ECU Alumni Association honors 2020 award winners

The East Carolina University Alumni Association recognized six alumni at A Purple and Gold Evening, its annual awards ceremony Oct. 1 at the Greenville Convention Center. The awards, which were postponed due to the pandemic, celebrate alumni and friends of the university who demonstrate outstanding service to the university and accomplishments in their careers.

“It is, as we often say, a great day to be a Pirate, especially as we honor some of ECU’s finest leaders, some of our most passionate advocates, some of our most unwavering supporters, and some of my dear friends with incredibly well-deserved awards this evening,” Chancellor Philip Rogers said.

“These alumni have excelled in their chosen fields, have a track record of career highs, and constantly bring distinction to their alma mater. We are thrilled to call them our own,” added Rich Spain, chair of the board of directors for the alumni association.

In addition to the dinner reception, the recipients were recognized on the field during ECU’s homecoming football game against Tulane University on Oct. 2.

Virgil Clark ’50 Distinguished Service Award

John Cooper ’71

Cooper is described as a “behind-the-scenes” advocate for ECU and has consistently been a leader in advancing ECU’s legislative priorities. He was actively involved in acquiring state funding for the Brody School of Medicine and the School of Dental Medicine. After graduating from ECU with a degree in economics in 1971, Cooper spent more than 45 years as a corporate CEO, government administrator and lobbyist. He is currently president of ConnectC, a full-service government relations and lobbying firm. He was appointed to the university’s Board of Visitors in 2012 and became chair in 2019. Cooper and his wife, Carol, also support a scholarship in the Brody School of Medicine in honor of their son, who attended medical school there.



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Ronald E. Dowdy ’66

Dowdy is a longtime leader in financial giving to ECU — Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and Dowdy Student Stores both bear his name. He is a founding Chancellor’s Society member, Order of the Cupola member and ECU Military Hall of Fame inductee. For many years, he was the sponsor for the Ronald E. Dowdy Retired Faculty Dinner, earning him the distinction of Retired Honorary Faculty Member in 1992. He also served on the ECU Board of Trustees from 1993 to 1999. After graduating from ECU in 1966, he was commissioned as an Air Force officer and completed 232 B-52 combat missions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In addition to generously giving his time and philanthropy to the university, Dowdy is an active supporter of the American Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the Boy Scouts of America.

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Young Alumni Achievement Award

Maj. Tina Cordova ’10

Cordova serves as the Civil-Military Operations Officer In Charge at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was previously the aide-de-camp and executive officer for the commanding general of Division East, First Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. She has conducted two deployments to Honduras in support of the Civil Affairs Engagement Program. Her awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal. In addition to her military excellence, Cordova volunteers for the nonprofit organization Give2TheTroops, packaging and sending care packages to troops deployed overseas.

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Outstanding Alumni Award

Lt. Col. William “Billy” Dye ’04

Dye was commissioned as a distinguished graduate through Air Force ROTC and now serves as the chief of wing safety and a T-6A instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. He was previously an Air Force One advance agent, charged with ensuring the safe arrival and departure of Air Force One for the president, first lady, vice president and White House personnel. Dye’s deployments include supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Inherent Resolve. He has earned the Meritorious Service medal, Air Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, among other decorations. He was an ECU 40 under 40 Honoree in 2016 and regularly returns to campus to speak to classes of Air Force ROTC cadets.

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Vonta Leach ’10

Leach was a top athlete for Pirate football from 2000 to 2003 under head coaches Steve Logan and John Thompson, and captain his senior year. He went on to the NFL as fullback with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans and was part of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII championship team. Leach received the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Goldspys Awards, created by the ECU Student Athletic Advisory Committee. He was also named to the ECU Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. Now retired from the NFL, he runs the real estate company VL Investments and supports several scholarships at ECU in the College of Health and Human Performance, the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center and Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

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James “Jim” Westmoreland ’74, ’75, ’81

Westmoreland spent more than 40 years in the ECU community. He started in student life, working with residence and new student orientation programs. From 1981 until 2001, he worked in career services, where he served as both assistant director and director. From 2001 until his retirement in 2019, he was the associate dean of external affairs for the College of Business. During his tenure, he worked closely with the Business Advisory Network, a group for graduates to mentor students pursuing their careers. He also established the Westmoreland Leadership Followership Scholarship and supported numerous other funds at ECU. He is the author of “cAreer BasiCs — The ABC’s of Career Preparation.”

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