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Nearly 150 gather to honor Dean Jack Richman for years of service

Nearly 150 current and former faculty, staff, students, as well as alumni and friends recently gathered at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill to honor Jack M. Richman, who after nearly 14 years as dean of the School of Social Work, is stepping down to return to the classroom.

Richman, who arrived in Chapel Hill in 1983 as a clinical assistant professor, was named dean in 2002. Since that time, he has overseen the School of Social Work’s growth in research, teaching and service, helping to propel the graduate program to one of the best in the nation, praised Chancellor Carol L. Folt, who along with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean, attended the celebratory reception on June 30.

“There is nothing more important than coming to say thank you to someone who has given as much as Jack has given to this university,” said Folt, who spoke highly of Richman’s efforts to recruit top tier faculty, promote high quality research and multiply the School of Social Work’s endowment.

“You are a true Tar Heel precious stone, and you have made such a difference,” Folt added. “And you have so many friends and so many people who have valued and learned from what you’ve done. So, thank you.”

Throughout the evening, others, including members of the School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors, also recognized the long-term impact of Richman’s contributions as a social worker, mentor and role model. Board member and philanthropist Sam Reeves defined Richman’s leadership within the narrative of “a little seed.”

“We can all count how many seeds are in an apple, but we can’t count how many apples are in a seed,” explained Reeves, who along with his wife Betsy, are among the School’s largest financial supporters. “Because of the seed you have laid out as a dean all these years, you’ll never be able to know how many apples have grown. But we know it’s large.”

Reeves and Louise Coggins, an alumna of the School and chair of the School’s Board of Advisors, presented Richman with a gift, which the board commissioned from local textile artist Elaine O’Neil. O’Neil’s whimsical pieces often feature iconic images of Chapel Hill and UNC. Richman’s gift included a folksy portrait of the dean captured from the fifth floor campus view of the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building, and surrounded by items and images that illustrate his life and interests, Coggins explained. She noted the books on “family, intervention and marriage,” road signs pointing toward “global impact, social justice, the code of ethics, teaching and research,” as well as Richman’s guitar and the Old Well.

“It’s very personalized and shows our appreciation for the Renaissance man that Jack is,” Coggins said.

Richman was also presented with a School gift— a hand-crafted Boston Rocker rocking chair engraved with the UNC seal on the front and a personalized plaque with Richman’s name on the back. During the reception, about a dozen staff and faculty members also serenaded and paid tribute to Richman with an a cappella version of one of his favorite folk songs, Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer.” The staff-composed remix was interspersed with ‘70s TV-show tunes and lyrics that illustrated the dean’s tenure with the School.

Much of the celebration focused on well-wishes and memories offered from current and former faculty members, many of whom recognized Richman’s legacy as a caring and supportive leader. Lisa Zerden, who arrived at the School in 2010 as an adjunct faculty member, praised Richman’s universal ability to work with anyone, regardless of “role or rank.”

“I think your interpersonal ability is what makes you so special, and it’s what’s going to make it so hard to find a replacement,” said Zerden, now a clinical associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs.  “You can look around this room and know that you have fostered all of this.”

Richman, surrounded by his wife Carol and daughters Erica and Alice said he was “overwhelmed with gratitude,” by the turnout and the kind words.

“As I look around, you are the school,” Richman said. “The school would not be without the staff, without the doctoral students, without the masters’ students, the board of advisors who support us, or the faculty. Without each and every one of you, we would not be where we are. My job is easier because all of you are spectacular at what you do. So, the last two hours have been about me, but my 14 years as dean have really been about trying to make sure that everyone can be successful within the roles that they’re playing so the school can be what it is.”