Rachel Windham calls herself a lifelong education student.
Throughout her 24-year University career, she has approached each job as a learning experience. She has studied Carolina's operations from South Building to the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center to the School of Dentistry, where she has served as director of business and finance since 1985.
Along the way, Windham has committed herself to the good of the University--not simply by observing, but by becoming intricately involved in its day-to-day activities.
"She long ago set out to understand the place and how it works to the end that she might perform her own mission with a sense of its interrelatedness to the larger obligations of the institution," read Windham's citation of the C. Knox Massey Award for Distinguished Service.
For her steadfast dedication to making the University a better place for faculty and staff alike, Windham was honored as one of four outstanding employees to receive the Massey Award. The late C. Knox Massey established the awards in 1980 to recognize unusual, meritorious or superior contributions by University employees.
When Windham came to Carolina in 1972, she served briefly as secretary to the director of the Carolina Population Center, then left to work in the private sector for a year before returning as assistant to Claiborne S. Jones, who then was vice chancellor for business and finance. There she stayed for seven years.
"Working in administration was absolutely a great place to start my University career, because I could view operations and make informed decisions about where I wanted to be," Windham said. "While there, I saw that the University was a huge, wonderful place where I could learn so much."
Not content just to absorb knowledge, Windham has used what she learned as an advocate for employees.
Outside her regular job duties--which now involve managing a $34 million budget and overseeing eight employees--Windham took on a host of other roles, such as serving in the University Managers Association, as co-chair of the University Campaign and chair of the Performance Management Review Board.
Two years ago, she chaired the Employee Forum, where she worked to address concerns expressed about the University's chilly climate to women and minorities as well as taking an active voice in speaking against the threat of legislative budget cuts.
She was a member of the Chancellor's Installation Committee and spoke on behalf of employees at the installation of Chancellor Michael Hooker on University Day 1995.
"Consider whether University employees could have had a more eloquent or talented representative at the chancellor's installation in October 1995 than the then-chair of the Employee Forum, whose felicitous and graceful remarks did them--and the University--proud," Windham's citation read.
One of Windham's colleagues who nominated her for the award agreed.
"She is a critical thinker whose willingness to go the extra mile for the good of this University and its public image is unmatched," he said. "She is relentless in her efforts to have Carolina known as the best place to work in Chapel Hill and never shy about being the voice of staff when opportunities arise that require attention."
Why has she always been so involved in campus activities?
In Windham's words: "Because I've always considered myself part of a team.
"I want to know how things work. My philosophy has been to be part of the solution, not just complain about the problem. I want to know soup to nuts about everything I'm involved in. Knowledge helps you do that, and the University provides a wonderful opportunity to learn and to be more involved."
A former boss described Windham as a superb administrator.
"Her ability to organize, to be straightforward, clear and concise about what was needed enabled her to deal with a variety of academicians and scientists on all levels," said James J. Gallagher, Kenan professor of education and former director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center. Windham was assistant director for administration at the center for four years before she assumed her position at the dental school.
"There was deep regret throughout the center when she decided to take another post--especially from the director's office," Gallagher said. "She was absolutely superb!"
Windham's current boss, Dean John Stamm, lauded her commitment to Carolina.
"For 24 years, Ms. Windham has given her very best to this University, filling numerous important responsibilities," Stamm said. "Her more recent campus activities, particularly her service as chair of the UNC Employee Forum, have brought Ms. Windham a welcome level of recognition and applause from her friends and colleagues."
Windham's work ethic goes far beyond an 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. day.
"I don't always know where the job ends and life begins, because Carolina is such an integral part of my life," she said.
When the job ends--and before it begins--each day, Windham can be found working on her six-acre farm in Orange County, mowing the pasture and caring for her Paso Fino mare, Lady, and her ducks, Fred and Lucy.
"I get up at 6:30 a.m., tend to the animals, clean the barn, have my coffee and read the paper before I go to work," she said.
"When I get home, it's time to get the animals in, which is a little harder during the winter months when there isn't much daylight.
"But most of the time, it's OK. It truly is great fun because the farm is totally unlike anything else I do all day.
"Nothing is quite as satisfying as hopping on a John Deere and mowing grass. Not only can I see the progress I've made, I don't have any telephones to interrupt me. Working on the farm provides balance."
Windham approaches all her jobs--whether administration, farm management or committee member--with the same level of commitment and desire to learn.
"Typically, she joined, she worked, her ability was recognized, she was given tougher tasks, she performed them well, and she was given yet more to do," the award citation read. "All these things she has done in the interest of accomplishing everything she does more effectively, with deeper understanding."
Carolina has been the beneficiary of Windham's quest for knowledge and understanding.
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