Dr. Cherry Beasley leaves extraordinary legacy at UNC Pembroke

Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings, left, Dr. Cherry Beasley and Dr. Peggy Opitz

Dr. Cherry Maynor Beasley, the first nursing faculty member at UNC Pembroke, is retiring after dedicating 31 years to educating students and service to the nursing profession.

A pioneer in nursing education, Beasley has significantly impacted the university, the region and the state through her commitment to moving the bar forward in healthcare. She held several leadership positions including interim dean of the College of Health Sciences and most recently interim provost. Still, her legacy lives on through the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing, a program she helped establish that has prepared countless skilled nurse clinicians for the nursing profession.

“When I think about my career at UNCP, one word comes to my mind––amazing,” Beasley said. “I have been allowed to grow and develop and see changes that I couldn’t have imagined 31 years ago. And I’ve been grateful to help students, and work with people to grow, change and accomplish their dreams.”

In 1992, when former Chancellor Joseph Oxendine launched a nursing education consortium, Beasley was hired as the first faculty member. She was on the nursing faculty at three universities before joining UNCP.

Under Beasley’s guidance, the two-year program expanded to offer a pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing option before adding a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Beginning in spring 2024, the school will offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a population health focus––the first in the UNC System and the southeast. 

“It is amazing to get a chance to see something that didn’t exist (before I arrived) and to be a small part of it being where it is today. We have a nursing program that not only has a high rate of passing the board, but our graduates are prepared for nursing in the future,” she said. 

Beasley, a Pembroke native whose family tree is deeply rooted in the university, began her career as an assistant professor before rising to department chair, chief nursing officer and the Anne R. Belk Endowed Professor in Rural and Minority Health. She was appointed interim provost in January 2023.

A roomful of well-wishers, including former colleagues and family, gathered last week on campus for a retirement celebration in honor of Beasley’s career. Lumbee Tribal Chairman John Lowery presented Beasley with an eagle feather and a proclamation. Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings presented Beasley with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s highest civilian honors.

Cummings remarked that Beasley not only served as a role model for nursing students, but also dedicated her life to public service and to improving the quality of life in North Carolina.

“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Beasley on her well-deserved retirement,” Cummings said. “She has been an integral part of our university community for decades, and her dedication and contributions will leave a lasting impact on our university.

“We are so glad she chose to share her knowledge, passion and time with UNCP, and wish her the absolute best in this next chapter of life,” Dr. Cummings continued.

Beasley is well-known across the state and nationally for her dedication to improving health disparities affecting rural and minority populations. Her work has been recognized through dozens of awards including the UNC Board of Governors’ Award for Teaching Excellence and the James E. Holshouser Award for Excellence in Public Service. In 2020, Beasley was named a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.

The vision behind the new nursing program was to increase access to baccalaureate education for registered nurses and the number of minority nurses with BSN degrees. At the time, the university’s service region had the lowest educational level among nurses in the state.

Beasley and Dr. Peggy Opitz––the first nursing program director––were instrumental in securing a federal grant that helped minority students who had earned an associate’s nursing degree matriculate to UNCP’s baccalaureate program.

“When I think back on Cherry’s career, she was very committed to increasing the quality of health care in southeastern North Carolina and ensuring we had a good infrastructure and continuum of care for families,” said Opitz, who attended the retirement luncheon.

“She had a significant impact not only on the university, but also in southeastern North Carolina and throughout the state. She leaves an incredible body of work as a professional nurse and will be long remembered for all she contributed.”