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News Release

For immediate use

June 14, 2007

Carolina ‘champ’ and ‘Priceless Gem’ Hyatt succumbs to cancer at 73

CHAPEL HILL -- Officially, Ronald Wesley Hyatt was a professor, coach and faculty marshal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for nearly 40 years, and a winner of the state’s highest honor, the Order of the Long-Leaf Pine from the governor, in 2004.

Unofficially, Hyatt, who died late Wednesday (June 13) after a long battle with cancer, was one of the most sincerely enthusiastic and warm – and ever-present – boosters of positive progress by individuals within the Carolina community and by the university as a whole.

Rarely a ceremony or dedication passed without someone receiving a handshake and pat on the back from Doc Hyatt: “Congratulations! Glad to know ya, champ!”

“Ron always called people ‘champ.’ But the truth is, he was our champ,” said UNC Chancellor James Moeser. “He was as devoted a teacher, friend and champion of this university as you will find, and we will miss him.” 

Hyatt was especially beloved and visible during his 11 years as faculty marshal, in charge of leading the faculty procession for commencement exercises and on University Day.

He caused quite a stir in the audience at the most recent University Day when Moeser, thinking Hyatt too ill to attend the ceremony, paused to acknowledge the absence of the faculty favorite. But when members of the audience who had seen Hyatt in attendance began to stir and point to him, the Chancellor recognized him from the podium, and the crowd rose to give Hyatt a standing ovation.

A native of Latta, S.C., Hyatt received his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. He was an intramural sports director and coach in public schools and colleges in North and South Carolina for 10 years, and he directed health and physical education at the N.C. Advancement School in Winston-Salem for two years. He collected data for the first North Carolina Fitness Test in 1959. In 1966, he joined the faculty at Carolina, where he had earned his master’s in 1959 and later a doctoral degree in 1970.

Hyatt came to UNC as the director of intramural sports and an assistant professor of physical education. He eventually became a full professor in the exercise and sports science department and also served as the director of the public policy program in sport. Hyatt wrote the textbook, “The Organization and Administration of Intramural Sports.” In 2000, he received the university’s C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

The athletics department honored him last basketball season with a Priceless Gem, an honor bestowed only rarely to individuals within the department who have made longtime contributions.

“Ron was a great friend, mentor and teacher to me personally, as well as everyone he came into contact with at Carolina. The university and our community will truly miss him,” said UNC Director of Athletics Dick Baddour.

Just six months after his retirement in 2005, Hyatt’s former department established the Ronald W. Hyatt Scholarship in Exercise and Sport to support one student annually.

“Students who visit our department often asked, ‘How is Doc Hyatt? Is he OT-OT (on time and on target)?’  OT-OT is only one of many life lessons Dr. Hyatt taught his students over the years,” said Kevin Guskiewicz, professor and chair of the UNC department of exercise and sport science and director of the Sports Medicine Research Laboratory.

Hyatt’s influence extended well beyond the classroom. The Massey award cited him as an exemplary example of a dedicated public servant. He was praised for his optimism and a “can-do-and-glad-to-do-it” willingness to take on whatever task was asked of him.

He served 10 years on the Governor’s Council on Fitness and Health and seven years on the Governor’s Task Force on Cardiac Health and Stroke Prevention, including three years as chair. Once named an Outstanding State Volunteer, he was also a retired colonel in the N.C. National Guard with 41 years of service.

Locally, he was instrumental in the opening of the Pittsboro Street branch of the State Employees Credit Union and was a founding member, executive director and president of the Faculty-Staff Recreation Association, better known as “The Farm.”

Hyatt worked nine years on the Orange County Recreation Advisory Board and chaired the N.C. Parks and Recreation Legislative Committee that worked to pass a $35 million bond issue for state parks and a state trust fund.

But for all his accomplishments and public service, the lasting image many will carry of Doc Hyatt is in his academic regalia, leading his faculty colleagues on special occasions.

 “As long-time Faculty Marshal, Ron Hyatt led the academic parade, both literally and figuratively,” said Faculty Chair Joe Templeton, Francis Preston Venable Professor of Chemistry at Carolina. “A stalwart Tar Heel, Ron Hyatt was always an ambassador for our university and for our state. Ron could lift, with equal ease, the spirits of a single undergraduate student or the spirits of a gaggle of faculty and administrators.”

Hyatt is survived by his wife, Gayle Willard Hyatt, two children, Wesley Jr. and LuAnn, and two grandchildren.

A visitation will be held Friday (June 15) from 6 to 8 p.m. at Walker’s Funeral Home, 120 W. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. A memorial service will be held Saturday (June 16) at 10 a.m. at University Presbyterian Church, 209 E. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill.

Hyatt at December 2006 Commencement:

Hyatt on campus in June 2000:

News Services contact: Susan Houston, (919) 962-8415, (919) 360-5501 or