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November 9, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Benjamin Ruffin Posthumously Honored for Service to Higher Education
CHAPEL HILL -- The late Benjamin S. Ruffin of Winston-Salem is the 2007 recipient of the University Award, the highest honor given by the Board of Governors of the multi-campus University of North Carolina. UNC President Erskine Bowles and awards committee chairman Brad Adcock of Cary presented the award, which recognizes illustrious service to higher education in North Carolina, to Ruffin’s widow, Avon, and daughters, April and Benita, during a banquet Thursday evening (Nov. 8) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.
Ruffin—a highly respected civil rights activist, businessman, and civic leader who served as the first African American chairman of the UNC Board of Governors—died unexpectedly last December at the age of 64. In every facet of his professional and civic life, he was a tireless and vocal defender of greater educational access and affordability, as well as greater inclusion in state government and in the political process. The posthumous award acknowledged his inspirational leadership and lasting impact on the University and all of public higher education in the state.
A Durham native and graduate of North Carolina Central University, Ruffin held a master’s degree in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill and seven honorary doctorates. A business consultant, retired vice president for corporate affairs for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and former special assistant to Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., Ruffin also chaired the corporate round table of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, chaired the Mechanics and Farmers Bank board, and served on the boards of the NC Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Research Triangle Foundation. He was the recipient of the NAACP’s Kelly M. Alexander Humanitarian Award and the D. H. McGannon Citation from the National Urban League.
An emeritus member of the Board of Governors at the time of his death, Ruffin was first elected to the Board in 1991. Before being tapped as board chairman in 1998, he had served two terms as vice chairman and had also served as vice chairman of the Board’s Committee on Budget and Finance. As Board chair from 1998-2002, Ruffin provided leadership during a period of unprecedented growth and unmatched opportunities—including the passage of a $3.1-billion bond package for capital construction and renovations on UNC and community college campuses. This was the largest bond referendum in the history of American higher education.
During the evening, tributes to Ruffin were offered by former Governor Hunt and former NC Central University Chancellor Julius Chambers.