Georgia Southern University may confer honorary degrees to persons of notable achievement in an academic field, the arts and letters, the professions, or public service. This collection provides biographical information for recipients of honorary degrees conferred by the University.
The guidelines and requirements for conferring an honorary degree are provided by the Georgia Southern University Policy on Honorary Degrees. The University Honorary Degree Committee welcomes nominations from current Georgia Southern faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 2023
Dinah Gretsch was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern University in the Spring of 2023. Mrs. Gretsch joined the company in 1979. She is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. She also serves on the board of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) and is a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Mrs. Gretsch has received the Heroes Award from the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts, Georgia Southern University’s Betty Foy Sanders Patrons of the Arts Award and the Women’s International Music Network’s She Rocks Award. Mrs. Gretsch is also the founder of Mrs. G’s Music Foundation to fund music education.
Dinah, along with her husband and fellow Honorary Doctorate holder Fred, are iconic figures in the music industry. Their guitars have been used by musical legends like George Harrison of the Beatles, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley. They are also heavily involved in music advocacy and education. In 2021, the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music opened at Georgia Southern University. The Gretsches provided funding as well as historical instruments and company archives to the school. Gretsch instruments are housed at the Great Gretsch Sound! Museum in downtown Savannah. The Gretsch Archival Records documenting the history of the Gretsch Company are housed within the Special Collections at Georgia Southern University Libraries. More information about the Gretsch School of Music can be found at The Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 2023
Fred Gretsch was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Georgia Southern University in the Spring of 2023. Mr. Gretsch is the Owner and fourth-generation President of Gretsch, a musical instrument manufacturing company founded in Brooklyn in 1883 by his great-grandfather Friedrich Gretsch. Fred Gretsch began working for the family business in the 1960’s until it was sold to Baldwin Piano Company. He founded a musical instruments wholesale business until he was able to repurchase the family business in 1984.
Fred, along with his wife and fellow Honorary Doctorate holder Dinah, are iconic figures in the music industry. Their guitars have been used by musical legends like George Harrison of the Beatles, Bo Diddley and Elvis Presley. They are also heavily involved in music advocacy and education. In 2021, the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music opened at Georgia Southern University. The Gretsches provided funding as well as historical instruments and company archives to the school. Gretsch instruments are housed at the Great Gretsch Sound! Museum in downtown Savannah. The Gretsch Archival Records documenting the history of the Gretsch Company are housed within the Special Collections at Georgia Southern University Libraries. More information about the Gretsch School of Music can be found at The Fred and Dinah Grestch School of Music.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 2018
Hala Moddelmog, a graduate of the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Georgia Southern University in the Spring of 2018. Born in Hartwell, Georgia in 1956, she received degrees in English, Journalism and Mass Communication as well as Executive Education at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Management.
Moddelmog has had many successes in her president and CEO roles, including becoming the first female president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. That, however, is not her only first. She became the first female president of a quick service restaurant in 1996, leading Church’s Chicken to record profit growth. Moddelmog began her career at Arby’s and then BellSouth before landing at Church’s where she has created the Professional Mentoring Program to encourage female franchisees and pair them up with mentors.
Moddelmog has also had successes in more philanthropic endeavors as well. In 2006, she was named the president and CEO of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization dedicated to the prevention and cure of breast cancer, of which she herself is a survivor. Other nonprofits that benefit from her nearly twenty years of experience include PBS, the Woodruff Arts Center, The Alliance Theatre and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Moddelmog also participates in building homes for Habitat for Humanity.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 2013
Luis A. Aguilar was the Commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from July 31, 2008, until December 2015 and is the eighth longest serving Commissioner in SEC history. He was appointed by President George W. Bush and reappointed by President Barack Obama, making him one of only three Commissioners to have been nominated by two U.S. Presidents from two different political parties.
He earned a B.S. from Georgia Southern University, a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law, and a M.A. (Laws in Taxation) from Emory University.
Luis A. Aguilar was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service by Georgia Southern University in 2013.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversityFall 2010
Alva Burley Lines (1915-2013) was a Savannah native and a member of Armstrong Junior College's inaugural graduating class in 1937. He went on to finish his education at Emory University before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II as a captain, winning medals for his service under Gen. Douglas McArthur. After the war, Lines returned to Atlanta and founded Southeastern Films, becoming a pioneering documentary filmmaker. He was also involved in many civic and conservation organizations as well as helped preserve Georgia’s beaches and marshes.
Lines was active in the Armstrong Alumni Association and visited the campus often. He was honored at the 75th Anniversary Notable Alumni reception in 2010 and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters at Armstrong Atlantic State University in the Fall of 2010.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversitySpring 2010
Frank Barragan (1918-2018) was a Savannah native who graduated from Armstrong Junior College in 1938, having been the captain of the golf team and two-time class president. Like many Americans, he joined the military during World War II serving in the Air Force from 1943 to 1945. After the war, he studied law and began a career in the natural gas industry at the Savannah Gas Company, where he served as Vice President and Executive Vice President, and the North Carolina Natural Gas Corporation, where he was President and CEO. He retired in 1993, after having been named Chairman of the Board of Directors and a facility being named in his honor.
