Dr. Kathleen G. Lee-Stevens never attended Catawba College, but thanks to a new scholarship established in her memory, future female students from some key North Carolina counties who shared her love of English, Education and Political Science will have that opportunity.
Kathleen died in January of 2009 after a long battle with cancer. After her death, her husband, Dr. William V. Stevens, a 1971 Catawba alumnus, considered ways to ensure her legacy and decided to establish a scholarship in her memory at his alma mater.
Preference for the Dr. Kathleen G. Lee-Stevens Endowed Scholarship will be given to female students from the state of North Carolina pursuing a major in English, Education or Political Science (Pre-Law), with first priority preference going to residents from Brunswick, Davidson, Guilford, Iredell, Mecklenburg, and Orange counties.
The academic areas of study and even the counties named in the scholarship agreement held a special significance in Kathleen's life, husband Bill says. "I wanted to think it through — what would most closely mirror what her life was like in terms of her educational experiences.
"I tried to model the scholarship on who she was and where she had been," he continues. "She loved going to the beach at Oak Island in Brunswick County, and she lived and grew up in Thomasville in Davidson County and went to school in High Point (Guilford County). Her grandmother lived in Iredell County, and she lived in Mecklenburg. Orange County is where she went to law school at UNC Chapel Hill. Those six counties were chosen for a reason — to try to give back to those counties that gave something to her."
Kathleen earned her bachelor's degree in English from High Point University and earned her master's degree in English and a doctorate in Education from UNC Greensboro. She held a J.D. degree from UNC Chapel Hill. She was a member of the Mecklenburg County Bar Association, the N.C. Bar Association and the South Carolina Bar Association, and was licensed to practice law in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. She was also licensed by the state of North Carolina as a real estate broker and appraiser.
"People reading her obituary were surprised at how well-educated she was," Bill remembers. "She enjoyed academia and even with all of her degrees, she felt a need to go back and get her law degree.
"Kathleen received some scholarship aid as a student at High Point, but she continued working to help pay her way through college. She was a very determined and persevering individual and she wanted to live. She didn't feel her life on earth was finished. She wanted to write some music and write a novel. She was very bright and intelligent, and she tried to use her talents in a very positive way. In return, she just wanted to make a way to help someone else in life achieve their dreams and their goals."
Prior to her disabling nine-year battle with cancer, Kathleen was employed as Risk Manager for Piedmont Natural Gas. Between 1989 and 1995, she served on the Matthews Board of Adjustment, chairing that board in 1994. She had worked as a former teacher at Ferndale Junior High School in High Point.
She was an active member of the Matthews United Methodist Church and MUMC Women's Tuesday Morning Bible Class. "As her body grew physically weaker, her faith grew stronger, so her faith and spiritual life became even more important to her," Bill notes.
"There were many qualities that impressed me about Kathleen. She handled the cancer with such grace, dignity and courage. Everything that people would do for her was always accepted with much appreciation and thanksgiving. She had an enormous spirit of gratitude and that's just one of the many reasons why I loved her."
Married later in their lives, Bill and Kathleen were wed for 13 and a half years before her death. Those were years that Bill recalled in Kathleen's eulogy as "a distinct honor and privilege" for him. He remembers meeting Kathleen for the first time at church on Christmas Eve in 1992 and learning that she shared the same birthday as his mother's — May 12th. At that time, that small detail signified to him that this was "no chance meeting, but rather a divine appointment."
Bill, who attended Catawba thanks in large measure to a basketball scholarship, today practices optometry in Lancaster, S.C., at Stevens Sight Specialists. He says the camaraderie and fun times he shared with his teammates have resulted in some lifelong friendships for him. He recalls the influence that former Catawba Basketball Coach, Sam Moir, and Professor of Biology, Dr. Jay Buxton, had on him.
For 10 years following his graduation from Catawba, Bill was a high school science teacher at West Charlotte High, teaching primarily biology or chemistry. At age 37, he enrolled in optometry school at the University of Houston, College of Optometry in Houston, Texas, and was "the oldest person in my class."
"I really stepped out in faith," he explains of going to optometry school. "But I'd always had this feeling or interest in health care. I got a little restless in my mid-30s and I wanted to do something that would be even more productive and beneficial to people."
Catawba Senior Vice President Tom Childress expressed gratitude for Bill Stevens' gift to create the scholarship in memory of his wife. "Bill was very deliberate in establishing this scholarship at Catawba and I believe he captured the spirit of his wife in his gift. The scholarship memorializes her at a place that continues to figure prominently in his life. While we are sad for his loss, we rejoice that future young women like Kathleen will benefit from his generosity."