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For immediate use

Dec. 12, 2002 -- No. 674

Historical society creates endowment to honor longtime UNC library couple

UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- In recognition of their service to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state, the North Caroliniana Society has created a $25,000 endowment in the names of Alice and Jerry Cotten, longtime employees of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library.

The Cottens spent a combined 60 years as reference librarians, not only collecting, cataloging and taking care of library materials, but also helping untold thousands of students, scholars, journalists, state residents and others use it. Jerry Cotten retired Feb. 1, and Alice Cotten stepped down Dec. 1.

The society’s members maintain a strong interest in preserving and expanding what’s known about North Carolina.

"Alice was my right hand for 20 years, and she remained the memory of the department until her last day," said Dr. H.G. Jones, curator emeritus of the North Carolina Collection. "Jerry built a disorganized jumble of photographs and negatives into one of the two largest iconographic archives in the state. Together, their contributions to North Carolina are incalculable."

Interest from the endowment will be used to promote the study of novelist, playwright and Asheville native Thomas Wolfe and to preserve photographs related to the state, Jones said.

"It is difficult to imagine the North Carolina Collection without Jerry and Alice Cotten," said Willis P. Whichard, former N.C. Supreme Court justice and now dean of Campbell University Law School. "Jerry’s work has preserved visual images of North Carolina’s past, much of which would otherwise have been lost. Alice’s profound knowledge of the collection has been a critical resource for all of us who have done extensive research there. Their collective six decades of service to the collection, and through the collection to the university and state, will probably never be exceeded."

A "walking catalog of North Caroliniana," Alice Cotten led the reference staff of the collection, which is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive library of published materials relating to a single state, Jones said. Active in professional organizations, she also is a leader of the Thomas Wolfe Society and edited "Thomas Wolfe’s Composition Books" and "Always Yours, Max" and is a trustee of the Paul Green Foundation.

"Overseeing more than 400,000 images of North Carolina and North Carolinians, Jerry Cotten also was effective in attracting donors and assisted hundreds of journalists and publishers by providing suitable illustrations," he said. "As a computer guru, he also developed and maintained the North Carolina Collection’s World Wide Web site."

Jerry Cotten took special interest in acquiring the collection of Bayard Wooten, a pioneering woman photographer, Jones said. That interest and dedication led to his book "Light and Air: the Photography of Bayard Wooten," published in 1998 by UNC Press.

In retirement, the Cottens will remain busy. Besides traveling and family-related activities, Alice Cotten will work on a scholarly paper about Thomas Wolfe and continue serving as president of the Historical Society of North Carolina. Her husband will work to secure photographs for the forthcoming "Encyclopedia of North Carolina," a reference work edited by retired UNC history professor William Powell.

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Note: Jones can be reached at (919) 962-1172
Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596