Savannah State University (SSU) recently honored four outstanding alumni with two distinguished awards: The Richard R. Wright Excellence Award and The Cyrus G. Wiley Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual Founders Day ceremony.
Named for the first president of SSU, The Richard R. Wright Award is the most notable honor, recognizing outstanding leaders who have distinguished themselves through their expertise in social, educational and civic arenas. Posthumously awarded to alumni James O. Thomas Sr., his daughter, Toniae Thomas, accepted the award on his behalf.
A loyal and devoted alumnus who demonstrated unwavering leadership for his alma mater, Thomas was an incorporator and charter member of the Savannah State University Foundation (SSUF) Inc. and served as its chairman for 20 years, 1979-1999. He earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from SSU in 1956. The Eulonia, Ga., native proudly served his country in the military for seven years, and began his 40-year career at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office where he progressed through the ranks to become the first African-American director. In recognition of his many years of stellar leadership, Thomas was inducted as an SSUF Honorary Director for Life in 2008 and was elected SSUF Chairman Emeritus in 2016.
The Cyrus G. Wiley Distinguished Alumni Award, named for the University’s second president, recognizes outstanding alumni who have shown extraordinary support and loyalty. The award was presented to Judy Days-Dee, Ed.D., Alvernia Smith Jackson and Barbara Lawson McGhee. Recipients each received a four-inch medallion featuring a relief carving in the likeness of President Wiley.
Days-Dee earned a doctorate in curriculum and instructional leadership from the University of Sarasota, now Argosy University; Master of Science in counseling from Creighton University; and a Bachelor of Science in social studies education from Savannah State University. She is a professional school counselor in Gwinnett County Public Schools, a Savannah State University National Alumni Association (SSUNAA) Diamond Life Member and vice president of the HBCU Atlanta Alumni Alliance.
Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in dietary and institutional management from Savannah State College, now Savannah State University, in 1967. She earned her master’s degree in health science from Armstrong College, now known as Georgia Southern University, Armstrong campus. Retired from the Savannah Chatham County Board of Education School Nutrition Program, Jackson served 26 years as school nutrition coordinator, planning and providing nutritious meals to children in the public school system. With Senior Citizens, Inc., and the City of Savannah, she served as the nutrition coordinator for the City of Savannah’s first Summer Feeding Program. She is a Diamond Life Member of the SSUNAA.
McGhee is a 1966 graduate of Savannah State College, now Savannah State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in English and later received a Master of Science degree in middle grades education from Savannah State-Armstrong State College. With a calling to make a difference in the lives of children and young adults, McGhee taught kindergarten, middle school, high school and adult education before retiring from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in 1996. She is a Diamond Life Member of the SSUNAA.
To learn more about SSU, visit Savannah- State.edu.