BANNER ELK — Janet Barton Speer, creative director of the acclaimed Lees-McRae Summer Theatre program at Lees-McRae College, was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on July 11 during the opening night of Speer’s latest original show “From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story.”
The award, which is given by the governor, is the highest state-service award given by the state, and the second-highest civilian honor behind the North Carolina Award.
The award was presented to Speer by the college’s president, Lee King, and Board of Trustees member Barbara Miller Whitton. King and Whitton nominated Speer for the award.
The award has been given to 15,000 people since its inception in 1963.
Speer’s career in theatre has spanned nearly 50 years, with more than 600 productions under her belt, and she has received other state awards including the Governor’s Volunteer Award and the North Carolina Theatre Conference Service Award.
Speer said she was not expecting the award.
“I think of myself as well known locally, but I don’t think of myself as well known statewide,” Speer said. “So, no, I never dreamed of getting something like this.”
The surprise extended beyond the award itself; she was not expecting the presentation in the midst of her latest premiere.
“It’s a lot to process and I think I’m still processing it,” Speer said. “I was just so shocked and I was in the middle of a show and I also rehearsed the rest of the hours of the day. At that time, I was really kind of on warp speed working with the show that I had up, and the show that was coming up, so I hadn’t had time to really think it through. I’m just really honored and really humbled to receive it, but I think it’s going to take me a little while to kind of process that I got it.”
Speer said people came up to congratulate her after the show and she thought they were congratulating her on the play, not immediately realizing they were referencing the award.
“It’s great to be affirmed by the people you work for,” Speer said. “I feel very tied to Lees-McRae. I’ve had opportunities to go other places and Lees-McRae has always held my heart and held my loyalty.”