Campus News

Alumni Association will honor four at annual awards luncheon on April 28

The Alumni Association will honor Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham and television and movie actor and director Monte Markham at its annual awards luncheon April 28.

The association also will recognize Tom Rodgers, a retired UGA faculty member and administrator, and Jane Willson, one of the university’s most generous financial benefactors, at the luncheon at noon at the Athens Holiday Inn.

Benham and Markham will receive the Alumni Merit Award, which recognizes UGA graduates for lifetime loyalty and support of the university and the Alumni Association, as well as professional leadership.

Rodgers will receive the Faculty Service Award, which is given to faculty or staff members for distinguished service to the university, and Willson will receive the Friend of UGA Award, given to a non-graduate whose professional and public service benefits UGA.

The Alumni Association has presented the Alumni Merit Award since 1937 and the Faculty Service Award since 1969. The Friend of UGA Award was started in 2002.

Benham, a 1970 graduate of UGA’s School of Law, was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1989 and served as chief justice from 1995-2001. He is the first African American appointed to the state’s highest court and the first to serve as chief justice.

Benham, who also holds a master of law degree from the University of Virginia, served on the Georgia Court of Appeals for six years before joining the Supreme Court, and was in private practice for 15 years. He has been a trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation and was chair of the UGA law school’s alumni association.

Markham received a bachelor of fine arts degree from UGA in 1957 and a master’s degree in theater and English literature in 1960. He is an adjunct professor in the university’s theatre and film studies department.

Through his production company, Perpetual Motion Films, Markham has produced, directed, hosted and narrated more than 100 documentaries for television’s A&E Network and the History Channel. He has directed several feature films, including Neon City and Defense Play, and directed and starred in multiple episodes of the television show Baywatch.

Rodgers worked at UGA for more than 30 years, mainly in the area of public service and outreach, and is professor emeritus of housing and consumer economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. He received a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in agricultural economics from UGA, and earned a doctorate in education from North Carolina State University.

He joined UGA’s Cooperative Extension in 1972 and served as a district agent, extension director for the metro Atlanta district and as head of the statewide 4-H and youth program.

He also was head of county operations for the extension service and served as associate vice president for public service and outreach prior to joining the family and consumer sciences faculty in 2000. He continues to conduct housing education and assessment programs throughout Georgia.

Willson is president of Sunnyland Farms in Albany, the country’s largest pecan mail-order business. A graduate of Wellesley College, she and her late husband, Harry, have long been strong supporters of UGA academic programs. Willson provided major financial assistance to the Honors and Foundation Fellows programs, and to the Center for Humanities and Arts, which has been named for Jane and Harry Willson. 

Willson also has made substantial gifts to the Center for International Trade and Security, the Georgia Museum of Art and the State Botanical Garden, and created endowed professorships in the humanities and the Terry College of Business.

She is on the Honors Program Advisory Board, has served as a trustee of the UGA Foundation and the University of Georgia Research Foundation and is on the board of advisers for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.