Presidential Award Winners Honored for Resilience, Resolve

Winners for 2019 lauded for commitment to work, colleagues and community

Duke University President Vincent E. Price speaks with guests at the reception following Tuesday's Presidential Awards ceremony. Photo by Les Todd.
Duke University President Vincent E. Price speaks with guests at the reception following Tuesday's Presidential Awards ceremony. Photo by Les Todd.

For Zoila Airall, finding out that she would be among this year’s recipients of the Duke’s Presidential Awards, one of the highest honors for staff and faculty, left her surprised.

In her role as associate vice president for Student Affairs, Airall has been a champion for Duke students – especially those from marginalized communities – for roughly two decades. Her passion came out of a drive to help as many students as she could.

Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Presidential Award winner Zoila Airall. Photo by Les Todd.“I was shocked because I was getting an award for something that I loved doing,” Airall said. “This is work that I truly, truly love. Every day I get up excited to come to work.”

That was the case for the seven individuals and five teams honored during Tuesday’s ceremony in Page Auditorium. Their moment in the spotlight was the result of a willingness to rise to great challenges or a sustained commitment to demonstrating Duke’s values through their work.

And according to Duke University President Vincent E. Price, these qualities are present in across Duke’s workforce.

“When we think of a university, we might imagine students marching around with backpacks and headphones, and basketball players in Cameron,” Price told the audience in Page Auditorium. “But it’s the employees, the people who work tirelessly in support of everything we do on this campus, who are the heart and soul of the university community.

“It is thanks to your efforts that we are able to educate the leaders of tomorrow. It is thanks to your efforts that our campus is renowned not only for its beauty, but for its world-class facilities. It is thanks to your efforts that the Health System is able to save or improve countless lives. It is thanks to your efforts that we are building a future that lives up to Duke’s values and promise.”

The Presidential Awards recognize individuals and teams who made distinctive contributions to Duke University and Health System and have demonstrated its institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, diversity and excellence during the 2018-19 academic year.

Among the honorees was Larry Gill, a utility worker at the Duke University Law School. He is a central piece of the school’s culture through his work, pleasant demeanor and willingness to help with projects such as a school-wide composting program.

Duke University President Vincent E. Price and Presidential Award winner Larry Gill. Photo by Les Todd.When introducing Gill, Price pointed out that Gill’s nomination materials included four pages of single-spaced testimonials from colleagues.

“It’s breathtaking, man,” said Gill, who was able to read the nomination comments. “I just do stuff from my heart and try to help out and do what I can.”

One of the more memorable moments of Tuesday’s ceremony came when Vice President of Duke Health Development & Alumni Affairs Ellen Medearis received a plaque bearing the 105 names of her team, which won a Presidential Award for its response to last year’s deadly gas explosion in downtown Durham.

The members of the Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs team accept their Presidential Award. Photo by Les Todd.“They told me it was going to be big, but I hadn’t seen it,” Medearis said about the plaque. “But it’s really fun to have the whole team out here to see this. Now we just need to figure out where to put it.”

While the honor is thrilling, Medearis said life has yet to return to normal for members of the Duke Health Development & Alumni Affairs team, who have not yet returned to the downtown workspace due to building damage.

“I think individually, we have some really brave people, really compassionate people and really organized people,” Medearis said. “Everybody’s played a different role.”

The Duke University Presidential Award winners are:

Individuals

  • Zoila Airall, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs
  • Tony Brown, Professor of the Practice, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Larry Gill, Utility Worker, Duke University Law School
  • Nicole Heilbron, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
  • Peter Kussin, Professor of Medicine, Duke Global Health Institute
  • Roger Lewis, Senior Sourcing Manager, Procurement Services, Duke Print Management
  • Wilbert Moore, Surgical Attendant, Duke Raleigh Hospital

Teams

  • Code Blue First Responders of Duke Health for saving the life of colleague Betsy Hames, who suffered a heart attack at work.
  • Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs for caring for one another in the immediate aftermath and trying weeks and months after last year’s downtown gas explosion.
  • Duke University Marine Lab Staff, part of the Nicholas School of the Environment, for banding together to help the Beaufort-based facility recover from Hurricanes Florence and Dorian.
  • Advanced Practice Providers from Duke University Health System’s Breast Surgical Oncology Team for providing compassionate care for patients going through the treatment process.
  • Duke University’s Undergraduate Admissions Team for working to ensure Duke’s admissions process is holistic, fair and inclusive.

Read more about this year’s Presidential Award winners.

Watch this new video about the university's values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence:

Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with Working@Duke.