PEMBROKE — UNC Pembroke celebrated the official naming of the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing during a ceremony last week, paying homage to a registered nurse, Mary McKenzie Edwards, whose resilience empowered her to achieve her dreams.
Former UNCP Trustee Mary Ann Elliott shared moving stories of her mother’s tenacity and how she was inspired by her mother’s perseverance in the face of hardships and financial setbacks during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
“Mother’s life lacked many things, but she taught by examples and last sayings that have guided me throughout my life,” Elliott said. “I can still hear her voice. ‘Never give up’ was her mantra and became the driving force by which I live my entire life.”
The naming of the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing was made possible by a $6 million gift — the second-largest in university history — from Elliott. A native of the area, Elliott is a retired CEO of Arrowhead Global Solutions, a highly successful global aerospace company in Virginia.
“My professional career led to financial success, but the sincere need to give back to others, this driving need to share with others, my mother’s example, and the nursing shortage here in this community and throughout our great nation is what led to the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing,” she said.
She spoke before a crowd of family members, university leaders, faculty — including former nursing department chairs — and nursing students gathered in front of the Weinstein Health Sciences Building. During the ceremony, Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings and Dr. Cherry Beasley presented Elliott with a newly branded white coat and a self-portrait which will hang in the nursing school.
“The McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing is perfectly poised to build upon our strong nursing program, allowing us to train more students to meet regional health care needs,” Cummings said in his remarks.
“Today is much more than celebrating our new school. We celebrate Mary Ann, who, through her hard work, earned her success, and we celebrate Ms. Mary McKenzie Edwards, whose grit and passion and perseverance and resilience taught strong character and values to a child who was watching.”
Edwards worked and saved her money in the early 1930s to put herself through school at Thompson Memorial Hospital nursing program in Lumberton. She struggled financially but never gave up on her dream to become a nurse. Edwards worked the night shift to see her daughter off to school and care for her ailing husband.
“Without her ability to work as an RN, our family would have been homeless and without food on the table. Mother’s life calling was to be a nurse. She dedicated her life first to nursing, then to me and helping those less fortunate,” Elliott said.
Elliott said her mother would be thankful that the new school will now “enable all who enter through these doors to learn the art and science (of nursing) and then know how to be of service to others in nursing, but also spiritually, professionally and in stewardship.
“This is an exciting new opportunity for today and tomorrow’s nursing students at UNCP,” she said.
Former senator and UNCP Trustee David Weinstein was among several dignitaries in attendance. Through his efforts as a state senator, UNCP received $29 million to build the Health Sciences building, which is named in Weinstein’s honor and houses the nursing program.
Weinstein said it is rewarding to witness the program’s transformation, its impact on generations of nursing students and health care throughout the region.
“To be able to give back to your community and the university — means a lot. If anything that I did (as a senator), this health sciences building has made my life worth living. I think the future is great for the university,” he said.
Keely Jones, a second-year nursing student, said she is thankful for the benefits of attending such a high-quality nursing program.
“A school of nursing comes with a higher quality of education and a higher quality of resources, equipment and online resources like ATI (Assessment Technologies Institute). I’m thankful for future generations of nursing students who get to carry on her mother’s legacy and provide a more holistic side of nursing.”