Barragan remained active in the Armstrong community. He was president of the Alumni Association, a member of the Armstrong Foundation Board of Trustees and received a distinguished Alumni’s Award in 1994. He also participated in many local organizations including the Kiwanis Club, the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce and the Chatham County Board of Education among many others.
Frank Barragan was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters in Spring 2010 by Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversitySpring 2009
Philip Solomons (1919-2011), a Savannah native, spent his first year of college at Armstrong Junior College before transferring to Georgia Tech. There, he studied industrial management before joining the Air Force during World War II. After returning from the war, he worked in the family business, Solomons Company, a pharmaceutical distributor founded in the 1840's. Solomons was heavily involved in the Boy Scouts and many other community and civic organizations as well as a life-long member of Congregation Mickve Israel.
Solomons attended Armstrong Junior College in 1938 where he was Vice President of the Freshman class. He also served on the Armstrong Atlantic State University Foundation Board of Trustees and Executive Committee. In 1997, he endowed The Philip and Shirley Solomons Eminent Scholar Chair in the Department of Economics at Armstrong and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters on May 9, 2009.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversityWinter 2007
Nicholas John Mamalakis (1913-2005) was a Savannah native and son of Greek immigrants. He served with great distinction in the Naval Intelligence Agency during World War II and was awarded five war medals. Mamalakis returned to Savannah, continuing his career at Mercer General Insurance & Realty where after fifty years of service he was named President and Chairman of the Board. He was a very successful businessman who served on many boards, was involved in multiple civic organizations in the local community, and was active at St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church.
Mamalakis began his association with Armstrong in the 1960’s when he helped establish the Big “A” Club in athletics. He also participated in the Alumni Association and the University Foundation as well as serving as a trustee of the Foundation Board. Mamalakis was inducted into the Armstrong Atlantic State University Athletic Hall of Fame and has an Emerging Leaders Program named in his honor.
Nicholas John Mamalakis was posthumously awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in December 2007 by Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversityWinter 2003
H. Dean Propst (1934-2012) was a native of Catawba County, North Carolina. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in English, he served in the Navy for two years on the Battleship USS Iowa. After returning from the military, he completed a Master of Arts and a Ph.D in American Literature. He began his career as an English teacher in Ohio in 1958. Propst also taught in North Carolina and Virginia before taking a position at Armstrong State College in 1969.
Propst began his thirty-year career in Georgia’s higher education system serving as the Dean of the Faculty and later Vice President of Armstrong State College. After ten years with Armstrong State College, he moved on to the University System of Georgia where he served in several Vice Chancellor positions before becoming Chancellor, eventually retiring in 1994.
Propst was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Armstrong State University on December 13, 2003. The H. Dean Probst Faculty Award is given annually to a member of the Armstrong faculty who is recognized by the Student Government Association as an inspirational and dedicated teacher.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversityFall 2002
Mary V. Burnett (1934) along with her husband and fifth President of Armstrong, Robert Burnett, served the University tirelessly for over twenty years. Mrs. Burnett was a teacher for several years after graduating from the University of Texas, El Paso. She played a crucial role in her husband’s presidency offering sound judgment and a charming presence. She was also a community leader who volunteered with many non-profit organizations including the PEO Sisterhood, Candler Hospital Auxiliary, Savannah Symphony Women’s Guild, the One Hundred at Backus Children’s Hospital, the Chancel Society of St. John’s Church, and the Huntingdon Club. In the Fall of 2002, both Dr. and Mrs. Burnett were awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters for their many years of service to Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Armstrong Atlantic State UniversityFall 2002
Robert Adair Burnett (1934-2004) served Armstrong for over twenty years, advancing from an assistant professor of history to the University’s fifth president. Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, he received his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Wofford College and went on to pursue his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Burnett first arrived at Armstrong State College in 1978. He held several positions including Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Vice President and Dean of Faculty. In 1984, Dr. Burnett was named president of the institution.
Dr. Burnett’s time as president was fruitful, resulting in many positive improvements to the University. Under his tenure, enrollment doubled and endowments increased. He strengthened the sports programs, developed an additional twenty-five majors and expanded the scholarship programs. The first International Programs Office was instituted to create opportunities for study abroad and exchange student experiences. Dr. Burnett also made Armstrong a technological leader by bringing computer labs to campus as well as establishing distance learning programs. After ten years as president, he retired in 1999. Dr. Burnett was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the Fall of 2002.
