Arts & Humanities

‘Mamma Douglas’ believes in the power – and joy – of giving back

Congratulations to Linda Brown Douglas for receiving a 2019 C. Know Massey Award for Distinguished Service! Douglas is director of volunteer engagement for University Development and is also a Carolina alum!

Linda Douglas poses for a photo
Linda Douglas, winner of the McClinton Outstanding Faculty Award, poses for a portrait on October 8, 2018 on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC. Douglas, a UNC graduate, is also a member of the Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity. (Jeyhoun Allebaugh/UNC-Chapel Hill).

 

For more than two decades, Linda Brown Douglas has given back to the University she loves in countless ways without expecting anything in return. This year, her bounty of good deeds finally caught up to her when she received a 2019 C. Knox
Massey Distinguished Service Award.

Douglas, the director of volunteer engagement for University Development, graduated from Carolina in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After a successful newspaper career in Charlotte and Raleigh, she returned to her alma mater in 1998 as director of community relations — a position that called upon her to orchestrate the Tar Heel Bus Tour and invigorate the Board of Visitors that she continues to serve.

When Douglas began organizing the BOV’s meeting agendas, few of the 50 members felt they were making an impact. Douglas spent time finding out what members wanted to accomplish, then figured out ways to help them do it. Today, a typical BOV meeting attracts 150 to 180 people.

“Linda could have taken what she was given and maintained the status quo,” wrote one nominator. “But she made it better, a lot better.”

Not knowing the word ‘no’

“She is determined to leave everything better than she found it,” wrote another nominator, and her work ethic has touched the lives of students, faculty members, alumni, friends and administrators throughout the University. “Linda does not know the word no. Her institutional knowledge and willingness to always work for the common good sets Linda apart.”

Many nights, when most University employees are heading for home, Douglas is just beginning her work as a campus volunteer.

For the past five years, she has served as the primary adviser to the Kappa Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In the sorority, she is known as “Soror Douglas,” but another student gave her the nickname “Mamma Douglas,” and it stuck. 

Before Douglas got involved, the chapter had spent almost a year trying to find an adviser and was restricted to limited activities. Douglas worked with two other advisers and started from scratch. At meetings, she taught members about sorority protocol and Robert’s Rules of Order. She also taught them how to apply for grants, resulting in money for outstanding projects and guest speakers.

As a result of these efforts, the chapter, which had only received campus awards in the past, was named the 2015 Chapter of the Year for the South Atlantic Region, and it is the reigning National Chapter of the Year. Douglas was also named Carolina’s Adviser of the Year and the team, which now consists of five advisers, was named National Advisory Team of the Year.

Douglas said the biggest reward for her is playing a positive part in their lives. “When I get to see my girls graduate, I get to look back and think, ‘in some small way, I got to be a part of that.’ It’s almost like being a mother except you don’t have to pay the bills. You get the fun part.”

‘It’s my turn’

When asked why she keeps demanding so much of herself, Douglas laughed and said it was the way she was raised. 

She grew up in University Park, a close-knit black neighborhood about 10 to 15 minutes from Uptown Charlotte in the 1960s and 1970s. Everything good that has ever happened to her can be traced back to that time and place, she said, and to the many caring adults from her church and schools who made time to reach out to her and lift her up.

Her mother and father — a housecleaner and a college-educated warehouse supervisor — taught all four of their children to work hard and follow the rules. “My mother used to tell me I wasn’t as smart as my brothers and sister, but I just worked hard,” Douglas said. “After she told me that, I felt I had to.”

She also learned from her mother which fork to use at a formal dinner and the proper way to fold a linen napkin — lessons Douglas now passes on to the group of mentees she adopts each year. She meets with each student throughout the semester to see how they are doing and takes the whole group out to lunch at the end of the semester. As one nominator wrote, “These students know she is there for them until they graduate and beyond.”

And at West Charlotte, she found a place where students — both black and white — were urged to pursue their dreams after court-ordered school busing to achieve integration started there in 1970. Within a few years, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite described West Charlotte as a national model for integration. Douglas said she felt the pride for her school most powerfully during Friday night football games when she took the field with the marching band.

“I would look up into the stands and see this big mix of white and black people all cheering together, all sitting together,” Douglas said. “That’s when I knew West Charlotte was a real school.”

Douglas felt that same sense of pride at Carolina, where she would serve as University editor for The Daily Tar Heel and as editor of the Black Ink newspaper, the official publication of the Black Student Movement. Years later, Douglas went on to serve as the first African-American president of the Junior League in Raleigh. One of her happiest moments, she said, was watching with her husband, Ken, as their daughter, Kendra, now a sports anchor for a television station in Wichita, Kansas, graduated in 2016 from the School of Media and Journalism.

“As long as I can remember, it was always expected that you were supposed to give back,” Douglas said. “I am doing for others what was done for me. It’s my turn.”