Pioneer Award

The Pioneer Award was established in 2016 by the NC Coalition on Aging to recognize individuals who have made long-time outstanding contributions to the field of aging in North Carolina. The Coalition is pleased to recognize the following recipients of the Award who have been long time passionate aging advocates in the state. Pioneer Award recipients are recognized at the Annual Meeting each year.

2020: Steve Freedman has provided more than 45 years of dedicated state government service in aging.  He was one of the first employees of the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Aging, the forerunner to the NC Division of Aging which later became the NC Division of Aging and Adult Services.  Steve has been the chief architect for or played a key leadership role in almost every major initiative or undertaking of the agency including: the Ombudsman program, Health Promotion, Planning, Home and Community Care Block Grant, Senior Center Development, Alzheimer’s/Dementia Program Development and administration and quality improvement.  Steve is currently the Chief of the Service Operations Section.  

2020: Dr. Sandy Gregory is the Director of North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM).  Dr. Gregory has been the Director of the program since it began in 2009.  His work with senior adult ministry in churches as an Associate Pastor in earlier years fueled his passion for working with programs for older adults.  In 2018, Dr. Gregory initiated a task force to address the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness in seniors which resulted in the launch of “One Hope”. Largely because of Dr. Gregory’s vision and leadership, North Carolina has served as a pioneer in building a bridge between the faith community and the aging services network.  Dr. Gregory has been active in and had leadership positions with aging constituent groups in the state and nationally. 

2019: Dr. Lisa Gwyther, MSW, LCSW Dr. Gwyther is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. In her 40+ years of work at Duke in the Center for Aging, the Dementia Family Support Program and the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, she has made a lasting impact in the state and nationally for her ground breaking contributions in efforts to support individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias and their families, and in caregiving advocacy, research and public policy. She was the founder and Director of the Duke Dementia Family Support Program, a nationally-recognized source for dementia information and services. She is one of two co-authors of the award winning book “The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide” which aids families in navigating questions arising in caring for a person with dementia

2019: Dr. Althea Taylor Jones, PhD. Dr. Jones retired in 2009 as Professor and Gerontology Program Administrator at Winston-Salem State University. Over the course of her career, she also was an adjunct professor at NC A&T State University, High Point University, and Wake Forest University and Director of Counseling at Winston-Salem State University. Prior to entering the education field, she worked for the NC Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the NC Department of Corrections. In 2007, she authored the book “Colorful Memories: Aging with Style” and in 2014 she and her husband, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Jones, co-authored the book “Goose Sense.” In her retirement, she has continued to play a key role in numerous state, regional, and national programs and organizations with an aging focus. In 2018, she was honored by AARP North Carolina with its prestigious Andrus Award for community service. 

2018: Bill Lamb: Bill is a long-time aging advocate who does not know the meaning of retirement. He has retired several times from positions in the aging field where he had distinguished tenures. While working at DHHS he developed the first aging services plan for the state. Bill has held many impressive roles helping to shape organizations like FOR (Friends of Residents in Long Term Care), host the annual state aging conference and more. He was the 2004 NASW-NC Social Worker of the Year. He is a Past-President of the Coalition on Aging and is a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

2018: Lou Wilson: Lou is a legend in the adult care home industry in North Carolina. She is a Licensed Practical Nurse and has been an Adult Care Home Administrator for almost 50 years. She served as the Executive Director of the NC Association of Long Term Care Facilities (currently called the NC Senior Living Association) for 22 years and as a lobbyist for the industry for over 26 years. She is the long-time President of Therapeutic Alternatives, Inc. She always has the best interest of older adults in mind. If someone wanted to know the real scoop on “things,” Lou was the go to person for information.

2018: Robert N. “Bob” Jackson, ED, D: Bob had a 40 year career in aging. Bob worked with the NC Department of Insurance where he helped start and served as trainer for the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). Bob worked for AARP for many years including working for the national office and as a state representative. He forged a strong partnership between AARP and state agencies that have a consumer protection role and was a leader in the development of the NC Senior Consumer Fraud Task Force. He retired from AARP NC in July of 2011 after which he served on the Board of Carolina Meadow.

2017: Diana “Dee” Hatch: Dee began her career as an aging advocate in North Carolina when she was selected in 2000 to participate in the Duke Senior Leadership Initiative.  In 2002 Dee was selected to serve on the initial executive council for AARP NC. She also became president of the Cary AARP Chapter. In 2005 Dee was selected to serve as North Carolina’s AARP State President where she served through 2011. Other AARP activities and roles have included AARP Center to Champion Nursing in America, Future of Nursing NC Action Coalition, NC Board of Nursing Study of Advance Practice Nursing – Consumer representative, NC Center for Nursing Advisory Council and the ECU Center for Nursing Leadership Board of Directors. Dee has held numerous other community organization roles. 

2017: Richard “Dick” Hatch: Dick began advocating for older adults in North Carolina in 1990, first as a member of AARP’s state legislative committee and later as its Chairman. In those capacities he lobbied successfully for and against bills in the NC General Assembly affecting the aging. Dick was a founding member of the NC Coalition on Aging and drafted its Bylaws which are still in use today. He served as the Coalition’s President for two successive terms, as a representative for Access Dental Care and as an individual member. Dick has held numerous roles with community organizations supporting aging in North Carolina. Currently Dick is Wake County’s Alternate to the NC Senior Tar Heel Legislature and served as its Parliamentarian for six years.

2017: Polly Williams: Since retiring as a professor of English at NC State University, Polly Williams has been a public policy advocate for older North Carolinians. In addition to the Coalition on Aging where she has served as an officer, she has shared her knowledge, expertise, and time with a number of other organizations including the NC Justice Center where she has volunteered since 2001 and has specialized in issues related to aging and health. Other key volunteer roles with an aging focus have been with the Triangle OWL (Older Women’s League) where she served as President, AARP North Carolina where she was a member of the Capital City Task force for six years, and the Wake County Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee. She has served on a variety of task forces and committees, including several with the NC Division of Aging and Adult Services, related to aging issues including those pertaining to housing with services for older adults, prescription drug access, health planning, certificate of need, osteoporosis, and home and community based services. Legislative advocacy is of special interest to her and numerous pieces of legislation passed in the state are reflective of her hard work.

2016: Dorthy Rose “Dot” Crawford: For over six decades, Dot Crawford has worked to make life better for older adults in North Carolina. Dot’s contributions to the field of aging include thousands upon thousands of hours of volunteer work at the local, regional, and state levels. She serves on numerous advisory boards and committees in her local community and with the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging. Dot’s advice and counsel is sought by many who are interested in careers in aging. Since she is well known across the state, she is a good source for job referrals for many seeking employment in aging programs. Her positions and opinions are also valued by legislators and decision makers. It is not uncommon for legislators to ask what Dot’s position is on an issue which impacts older adults.