Dr. Burnett, a Veteran of the United States Army, also devoted his time to a number of professional and civic organizations. He held leadership positions in the Presidents' Commission of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the Rotary Club of Savannah, the Business, Education and Technology Alliance. He served on the Boards of the Union Mission and the Savannah Music Festival, was the president-elect of the Royce Center, a founding board member of the Flannery O’Connor House and sat on the board of trustees at Candler Hospital.
Armstrong State UniversityFall 2001
Dr. Irving Victor (1922-2020), a native of Savannah, graduated as the Valedictorian from Armstrong Junior College in 1941. He went on to earn his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he completed his medical residency in Minnesota under the supervision of Dr. Frederic Foley, the inventor of the Foley catheter. Victor returned to his hometown to begin his urology practice and served as the Chief of Staff at St. Joseph’s, Candler and Memorial Hospitals.
Victor was very active in the Savannah medical community. He helped establish the Chatham County EMS, one of the first emergency medical systems in the country;, served as president of the Georgia Medical Society; and volunteered as a doctor during the Vietnam War. After 41 years, he retired from his practice to work in hospital administration before opening, Vic’s on the River, a very successful restaurant in Savannah.
Victor also remained involved with Armstrong, receiving three Distinguished Citizen’s Awards from the Alumni Association. He was inducted into the Armstrong Athletic Hall of Fame and was Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 2001. Savannah Technical College established a scholarship in his honor to assist students in its EMS or Paramedicine programs.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 2000
Eugene M. Bishop (1935-2011) was a native of Atlanta, Georgia. After serving in the U.S. Army, he spent much of his career in health-related fields. Bishop owned and was president of Health Service Centers, Inc., a provider of long-term health care facilities, acute care hospitals and pharmacies. He also served in both national and state health care trade associations including the Georgia Health Care Association and the American Health Care Association.
Bishop was actively involved with the business program at Georgia Southern University as well as the athletics program. For seventeen years, he was a member of the Business Advisory Council for the School of Business and was elected to the Board of Trustees. He also served on the Georgia Southern University Athletic Foundation and is the single largest contributor to the institution’s athletics department as well as an inductee into the GSU Athletics Hall of Fame. He was also responsible for the funding of the Bishop Fieldhouse at Paulson Stadium.
In the Spring of 2000, Georgia Southern University awarded Eugene M. Bishop an Honorary Doctorate of Letters to honor his service, support, and contributions.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 1999
Emma T. Kelly (1918-2001) was a native of Statesboro, Georgia and was made internationally famous as the "Lady of 6,000 Songs" in the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” After learning the piano at just four years old, Kelly went on to play for presidents and movie stars. She was friends with Johnny Mercer, one of Savannah’s musical legends, who gave her that infamous moniker. Whether performing for the rich and famous or at small, local gigs, she was known to ask an audience member “what’s your favorite song?” and would perform it from memory. Like many other Americans, she contributed what she could to the war effort during World War II and played at USO events for troops. When “Midnight” made it to the silver screen, Clint Eastwood himself wrote a part for her and Kelly played herself in her only movie appearance.
In 1998, Emma T. Kelly was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In the spring of 1999, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts by Georgia Southern University.
The George R. and Emma T. Kelly Scholarship that assists students pursuing a music major and performance with an emphasis in piano, is named in her honor.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 1999
William "Bill" Freeman (1930-2000) was a native of Evans County, Georgia. He graduated from Georgia Southern University in 1957 and went on to achieve success in banking and media including a partnership in Davis and Freeman Accounting Firm. He was an, officer and Director of Provident Broadcasting Company, member of the Board of Directors of Radio Training Network, and President, Director, and Chief Financial Officer of Watkins Associated Industries. He also served on the board and as a trustee of many organizations such as the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Watkins Christian Foundation.
Freeman was active in the Georgia Southern community. He served on the Georgia Southern Business Advisory Council and was inducted into the Parker College of Business Hall of Fame. The WilliamA. Freeman Distinguished Chair of Free Enterprise Scholarship that assists Business majors and provides a mentor, is named in his honor. His financial support to the athletic program and the Southern Boosters was a great contribution to the current success of the University’s teams for which he was inducted into the Georgia Southern Athletics Hall of Fame.
William "Bill" Freeman was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Georgia Southern University in 1999.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 1998
Dr. Jackie Anderson Strange began working for the U.S. Postal Service during her time as a student at Georgia Southern University. She went on to be named the first female Deputy Postmaster General. Strange served on the Board of Governors and managed the world’s largest non-military workforce of 800,000 employees and a $32 billion budget. She received the Benjamin Franklin Award, the highest honor given to postal executives, and the Postmaster’s General Award for Excellence upon her retirement in 1987, after forty years of service. In 2011, she was presented with the Woodrow B. Seals Laity Award and was selected as Georgia Southern’s first recipient of an honorary doctorate degree. The Jackie Anderson Strange Scholarship for students with disabilities is named in her honor.
