Retired director of Governor’s School West honored at Salem College

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Lucy Milner, a former director of the Governor's School West, reacts to learning she has been awarded "The Order of the Long Leaf Pine" during her retirement reception at the Rondthaler Gramley House on the campus of Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, July 12, 2014. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A symbolic passing of the torch took place Saturday within the prestigious Governor’s School West campus at Salem College, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Lucy Milner, 72, was honored for her 36 years of involvement at the summer educational program, including 15 years as its director until her recent retirement.

The school, the oldest of its kind in the nation, is for intellectually gifted high school students, integrating academic disciplines, the arts and unique courses on its Winston-Salem and Raleigh campuses. The touch from its more than 35,000 participants can be felt through the state, the nation and the world.

The presentation was part nostalgic, part humorous – wind-up chickens were sent hopping around as a favorite poem of Milner’s was read – and part applauding the good fight Milner, her husband, Joseph, and the Governor’s School foundation fought to keep the program alive after legislators wrote the program’s funding out of the 2011-12 state budget.

Milner responded in the winter of her career with passionate appeals to alumni and the community to fill the gap until legislators could be persuaded to resume state funding. The urgency for saving the program was shared by Joseph, who served several years as director of the East version at Meredith College.

“The Governor’s School is a rare gift from this state to its youth,” Milner said. “It’s had a lot to do with creating thoughtful, compassionate individuals. It is an edifice in which we all bring a stone.

“We knew there was a risk that we could not recapture what we had here if we tried to reconstitute it. There was not a thought to me, but to fight.”

The Milners and the foundation were told by legislators they would consider restoring some state funding if the program could demonstrate an ability to raise sustainable money, mostly to help support students’ ability to attend.

In about a month, the program raised about $70,000. Eventually, the foundation gathered another $700,000 – enough to run the program without state funding in 2012.

That skin-in-the-game effort persuaded legislators to put program funding back into the annual state budget, beginning with 2012-13.

“Even though 2012 was a small session in duration and number of students, we were able to keep it going,” Lucy Milner said. “A state senator told us he had never received so much mail in praise of an institution, and in regret for its loss, as the Governor’s School.

“I believe the state legislature, by the efforts of the foundation, the alumni association and others, realized what they had given up.”

In recognition of Milner’s overall efforts with the program, Mayor Allen Joines declared Saturday as Lucy Milner Day in Winston-Salem. The proclamation read in part that Milner is “a wonderful and compassionate ambassador for the Governor’s School around the state, and as an administrative and intellectual leader that guided students and faculty to be the best versions of themselves.”

She also received formally Saturday the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, presented to North Carolinians who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state and to their communities. It is among the most prestigious awards given by the governor of North Carolina, with her husband being another recipient in June.

Rodney Allen, who succeeded Milner as director, credited her with “revolutionizing the school and increasing the intellectual rigor of the program,” along with her effort to restoring state funding.

“She ushered in the teaching assistant counselor program, which brought former Governor’s School students and others onto the campus to serve in classrooms, and in many cases eventually move into teaching and administrative roles within the school,” Allen said.

Milner compares the Governor’s School to the “academic village” that Thomas Jefferson wanted to create at the University of Virginia.

“It is that sort of sense of a community around a common and significant purpose that draws me to it,” she said.

Milner said she has plenty to keep her busy in retirement, including her three sons and six grandchildren. But she plans to continue to contribute to educational endeavors wherever they may take her.

“Today was a wonderful capstone to my working career,” Milner said. “I feel as if my head is going to fly off.

“Although I have done many wonderful things in my life, nothing has so fulfilled me as this.”