Two community leaders and a longtime educator were honored at a ceremonial dinner Thursday night by Brenau University.
Brenau conferred its top nonacademic awards on Gainesville businessman and philanthropist James A. "Jim" Walters and longtime city employee and aviation entrepreneur Eloise Gilmer.
The university also presented an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to Helen Ray, who is retiring at year’s end as provost and vice president for academic affairs after 15 years with the university.
Brenau University President Ed Schrader presented the awards at the Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville. The event brought together nearly 200 financial supporters who contributed at least $1,000 to the university’s annual fund or other programs.
Gilmer was given the university’s Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, named for a 19th century Southern humanitarian who assisted prisoners during the Civil War and in its aftermath worked aggressively for reconciliation between the states.
Gilmer was lauded for her community efforts for close to 60 years and for her longtime financial and "moral" support for the university.
Gilmer, wife of the late Lee Gilmer., for whom the Gainesville airport is named, moved to the city just a few years after World War II and, with her husband, built a successful private aviation business. A few years following his death, she began her more than 30-year career as a city employee, a role she continues today.
She also endowed a scholarship fund at Brenau that will help train nurses for years to come.
Walters was presented the Distinguished Service to Brenau award. Walters, president of Walters Management Co. in Gainesville, is a longtime member of the Brenau University Board of Trustees and one of the university’s top benefactors. He also has been a member of the Georgia Board of Natural Resources, including a term as chairman, and the North Georgia Mountain Authority.
Walters’ philanthropic efforts have included the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Hall County YMCA. But financial support wasn’t the key reason Walters was honored.
"He has always been selfless with his time and personal energy," Schrader said. "Institutions love having him on their boards because he works at it."
Ray, a former French language and literature professor, has a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, a master’s degree from Georgetown University and an undergraduate degree from the former Randolph-Macon Women’s College.
Among other things, she has steered Brenau’s development of a new multidisciplined liberal arts curriculum that will help set the university apart from other small, independent colleges and universities.
Conferring the honorary degree, Schrader said, "is an extremely appropriate send-off for a woman who has meant so much to this institution and to its academic integrity."
Ray announced earlier this year that she would retire on Dec. 31 as the university’s top academic officer.