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Distinguished Alumni Awards

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About Berry's Distinguished Alumni Awards

On an annual basis, the Berry Alumni Association solicits nominations for four Distinguished Alumni Awards. Only nominees who exhibit the highest personal integrity and character, in keeping with Berry's core values, will be considered for an award.

Meet our 2019 Award Winners

Please join us in congratulating our 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award winners!

whit-whitaker-150x175.jpgDistinguished Achievement: Alexander “Whit” Whitaker (81C, FFS)

Alexander “Whit” Whyte Whitaker (81C) first arrived on campus in 1966 at six years old when his father came to Berry as an English Professor. He grew up on campus and graduated in 1981. Five days later, he traveled to Rhode Island for Officer Candidate School, beginning his 25-year career in the United States Navy. When a position opened at Berry College in 2007, he retired from the Navy as a Captain and joined Berry’s Advancement Office as Assistant Vice President for Major Gifts before transitioning to Chief of Staff and Board and Corporate Secretary, positions he held from 2008 until 2016. He participated in most of the large strategic decisions at Berry throughout the past decade and in the planning of most of the building projects during that time, including preservation and restoration projects for Roosevelt Cabin, the Cabin in the Pines, the World War I memorial, Martha Berry’s piano, Martha Berry’s gravesite, and more. Upon his departure in 2016, Berry’s Board of Trustees named him Secretary to the Board Emeritus.

Education has been a centerpiece of Whit’s career. He received a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1988; Master of Laws from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1996; Master of Arts in Religion from the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in 2012; and Master of Theology from Duke University in 2018. After serving as a Navy Special Duty Intelligence Officer from 1982 until 1985, he completed the Law Education Program at the University of Virginia School of Law in 1988, then served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps for the rest of his Navy career. Today, he serves as the President, chief executive officer, and ex officio member of the university Board of Trustees at King University.

Throughout his exemplary career, Whit has always focused on serving and mentoring others, with one fellow alumni saying that he “always made his lifetime of achievement about enabling the achievements of others.” He has received numerous military awards, including the Legion of Merit (two awards), the Meritorious Service Medal (four awards), the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal (three awards), and the Navy Achievement Medal (three awards). He has also held countless civic, community, and professional leadership positions, including as a founding member, parish chancellor, and adult church school teacher of the St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Rome, GA. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the Trinity School for Ministry; the Board of Directors for the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Bristol, the Appalachian College Association, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association; the President’s Committee for the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas; and as a member of the Rotary Club of Bristol Virginia/Tennessee.

bekah-fortney-baxter-150x175.jpgDistinguished Service: Rebekah “Bekah” Fortney Baxter (18C)

Rebekah “Bekah” Fortney Baxter (18C) is a relatively new alumna, but her service while at Berry College and which she continues today is extensive. Starting in December 2012, she has completed extensive service work abroad, from leadership development in Ghana, West Africa to running a summer camp for impoverished orphans in Romania to starting a Kindergarten for impoverished children in Soard, a Roma village, the latter of which has provided an opportunity for 200 kids who otherwise has no access to education begin to break the cycle of poverty through education.

In March 2016, while a student at Berry, she started a nonprofit called Chosen Vessels, which seeks to encourage, equip, and empower leaders around the globe. In 2016, she lived in Soard for three months, working on the Kindergarten, teaching English, and facilitating the arrival of teams for various purposes, including medical, leadership development, and ministry development. In July 2017, she continued teaching English in Romania while also maintaining leadership development with the leadership team in Soard, Romania. In the summer of 2018, she continued to teach English to young students in Romania as well as continuing to partner in ministry development and community engagement, and in October 2018 she facilitated a marriage conference and business seminars for young individuals seeking to break the poverty cycle in their communities.

A fellow alum said, “Bekah’s community is the world,” a fitting description of the alumna who has now successfully grown Chosen Vessels to serve Romania, Ghana, and Greece. Bekah continues to run her nonprofit fulltime while pursuing her Masters full-time in intercultural studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.

tim-lusby-150x175.jpgEntrepreneurial Spirit: Timothy Brian Lusby (84C)

Timothy Brian Lusby (84C) served as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army before spending nearly 30 years as a successful entrepreneur, during which time he formed numerous successful entities, including New Business Development, LLC (NBD), which was sold to Amendia, Inc., a leading spinal device company. He then led Amendia, Inc. from $3 million in sales to $70 million in sales, spun out Vivex, a $38 million biologistics company, and then successfully sold Amendia to a Kohlberg fund for $162 million. He also formed Valeris, Inc., a leading orthopedic device company; DDS, which was sold to Amendia; One Direct Health; Phalanx, LLC, which was sold to Valeris; and more.

Most recently, he was one of three founders of JRL Energy and its wholly owned subsidiary JRL Coal, a coal mining company in eastern Kentucky. They capitalized the company in October 2016 and converted the company to a full “C” corporation on January 1, 2017. He is a founding director and its current CEO, contributing to the overall concept, strategy, and execution of the company.

In just eighteen months, he and his team raised in excess of $36 million of debt and equity, employed over 240 employees in a devastated area, obtained 20,000 acres under lease with over 50 million recoverable tons of coal, acquired over 300 pieces of large earth moving equipment, secured over $200 million in contracts with utility companies and industrial companies, shipped over 1.2 million tons of coal, and are now producing and selling over $7 million of coal per month.

JRL Coal received the “Business of the Year” from the Tri-County area in Harlan, Kentucky in October 2018. This award recognized JRL Coal for its community leadership, and, more importantly, the economic impact that it has had on the community.

adam-newton-150x175.jpgOutstanding Young Alumni: Adam Douglas Newton (07C)

Adam Douglas Newton (07C) has been focused on helping develop the lives of others since he was at Berry. As a senior, he spent his time mentoring young student athletes as the captain of the cross-country and track team; today, he spends his time impacting others through his work in the financial field.

He has spent his 11-year career thus far with one firm: Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting, one of the world’s leaders in consulting, risk management, and institutional investments. He is one of the firm’s youngest Associate Partners, overseeing four direct reports, and has helped place six Berry graduates at the company. Throughout his career, he’s been invited to join various leadership programs, and has positively impacted nearly 200,000 individuals by leading and managing corporate investment portfolios for clients such Google, BlueCross BlueShield, and Fruit of the Loom.

In January 2014, he co-founded and launched T3 Omni, a firm focused on emerging market impact investments. He led projects such as working with a Mynamarbased private equity firm to provide economic opportunities for refugees, consulting with a Nigerian oil company on incorporating improved environmental policies, and consulting with a Chinese primary school system on governance enhancements. He completed his MBA from Emory University in 2015 while working full-time.

In addition, Adam has served as a chairman for a non-profit organization with a nearly $1 MM annual budget, where he led seven committee members in making charity allocation decisions and helped support and evaluate nearly 100 Atlanta-based and global non-profit organizations. In 2016, he was asked to be a Board of Directors member of Sustainable Liberia, a non-government organization that focuses on making a positive impact in Liberia, West Africa. There, he structured a microloan program for villagers and led the research and implementation of an enterprise focused on processing and distributing cocoa from local farmers in rural Liberia to the port of the capital, Monrovia.

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