The University of Georgia bestowed one of its highest honors on William “Bill” P. Flatt, D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor Emeritus, and the late Ivery Clifton, a former faculty member and administrator in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and associate vice president for academic affairs, in a virtual awards ceremony Jan. 25.
The President’s Medal recognizes extraordinary contributions of individuals who are not current employees of UGA and who have supported students and academic programs, advanced research and inspired community leaders to enhance the quality of life of citizens in Georgia. The honor is awarded in conjunction with UGA’s annual Founders Day celebration.
“I am pleased that Bill Flatt and the late Ivery Clifton will be honored for their decades of outstanding service to this university and the state of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Both made innumerable contributions to the institution during their careers. This recognition is a well-deserved tribute to their significant support of our faculty, staff and students and their many professional accomplishments.”
Bill Flatt served UGA for 51 years in a career that included positions as director of the Agricultural Experiment Stations (1970-1981), dean and coordinator of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (1981-1994), D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor (1994-1999) and professor emeritus in the department of foods and nutrition within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (1999-2020).
He is known for his love of the university, his generosity and his cheerful refrain that he’s doing “better’n ever.”
Flatt’s lifetime philanthropy to the university amounts to more than $1.7 million. “I had the resources, and I figured I should give as much to UGA as I could,” he said. Flatt’s gifts have endowed multiple scholarships, fellowships, professorships and awards in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and have provided support for students to study internationally.
“He knew how important private support would become and was quick to help,” said Katrina Bowers, formerly senior director of development in the Terry College of Business, who recently retired. “One of the most touching moments came during the passing of Bill’s daughter, Melynda, of an unexpected illness in 2010. This was right after losing his wife, June, who had been paralyzed from Guillain-Barre syndrome since 1973. In the middle of the anxiety and sadness, Bill came to my office and wanted to create a scholarship in Melynda’s memory. We cried as we worked through the details. Even as he was losing a child, he was thinking of others’ children.”
Flatt has been a beloved and inspiring guest lecturer for many classes over the years, sharing his passion for health and nutrition with generations of students. He has used his personal experience with weight loss — losing 60 pounds — to model a healthy lifestyle and effective weight management. He also used a vest with a realistic-looking plastic model to illustrate what his former self looked like, said Linda Kirk Fox, dean of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
He has served as president of the UGA Retirees Association and chair of the UGA United Way Campaign. Outside of UGA, he is the Paul Harris Fellow of the Athens, Georgia, chapter of the Rotary Club, where he was recognized for 42 years of perfect attendance.
The late Ivery Clifton, a former professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, was one of the first prominent Black faculty members and administrators at UGA. As such, he served as a valuable role model and mentor to students and faculty across campus. He provided visionary leadership in several positions at the university, always emphasizing the need for strategic planning and diversity.
Clifton came to the university in 1976 and served for 27 years before retiring in 2003. As assistant to the dean in 1987, he launched an initiative to recruit underrepresented minority faculty and students to CAES. From 1988 to 1992, he served as UGA’s associate vice president for academic affairs and helped develop the university’s environmental literacy requirement. He returned to CAES in 1992, where he served as assistant dean. In 1994, he became the first African American at UGA to hold a position at the dean level, serving as interim dean and coordinator of CAES until 1995. He served as senior associate dean from 1995 until his retirement in 2003.
One of Clifton’s many lasting contributions was expanding the CAES Young Scholars Summer High School Research Internship Program, which encourages underrepresented minority high school students to apply to college and to gain experience in agricultural research. Each year since 2000, the program has brought approximately 65 minority high school students to UGA for paid research internship experiences over the summer. He also established the CAES Office of Diversity Affairs.
“He left an indelible legacy on our institution that inspires students and faculty to this day,” said Ron Walcott, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, in his nomination letter. “I was privileged to know Dr. Clifton and to benefit from his mentorship as a Black graduate student and early-career professor in CAES. This is especially notable due to the relatively low representation of Black faculty in CAES at the time. More importantly, my personal career trajectory to university administration was bolstered by my exposure to Dr. Clifton as a role model.”
Clifton, who died in January 2020, will have his award accepted by his widow, Patricia D. Clifton.
“My family and I are proud and appreciative of this special recognition of my dad’s legacy and contributions to the university,” said Clifton’s daughter Nicole “Nikki” Clifton, a 1996 graduate of the UGA School of Law and president of Social Impact and The UPS Foundation. “He was devoted to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and his commitment to diversity and inclusion in education touched so many students and faculty. I am honored as a UGA alumna, and especially as his daughter, to witness this moment.”
The President’s Medal ceremony is part of Founders Week, when UGA observes the date the university was established: Jan. 27. On this day in 1785, the Georgia General Assembly adopted a charter establishing the University of Georgia as the first institution of public higher education in America.