Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia will bestow one of its highest honors on two influential Georgians this year as it presents the UGA President’s Medal to Francis “Abit” Massey and the family of the late Jane Seddon Willson during Founders Day activities on Jan. 27.
The President’s Medal recognizes extraordinary contributions of individuals who are not current employees of UGA who have supported students and academic programs, advanced research and inspired community leaders to enhance Georgians’ quality of life.
“We are honored to recognize two great Georgians for helping to improve our state and strengthen the university,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Through their influential vision and tremendous generosity, both Abit Massey and the late Jane Willson have had a profound impact on UGA, and their contributions will continue to benefit the university for generations to come.”
Massey graduated from UGA in 1949 and received his Juris Doctor from Emory University. Known to many as the “dean of the poultry industry,” he became the executive director of the Georgia Poultry Federation in 1960. He served in this role until 2009 when he became president emeritus.
Prior to his work in the poultry industry, Massey was head of the Georgia Department of Commerce, now Economic Development, where he created the tourist division and built the first welcome station.
His numerous honors and awards include the 1986 UGA Alumni Merit Award, the 2012 Harold E. Ford Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and the inaugural Medallion of Honor for Service to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He was the first UGA graduate to receive the Presidential Citation from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He served as president of the UGA Alumni Association from 1991 to 1993, is on the board of directors of the Georgia Research Foundation and the UGA Real Estate Foundation and is an emeritus trustee of the UGA Foundation. He has worked closely with UGA to strengthen the research, teaching and extension programs of the poultry industry across the state.
Massey and his wife, Kayanne, a former Miss Georgia, have more than 18 family members who attended UGA. The Massey family was named the UGA Alumni Association Family of the Year in 2014.
Willson died in November 2015 at the age of 92. Together with her late husband, Harry, she established a tradition of giving at the university that spanned more than six decades.
One of the most visible and direct results of her philanthropy is the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, which was named in honor of an endowment established by Jane and Harry Willson in 2005. The couple also funded the Jane and Harry Willson Professorship in Humanities and the Jane Willson Professorship in the Arts.
Willson was an emerita trustee of the UGA Foundation and served on the Arts and Sciences Advisory Board, the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Council, the Franklin College Advisory Board, the UGA Research Foundation, the Honors Program Advisory Board and the Georgia Museum of Art Board of Advisors, among other roles.
When Harry Willson passed away in 2004, Willson honored her husband by endowing the William Harry Willson Distinguished Chair of Business in the Terry College of Business. The same year, she made one of the largest contributions in Honors Program history, funding the Willson International Honors Scholars Program.
In 2006, UGA honored Willson with a Doctor of Laws degree, one of the highest accolades accorded any individual associated with the institution. The university then inducted Willson into the Crystal Arch Society in 2008 in recognition of her extraordinary philanthropy.
Born in New York City in 1923, Willson graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1945. She and Harry Willson founded Sunnyland Farms in Albany in 1948 and developed it into one of the world’s largest purveyors of premium quality pecans and fine foods.