Albany philanthropist Jane Willson accepts Albany State University’s Community Service Award at a banquet ceremony Thursday night. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Albany State University honored Albany philanthropist Jane Willson by presenting her with the school’s 2013 Community Service Award at a banquet Thursday night.
Albany State initiated the award to give special recognition to people in the community who have been great supporters of the university and its mission.
According to Clifford Porter, vice president of institutional advancement for the school, Willson has been a supporter of the Albany State for some time, having made several large monetary donations to the school over the years.
“She’s done a lot of great stuff for us, so it’s just kind of a natural fit to honor her this way,” Porter said. “We probably should have honored her sooner. We wanted to do something special to say ‘thank you.’ She’s been wonderful. She just does it from the heart.”
Having only recently met Willson, ASU interim president Kimberly Ballard-Washington, said it wasn’t long after taking the helm that she learned how important Willson is to school and to the community as a whole.
“Jane Willson epitomizes what it means to be a servant leader,” said Ballard-Washington. “She walks the walk that she talks to transform the lives of men, women and children in this community. Albany State is honored to have her support.”
Willson, who is known throughout the community and the state as a great philanthropist, has not only donated money, but has also donated countless hours of service. In addition to having served as a member of the ASU Foundation, she has also served on the Foundation of Darton State College, served on the board of Albany Technical College, served on the education committee for the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, where she was a founding member of the “Partners in Excellence” program.
In the past she has also served as president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Albany, where she still holds a seat on the board, and has served as a campaign chair and board chairman for the United Way of Southwest Georgia. Additionally she has historically been a supporter of the Albany Arts Council, the American Red Cross, the Albany Concert Association and the Charity League of Albany, among others.
As was referenced time and again during the awards banquet, Willson has truly made a difference in Albany.
When speaking of Willson’s involvement with Albany State, Porter tried to sum up his feelings about honoring such an important benefactor of the community.
“I am thrilled to participate in this tribute to a Georgia treasure, a jewel in Albany’s crown,” Porter said. “Jane Willson’s work has touched us all. I wish every person on planet earth could feel the love and support that I’ve personally felt from her.”
Willson arrived at the banquet wearing blue and gold in honor of the school and spent several minutes greeting well-wishers at her table.
Willson, who has travelled to Italy numerous times and is an avid lover of opera, was then treated to a special performance of Act IV of the Giuseppe Verdi opera Rigoletto, performed by ASU professor Dr. Leroy Bynum, who was joined by ASU alumni Raquel Ewings, Arlesha Edmondson, Zack Williams, and accompanist Dr. Marcia Mitchell Hood.
The performance was followed by dinner and video tribute to Willson, before Willson was presented the award.
“Love is the most important thing we can give,” Willson began. “I truly believe in Albany State. I think it’s a very fine institution and I’m proud of it and I’m glad that I’m now a part of it. Thank you for embracing me with this wonderful award. It’s just been so wonderful and I believe it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever had happen to me. I thank you and love you all.”
Willson was the university’s fourth recipient of the award, joining past winners, SB&T Bank President and CEO Mark Lane, former Albany Mayor Dr. Willie Adams, and past Chamber of Commerce Director Patsy Martin.