In some ways, the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine award has been like Rodney Dangerfield. It gets no respect, or at least not enough.
I know. Some of you are asking: What’s the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and who is Rodney Dangerfield? Which somewhat proves my point.
The Rodney Dangerfield reference might only be known by people of a certain age, or by the legions of men who are obsessed with the movie, “Caddyshack.” He was a comedian whose heyday was in the 1970s and early 1980s. His famous catchphrase was “I don’t get no respect.”
But given that the Order of the Long Leaf Pine is one of the state’s most prestigious civilian honors, it would be good if more North Carolinians knew about it, and if the state took a little more care in keeping track of who gets it.
The award was created in the 1960s and is given by governors to N.C. residents who have done great service to their communities or the state, or have significant achievements. The certificate dubs the recipient an “ambassador extraordinary.” Someone told me it’s similar to the Kentucky Colonel award given in that state – but is more highly regarded.
Indeed, some well-known North Carolinians lay claim to being part of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Among them are evangelist Billy Graham, poet and entertainer Maya Angelou, artist Bob Timberlake and Bobcats (soon-to-be Hornets) owner Michael Jordan.
Some say the Long Leaf Pine is more symbol than actual tribute. But the recipients I’ve heard of have made real and often very significant community, state and even national contributions.
What I like most about the award is its egalitarian reach. Teachers, church members, politicians – even journalists (my former colleagues Ed Williams and Jack Betts received the honor) – have been recipients. I also like the fact that it takes note of community service with an honor that comes from the office of the highest state official, the governor.
Sally and Russell Robinson, well-known Charlotte philanthropists and community leaders, are to get the honor this summer.
But until Phillip Fisher got interested a few years ago in compiling a list of recipients, you would have had a hard time figuring out who many were. Fisher, a retired Raleigh real estate executive, got the award in 1991, and was later surprised to discover no one from the governor’s office or the state archives had ever put together a comprehensive list. He decided to do it himself, telling the News and Observer a couple of years ago he had to go through the records of former governors to cull names, which were sometimes written on napkins, the backs of envelopes or the margins of another state document.
He’s compiled a list of over 13,000 names, but he’s still soliciting names. He’s started The Long Leaf Pine Society, and sells lapel pins commemorating recipients’ awards on his website.
Charlotte community activist Theresea Elder thinks its a shame that the state didn’t do its own compiling. She notes that you can’t decipher who all the Charlotteans are on the list, or whether all Charlotte residents who’ve gotten the award are even on the list.
She and the Levine Museum of the New South want to rectify that. They’re trying to compile a list of Charlotte Order of the Long Leaf Pine recipients, and plan to hold a ceremony to honor all of them sometime this year.
For the many worthwhile recipients, that would be a show of respect that they’ve earned.
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