Under Roy Alexander '64, a fledgling land trust became one of the most productive of its size in the nation, and a part of the Town of Davidson's fabric. At a time of rapid growth and development, the college and the community are working together to ensure his legacy lives on.
"He just wanted to make a difference, and I think he wondered why all people didn't feel the same way," said Sue Peck, Alexander's widow. Alexander served as executive director, and sole employee, of the Davidson Lands Conservancy (DLC) from 2006 until his untimely death in 2015.
The nonprofit group has helped to protect about 400 acres since it formed in 2,000, including a wetland threatened by development that is now a nature preserve.
"The area is developing so quickly," said Autumn Michael, Alexander's DLC successor. "Once it's gone, it's gone, and it's important for us to stop, and look, and listen. Roy was great at that. He changed a lot of lives through his work and his relationships."
To honor his work and life, friends, family and fellow environmentalists have created the endowed Roy Alexander Internship Fund, including a generous matching gift by the conservancy, to be awarded each year to a current Davidson student with interest in helping the organization and its critical work.
Professor Dave Martin and his wife, Elizabeth, contributed to the fund.
Martin, who teaches economics and environmental studies and is a former DLC board member, hopes that students will learn that it's not necessary to travel to "appreciate and grapple with issues."
"A lot is happening right outside the college bubble," he said.
Martin also appreciates how this initiative honors his friend, whom he describes as gregarious, warm and loving.
"We could disagree, and he could see where I might be coming from. He would feel in his heart that something was important and then develop arguments for why it mattered," Martin said. "He was deeply passionate about conserving nature and was instrumental in how I view land conservation. He was a wonderful teacher."
"I liked to think of him as Jiminy Cricket," said Jim Fuller '65, president of the DLC board at the time of Alexander's hire. "He sat on our shoulders to remind us about the good we could do for the environment and for people. He spoke softly and lightly, but with utter conviction, and his persuasiveness was enhanced by the depth of his belief."
Alexander began his career as a high school biology teacher and later worked as a 4-H agent. He joined the Discovery Place science museum before it opened in 1981 and stayed 20 years, overseeing science education and special programs. Alexander was a founder of the group that became Mecklenburg's first Sierra Club chapter.
"If he would've gone into business, he'd be a millionaire," said Peck. "He never starting out by saying something couldn't happen. If it didn't work, he'd find another way. And he wouldn't take ‘no' for an answer."
Peck hopes the students selected for this internship each year have "gumption and stick-to-itiveness."
"Roy was never much on accolades, but he'd be very pleased with this development," she said. "It marries his two loves–Davidson College and the lands conservancy. This could be a spark for someone to dedicate his or her life to this work, just like he did."
Bayne Brannen '18, of Savannah, Georgia, is the first Roy Alexander Internship Fund recipient. The music and English double major earned a vocal scholarship to attend Davidson, his parents' alma mater. Over the summer, he worked on a variety of initiatives, including planning for the organization's 12th annual Run for Green fundraiser, one of the projects Alexander spearheaded during his career. Brannen hopes to pursue a career in law–possibly environmental law.
To contribute to the Roy Alexander Internship Fund, contact Stephanie Glaser '92, associate vice president for campus and community relations, at email@example.com or 704-894-2114.
Students interested in applying for this internship can learn more on the Center for Civic Engagement website.