By Julia Duvall
On a late summer afternoon in Cullowhee, friends and family of Phil and Connie Haire joined the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees to celebrate the husband-and-wife duo who have spent decades in higher education and public service.
On Friday, Sept. 8, WCU’s Public Policy Institute was renamed the Phil and Connie Haire Institute for Public Policy to recognize the couple’s service in community, education and state roles.
“There are few environmental, public safety or workforce advancements seen in these mountains, or our state, that weren’t touched by Phil and Connie’s ideas, guidance and advocacy,” WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown said. “It’s my honor to acknowledge what the Haires have meant to WCU and our mountain region it was founded to serve.”
WCU’s Public Policy Institute was founded in 1999 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent research and outreach organization. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the mission of the Institute is to generate effective public policy responses and alternatives to important political, administrative and social problems that profoundly affect the quality of life in Western North Carolina.
“The Haires have been longtime supporters of Western and have given their time, talent and treasure to many aspects of WCU, specifically, our students,” Brown said. “This type of support for students changes lives and we are so grateful.”
Phil Haire is a retired Sylva attorney who practiced with Haire and Bridgers, P.A. He is a seven-term former N.C. Representative and part of the original brain trust behind WCU’s College of Health and Human Science Building. A 2018 recipient of the Long Leaf Pine Award, Phil served on the UNC Board of Governors from 1981-1993 and the WCU Board of Trustees from 1992-1998.
Connie Haire received her master’s degree in education from WCU in 1984 and oversaw the Southwestern Community College Foundation with various roles at the college for more than 25 years, most recently as vice president of the Macon campus and institutional development. Connie also served on numerous volunteer boards, often as chair, including the WCU Alumni Board, WCU Friends of the Arts, Mainspring Conservation Trust and Blue Ridge Public Radio. She currently serves on the WCU Foundation Board as part of the Advancement Committee.
The Haires established three endowed scholarships at WCU, one each in the College of Arts and Sciences, the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts and the School of Music.
“One of the most joyful and rewarding duties we have is to select and recognize the rare individuals whose contributions so far exceed the normal bounds, that we can honor them with a living testament that will serve as a vivid and perpetual reminder of their deeds and actions in advancing WCU,” said Kathy Greeley, chair of WCU’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to the endowed scholarships at WCU and starting a scholarship fund at SCC, the Haires donated the property for the AWAKE Children’s Advocacy Center for abused children in Jackson County and are very active at Sylva First United Methodist Church.
The couple’s lifelong dedication to public service and to the Western North Carolina region has been instrumental in advancing educational, social and economic opportunities for the citizens of North Carolina.
"The longevity of what we've done and do is so important because it serves people not at the time it starts but for years to come," Connie Haire said. "And we're proud of that.”
In addition to the friends and family in attendance, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper spoke of the impact the Haires have had on the state and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and House Speaker Tim Moore sent congratulatory letters to the couple. Other past and present NC representatives were also on hand to celebrate the Haires.
On the day of the ceremony, the Haires announced they would personally pledge $1,000 to the endowment fund set up for the benefit of the Institute. Those who would like to make a gift in honor of the Haires can do so at https://give.wcu.edu/haireppi.