bank’s board of directors, and she’s spent time on the boards of other organizations as well, including Rotary International, Robeson Community College and UNC Pembroke. In 2004, after her term at UNC Pembroke expired, Dr. Jerry McGee, Wingate’s president at the time, talked her into joining Wingate’s Board of Trustees.

Bullard was eager to help, since Wingate is where she jump-started her future in the late ’70s. Back then she could see better job possibilities, if only she had the proper credentials – and she was proved correct.

“I had been in the business world enough to see that if you wanted to progress and be promoted and do some of the fun, interesting things that are in the business world, you needed a degree,” she says.

Bullard endured some hard times after leaving Wingate with her bachelor’s, including the death of her first husband, Steve Thomas, from pancreatic cancer. But in the mid-’80s, a call from the fire department changed her life. She was living in Lumberton and got a call at work saying that her apartment building was on fire. While standing in the parking lot with other residents watching the flames being extinguished, she met Cliff Bullard. Cliff would go on to own a string of Burger King restaurants in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. 

“When we were getting married, he said, ‘I met her at a fire and she set a fire in my heart, and it’s been burning ever since,’” Bullard says. “Oh, you’re smooth.”

“I had been in the business world enough to see that if you wanted to progress and be promoted, you needed a degree.”

Bullard considers her volunteer efforts – including, at different times, serving as the president of the Lumberton Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Lumberton, as well as delivering for Meals on Wheels and reading to elementary-school kids – just a part of paying it forward. “We all want to be able to contribute something and leave things better than we found them,” she says.

That’s especially true at Wingate, where Bullard is an engaged, active member of the Board of Trustees. “She’s involved, interested, and you’ve got to listen to the question when she asks one, because she’s been thinking about it,” says Joe Hunter, an emeritus member of the board. “She doesn’t miss tricks, so when she asks a question, you better be ready.

“She’s focused and energetic, and she certainly loves the school. She has a great passion for what’s trying to be done there.”

Bullard has served on several trustee committees over the years. Having twice been a Wingate student, and having improved her prospects as a result, it’s no surprise that the committee she’s found most enjoyable to work on deals with student life.

“You have firsthand communication with what we were there for anyway: students,” she says. “It keeps you involved with young people and their outlooks. That’s interesting. And we all need to keep learning all of our lives. Education is not a four-years-and-you’re-done. You have to keep learning all the time.”