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Small treasures close ties with students

William Small felt the same thrill every time he got a note or a message from one of his students thanking him for the help or advice he’d given them.

Small still gets plenty of such notes even though he retired from the University’s School of Public Health in March. Most of his 28 years at the school were spent recruiting students, an assignment he relished.

“Students are extremely exciting to work with because unexpected things happen,” Small said. “Each day is different and you have to be prepared to handle whatever comes up.”

One other significant honor came Small’s way just after he retired. He got a call at home in March telling him he’d won the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

“I was in a trance for some time,” Small said. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. You know you tried to give your best to the institution, but you don’t expect such accolades. It’s a great feeling to know you are valued.”

The late C. Knox Massey, a former Durham advertising executive who served 20 years as a University trustee, created the award in 1980. The program is supported by three generations of the Massey and Weatherspoon families.

Helping students

Small earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Carolina and then returned to the University in 1971 to work as the coordinator of minority affairs for the School of Public Health.

His first job was to increase the school’s minority enrollment, which was a mere 2 percent when he started. Today the school is a national leader in the diversity of its student body.

That success led to his promotion to assistant dean in 1974, a job that placed him in charge of all student recruitment. The relationships built in bringing students to Carolina continued once they arrived and even after they left.

Those ties came from Small’s readiness to talk to students about anything from career goals to personal problems. Small treasures those close ties.

“It always meant a lot to me to see and sense the leadership qualities in students,” he said. “To see someone grow into a leadership role is something special.”

Beyond his work with students, Small played a key role in establishing the School of Public Health’s Minority Health Conference. The conference’s success was a leading factor in Small winning a national award in 1990 for Outstanding Health Service to the Minority Community.

Now 21 years old, the conference starts with a keynote lecture named in Small’s honor.

The longer Small stayed at the School of Public Health, the more his responsibilities grew. By the time he retired, he oversaw student recruitment, retention, orientation, counseling, admissions and placement. And though he was advisor for multicultural affairs, his work was on behalf of all the school’s students. As his Massey Award citation said: “Indeed, what has marked his career is its inclusivity.”

Small’s work extended to the University as a whole. He spent four years as chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Minorities and the Disadvantaged.

He also served 16 years, several as chair, of the EPA Non-Faculty Grievance Committee, a job he kept for so long because he deemed it “extremely important.”

“The stakes were always very high because we’re talking about people’s careers, their personal lives,” Small said.

Most cases were quite time consuming, Small said, because grievances inevitably involve hard feelings between a worker and his or her supervisor. Small takes great pride in the fact that the committee was able to resolve the vast majority of the cases it heard.

“There were some cases I thought would be impossible to come up with a solution that everyone agreed on, but yet we did by talking it out,” Small said. “That was most gratifying.”

Small does have one regret attached to the Massey Award. The person who called to tell him he’d won the award was Chancellor Michael Hooker. That call was the last time the two men spoke.

“He seemed excited himself, which added to my feelings of excitement,” Small said. “We talked very briefly and he said a few words of appreciation for my service.”

Hooker was not able to attend the April banquet for the Massey Award winners, although his wife, Carmen, did, and Small has pictures of himself with her at the occasion.

“I wish very, very much he had been well so that I could have taken some pictures with him,” Small said. “I’ll always remember that telephone conversation.”

Now retired, Small is focusing on other things such as his golf game and trying out his new bass boat.

But retirement hasn’t stopped his outreach efforts. He spent the week of the Special Olympics as a line judge for the badminton competition at North Carolina Central.

And he remains proud of the work being done at the School of Public Health.

“We continue to be the best School of Public Health in the country as far as I’m concerned,” he said.


Originally published by University Gazette: July 14,1999

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