Dr. Jackie Anderson Strange was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Georgia Southern University in 1998.
Georgia Southern UniversityFall 1998
Arthur M. Gignilliat, Jr. was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1933. He graduated from Armstrong Junior College, along with his wife Molly, in 1953. For forty years, Gignilliat worked for Savannah Electric and was named president in 1982. During his term as president, he led talks with Southern Company that resulted in a merger of the two electricity providers in 1988. After fifteen years as President and CEO, Giglilliat retired in 1997.
Gignilliat also served the state of Georgia for many years. He was elected for eight consecutive terms (1966-1981) to the Georgia House of Representatives where he chaired the University System of Georgia Committee and served on the Appropriations Committee. In 1983, he was appointed to the Board of Regents and served as its chairman from 1985 to 1986. He contributed to the development of Armstrong by working with then-President Robert A. Burnett to designate the institution as a health professions education center and expand the resident halls.
Gignilliat continued his service as part of the Board of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism, the Georgia Ports Authority, and the Foundation Board of Trustees for Armstrong Atlantic State University. Armstrong maintains the Arthur M. Gignilliat, Jr. Distinguished Professorship endowment to retain and honor outstanding faculty. Gignilliat was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Armstrong Atlantic State University in 1998.
Georgia Southern UniversitySpring 1997
Allen E. Paulson (1922-2000), an Iowa native, was highly influential in the fields of aviation and gaming as well as in the Georgia Southern Community. On his own since age 13, he joined the US Army during World War II and studied engineering at the University of West Virginia. After the War, he worked for TWA as a flight engineer and earned his pilot's license. Paulson went on to be very successful dealing in second-hand planes and was the head of American Jet Industries when it acquired what would eventually become Gulfstream Aerospace. He was also a leading owner and breeder of racehorses including Cigar, the most prize money winningest horse in history,
Because of his philanthropy, the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing is named in his honor as is the Allen E. Paulson Student Scholarship that provides assistance to engineering and Technology students. His company, Gulfstream, created the Gulfstream Scholarships to assist students in any of Georgia Southern’s engineering programs. He is also a member of the Georgia Southern Athletics Hall of Fame for his significant contribution to the stadium that is named in his honor.
Allen E. Paulson received the Honorary Doctor of Science degree on June 14, 1997.
Georgia Southern UniversityFall 1997
F. Everett Williams (1909-2000) was a native of Bulloch County, Georgia. He graduated from Statesboro High School in 1926 and went on to attend Emory University. He returned home and, for thirty years, was the owner and operator of College Pharmacy. He was elected President of Sea Island Bank and served on the Board of Directors. He was also a founding director of William’s Industries, Inc., a partner of William Enterprises of Ga.
Williams served the state of Georgia in the Senate and the House of Representatives. He was heavily involved in the education system, first as a member of the city and county Boards of Education as well as the State Board of Regents and the Georgia Southern Foundation. Williams was on the Board of Deacons at the Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church and served as the president of the National Primitive Baptist Foundation. He was also elected Bulloch County Man of the Year.
F. Everett Wlliams was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Human Letters from Georgia Southern University in 1997. The F. Everett Williams Scholarship is awarded to College of Engineering and Computing in financial need.
Georgia Southern UniversitySummer 1996
Betty Foy Sanders (1927-2022) was born in the farming community of Adabelle, Georgia, just outside of Statesboro. She began her college career at Georgia Southern before transferring to the University of Georgia, where she studied fine arts. That is also where she met and married Carl Sanders, the future governor of Georgia. Foy Sanders served as the First Lady of Georgia from 1963 to 1967. While in office, she helped create the Georgia Council for the Arts as well as assisting in the design and construction of the Governor’s Mansion.
She established the Betty Foy Sanders Georgia Artists Collection which is on permanent display at the Center for Art & Theatre on Georgia Southern’s Statesboro Campus. This collection curates notable works based on their association with Georgia and includes her own painting, Coastal Sand Dunes. The Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art on the Statesboro Campus of Georgia Southern University is named in her honor.
Betty Foy Sanders received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree on August 11, 1996.
Georgia Southern UniversityFall 1996
The Honorable Carl E. Sanders (1925-2014) was a native of Augusta, Georgia. He graduated from the Academy of Richmond County where he played football for which he received a scholarship to the University of Georgia. His law education was interrupted when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to UGA to finish his studies before starting his law practice back in his hometown.
Sanders was active in state politics beginning in 1954 when he won a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Two years later, he moved on to the State Senate where he played an important role in the desegregation of schools. In 1962, Sanders became the 74th Governor of Georgia where he made education a top priority by increasing spending, hiring more teachers, setting standards for public schools and expanding the university system.
The Honorable Carl Sanders received the Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Georgia Southern University on August 11, 1996.