WCU honors Gaither Keener (’77) with 2012 Professional Achievement Award

Photo of Gaither Keener and Curtis Wood at award ceremony in Western Carolina University

Gaither Keener, right, shares a moment with one of his former history professors, Curtis Wood, at the Oct. 6 award ceremony at Western Carolina University where Keener received the university’s 2012 Professional Achievement Award. During his acceptance remarks, Keener, an attorney, credited Wood with teaching him ‘the love of common law and the constitutional history of England.’

Gaither M. Keener (’77), chief legal officer of Lowe’s Companies Inc., is the recipient of the 2012 Professional Achievement Award from Western Carolina University.

During his remarks, Keener credited his WCU professors with deepening his thinking. “They didn’t tell you what to think, but challenged you on what you thought,” he said. “They exposed you to new thought patterns.”

Keener received his law degree in 1977 from Wake Forest University and joined McElwee Hall McElwee in North Wilkesboro. His law experience includes litigation in 14 states, including criminal and civil cases in N.C. district and superior courts; the N.C. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court; and U.S. District Court, U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court. Keener joined Lowe’s Companies Inc., a Fortune 50 international retailer, in 1985. He has earned a superior rating from legal information services company Martindale-Hubbell and in 2011 was recognized by his peers, as published in Business North Carolina, as the state’s best business lawyer and deserving of “elite lawyer status.”

Keener, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, is active in veterans affairs, providing pro bono counsel to a veterans organization and traveling to Washington and Raleigh to seek additional funding for veterans. He also is the judge advocate for the American Legion Department of North Carolina and is a senior member of the national American Legion finance committee.

In 2010, Keener and his wife, Beverly Bogle Keener, endowed a scholarship to support one WCU track or cross country distance runner each year in recognition of the late Terry Helms, Keener’s college roommate at WCU and longtime friend, and Keener recently announced his intention to endow another scholarship, this one for education students named in honor of former WCU professors.

Keener is active in his community in a number of volunteer capacities. He has served as assistant national director for the American Legion Little World Series and director of the Wilkes County Youth Baseball League and spent decades as a coach of community baseball and YMCA teams. He served with the nonprofit Wilkes Health Foundation and on the board of the Wilkes Regional Medical Center. Keener is a member of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor, presented by the governor of North Carolina to individuals with a record of extraordinary service to the state.

Also receiving university awards were the following WCU alumni: Bob Buckner, WCU’s former director of athletic bands, recipient of the Distinguished Service Award; Ronald G. Morrow, chief executive officer of the nonprofit North Carolina In-school Prevention of Obesity and Disease Inc., recipient of the Academic Achievement Award; and Wade G. Livingston, an assistant professor in the department of leadership, counselor education, and human and organizational development at Clemson University, recipient of the Young Alumnus Award.

“These awards recognize and honor four of WCU’s most distinguished and successful alumni, and they have all made us so very proud,” said Marty Ramsey, WCU director of alumni affairs.