With rousing applause and a standing ovation, Lees-McRae Summer Theatre Artistic Director Janet Barton Speer was presented with the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine Thursday, July 11 at the opening night of From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story, of which she wrote and directed.
Lees-McRae President Lee King and Board of Trustees member Barbara Miller Whitton, who presented the award, nominated Speer for the honor.
Created in 1963, the award is one of several civilian-focused honors the governor of North Carolina can bestow. On several occasions, the award has been regarded as the highest-ranking civilian honor achievable even though—legally—that designation is given to the North Carolina Award.
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to “persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact on…North Carolina,” according to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society website.
On the stage, King began his remarks with, “Barbara and I wrote to the Governor of North Carolina and said, ‘Mr. Governor, we think that this wonderful, dedicated, tremendous lady in Banner Elk deserves the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.’”
King went on to share a few more sentences from the letter both he and Whitton submitted.
“Dr. Speer’s impact has not only been on Lees-McRae but the entire High Country,” they wrote. “In fact, it would be hard to put a true value on her significant contributions to our cultural environment, tourism, education, and even the development of Avery County and Banner Elk. She is a legend in the High Country.”
Whitton went on to share her thoughts as well.
“I have for many years been in awe of Speer and her talents,” she said. “She has been such a shining star for Lees-McRae for so many years. People all over the country who are in theatre know the name Lees-McRae because of her and our wonderful productions. Her enthusiasm for her work is contagious.”
Speer joins about 15,000 other recipients of the award—some of which include Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, and former Lees-McRae President, Barry Buxton.
Speer has been teaching theatre and performing as an actor, choreographing, writing, and directing plays for nearly fifty years. Her career includes more than 600 educational and professional productions. As the Virginia McKenzie Reeves Endowed Chair of Performing Arts and Distinguished Professor and faculty emeritus at Lees-McRae, Speer is the founder and artistic director for the Lees-McRae Summer Theatre. Speer is also the recipient of several prestigious honors, including The Governor’s Volunteer Award, Avery County Woman of the Year Award, the North Carolina Theatre Conference Service Award, and the Outstanding Educator award at Lees-McRae.
From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story highlights the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Edgar Tufts, the man who envisioned and built several of Banner Elk’s most important establishments including the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, Lees-McRae College, Cannon Memorial Hospital, and the Grandfather Home for Children.