Gene Johnson ‘73, a tireless advocate and dedicated donor for UNC Charlotte, was awarded the Bill Franklin Volunteer of the Year award during a ceremony Sunday in Orlando, Fla.
The award, presented by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), recognizes volunteers who help advance universities through fundraising, alumni relations and student recruitment. Johnson received the award for CASE District III during its 2020 conference.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of our educational communities that we serve,” said Chris Clarke, chair of the CASE District III board of directors. “We simply couldn’t succeed without them. The CASE District III Board of Directors is pleased to honor Mr. Johnson with the Bill Franklin Volunteer of the Year award for his more than 40 years of service to the UNC Charlotte community.”
Johnson’s enthusiasm for UNC Charlotte is boundless. He currently chairs UNC Charlotte’s $200 million fundraising drive, EXPONENTIAL: The Campaign for UNC Charlotte, the largest campaign in the University’s history.
The first alumnus to serve as chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, Johnson also chaired UNC Charlotte’s Foundation Board, the Football Capital Campaign, the Marching Band Fundraising Committee and is a former member of the UNC Charlotte Investment Fund Board and the Belk College of Business Advisory Council.
Johnson served three terms as president of the UNC Charlotte Athletic Foundation and was an active leader in and former president of the UNC Charlotte Alumni Association.
“I love what I do for the University because of what Charlotte has meant to both Vickie and me,” Johnson said. “And so giving back in this way just seems right. With that said, I feel so honored to receive the award.”
Johnson and his wife Vickie ’71 ’82 gave a $2 million gift in 2014 to establish the Pride of Niner Nation Marching Band. Previously, they supported the creation of the drum line, and the Johnson Marching Band Center honors their financial commitment. The Johnsons also donated gifts toward the construction of the Barnhardt Student Activity Center and the Harris Alumni Center.
Most recently, they established the Johnson Scholars program to increase opportunities at UNC Charlotte for students from middle income families who do not qualify for federal grant programs. The inaugural class of five Johnson Scholars enrolled at the University in fall 2019.
Chancellor Philip L. Dubois called Johnson an “exemplary volunteer leader” for the past 40 years in his letter nominating Johnson for the Franklin Volunteer of the Year Award.
“As a grateful University, we have tried to find ways to honor Gene’s unwavering commitment, and Gene is always sincerely thankful for the gestures,” Dubois said. “To us, however, it never seems sufficient—and maybe it never will—considering all of the ways in which he advocates on behalf of his alma mater. His efforts and dedication have made UNC Charlotte a better place to live, learn, work and play, and his influence can be felt across Charlotte.”
Johnson is the retired chief executive officer of FairPoint Communications, a company he co-founded and served as a director from 1991 to 2009. Currently, he is chairman of United Communications Holdings. Prior to FairPoint, he was president and sole shareholder of JC&A Inc., an investment banking and brokerage firm providing services to cable television, telephone and related industries. Johnson started his career as a certified public accountant with Haskins and Sells, a predecessor of Deloitte & Touche. A member of the U.S. Army, he achieved the rank of captain before his discharge in 1971.
Beyond the University, Johnson has given time and financial support to the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Levine Museum of the New South and Teach for America, among other organizations. In recognition of his many accomplishments and contributions to UNC Charlotte and the community, Johnson was inducted into the Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997 and given the Bonnie E. Cone Lifetime Achievement Award, the University’s highest alumni award, in 2000.