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Edgerly wins one of four Massey service awards

John White Edgerly never knew what he was going to have for breakfast. Or more accurately, who.

The Edgerly breakfast table seated eight family members, from parents and siblings to his grandmother and great grandmother.

But because of his father, there were always one or two invited guests around the table as well, young or old.

Sometimes, it was a kid whose father had just lost a job. Sometimes, it was a kid who had lost a father. On one occasion, at least, it was a kid whose father had recently gone away to prison.

“I never saw my father refuse a request for a handout,” Edgerly said. “When I queried him about his generosity, especially when he had just denied me the cost of a Coke — five cents back then — he would reply: `There but for the grace of God go I.'”

Edgerly said he never really understood what his father was trying to explain to him until much later in life. But he credits his father’s compassion as an early, inescapable influence that has kept people and their concerns in the front of his attention his entire life.

Edgerly, who now serves as director of Counseling and Psychology Services, or “CAPS,” was one of four University employees honored this past May with a C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

“I was truly surprised when I received the call from Chancellor (James) Moeser telling me that I was a recipient of the award,” Edgerly said in a recent interview. “I am flattered and honored by the award. It is clearly the most significant event of my professional experience.”

The citation details how Edgerly was appointed two decades ago as the new director of its Student Development and Counseling Center and how Edgerly’s career here has spanned a succession of national crises from the Vietnam War to Watergate to the new stresses and uncertainties brought up after Sept. 11.

“In him they found a man of skill in dealing with persons, judicious in temperament, fair and unfailingly courteous in his treatment of others,” the citation reads.

In 1991, the Division of Student Affairs formed a standing committee on counseling out of which Edgerly would work to coordinate his center’s work with other University agencies that specialized in areas from career services to accommodating students with disabilities.

In 1999, when psychological services and counseling services were merged into a single department, Edgerly provided the leadership necessary to achieve a smooth transition, the citation said.

In addition to his father’s influence, Edgerly credits clinical psychology professor Henry Paar with directing him on his career path. Paar served as Edgerly’s faculty mentor during both his undergraduate and master’s degree studies, and he became like a second father to him who set the example of the kind of professional Edgerly aspired to be, he said.

Edgerly had considered going into law, or medicine, or even the ministry and had gone as far as applying and being accepted to law school. A lack of funding steered him instead toward earning a master’s degree in psychological services.

Another turning point in his life came in 1982. At the time, he was an associate director at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and trying to run a thriving private practice he had started five years earlier.

The problem, he found, was time. There were days he did not get home until the wee hours of morning, particularly because of his hospital rounds. Making matters worse was that his son Nathan had just been born and it occurred to Edgerly that he was “missing out on a lot of the early childhood wonders.”

He was at a crossroads, he knew, and knew he was going to have to decide between going into full-time private practice and seeking adirectorship at a counseling center. And it was during this period of indecision that he received a call from his vice chancellor at Tennessee who told him about the opening for the directorship at Carolina.

“To make a long story short, after 18 years in Tennessee, I was offered the job, accepted, gathered up my family and headed east to Chapel Hill,” Edgerly said. “I have never questioned my decision in coming to Carolina. It felt right from the very beginning. The community was perfect for my family and put us equal distance from the natural environments we love the most, the mountains and the ocean.”

He now has worked at Carolina longer than he was at Tennessee, and in that time there have been challenges and opportunities, from the fraternity house fire to the Williamson homicides.

Two governors have appointed him a member of the North Carolina Psychology Board. As chair of this board, he has served as the hearings officer for cases brought against psychologists.

Another highlight is that his son earned both his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and master’s degree in accounting from Carolina.

The years, he hopes, have changed him for the better.

“Aside from being a lot older and I hope wiser, I think that I am a much better manager than I was 20 years ago,” Edgerly said.

“I not only think more along inclusive management lines, but I think I behave that way much more thoroughly and consistently. I think my staff is much more productive because of it and feel that what they think counts and that they have greater control over their work lives.

“Additionally, I do believe that I more greatly appreciate the contributions of my profession to the enhancement of people’s lives and living, and I think that I am a far better psychotherapist/counselor than I was 20 years ago.”

Originally published by University Gazette: Nov. 6,2002

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