Savannah State University Honors Distinguished Alumni

Friday, December 3rd, 2021

Savannah State University (SSU) recently honored outstanding alumni during the annual Founders Day celebration with two distinguished awards: The Richard R. Wright Award of Excellence and The Cyrus G. Wiley Distinguished Alumni Award. Each year Savannah State University takes a day to recognize those who have served the school and made its foundation stronger. The annual observance celebrates the institution’s history and those who have contributed to its success, including a guest speaker and the presentation of awards to members of the community.

Named for the first president of SSU, the Richard R. Wright Award of Excellence is the most notable honor, recognizing outstanding leaders who have distinguished themselves through their expertise in social, educational and civic arenas. Posthumously awarded to alumna Dorothy Gardner-Martin, Ph.D., her daughter, Kim Gardner-Sapp, accepted the award on her behalf.

In 1989, Gardner-Martin’s first husband, William E. Gardner, Jr., Ph.D., became the 9th President of Savannah State College. She then became the First Lady of the college where she met those duties with the same tenacity that guided her throughout her life.
One of her major accomplishments was the completion and opening of the college’s archives. During her 27-year career, she championed many causes and worked to support the faculty, staff, and students.  After the untimely passing of her beloved husband in 1991, she remained an active part of the Savannah State family, supporting subsequent presidents and nurturing hundreds of students. She would go on to join the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and taught psychology classes, remaining at the university until her retirement in 2019. After a valiant health battle, Gardner-Martin departed this life on August 4, 2021.

The Cyrus G. Wiley Distinguished Alumni Award, named for the university’s second president, recognizes outstanding alumni who have shown extraordinary support and loyalty. The award was presented to alumnus Arthur Terry, Class of 1966. Terry earned a Bachelor of Science degree in natural science with a minor in biology. After leaving college, he pursued advanced studies at Emory University and became a sales representative and product manager with Pfizer for 35 years. Terry has been a consistent contributor to Savannah State, as a longstanding member of the Savannah State University National Alumni Association Metro Atlanta Chapter. Terry currently serves on the SSU Foundation, Inc. board as fundraising committee chairman, where he coordinates fundraising campaigns with the Office of University Advancement.


During the ceremony, community member and former Savannah State staff member Shirley James was also surprised with special recognition. The title of “Savannah Black Heritage Festival Director Emerita” was conferred upon her by President of Savannah State University Kimberly Ballard-Washington, J.D. James has coordinated the festival, in partnership with the university each year, since 2002.