Sheila Frye has had a whirlwind of a summer.
The Sampson native was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on June 28, less than a week after she appeared on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to talk about the recently defunct National Hollerin’ Contest in Spivey’s Corner, of which she is the 10-time National Ladies Callin’ champion. Amidst all that, she retired after more than three decades serving Wake County, for which she also was honored.
Frye received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at her retirement reception as her family, including husband Freddy, and the staff she worked with in her role as Wake County Public Health manager looked on.
Fighting back tears at her retirement, Frye gave credit to her staff for all of their hard work in serving families. She officially retired days later on June 30 after more than 31 years, during which she led 75 public health staff members in offering child and maternal programs that ensured women had healthy births and positive outcomes for families with young children.
“I was so honored and so humbled,” Frye said of the prestigious state award during a recent interview. “I was so excited.”
Under her leadership, several of her programs and individual staff have won county, state and national awards, Frye taking home four state awards herself since 2007. The most recent came in May when she was recognized for “Excellence in Injury Prevention” during the annual North Carolina Safe Kids Conference in Concord for a comprehensive childhood injury prevention program focusing on vehicle safety.
North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin presented the award to Frye, who “demonstrated incredible dedication and support to local injury prevention efforts,” according to an excerpt from her nomination.
No stranger to receiving accolades as the 10-time Hollerin’ champ, Frye joined another elite group in receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Considered among the most prestigious awards conferred by the governor of North Carolina, it is awarded for exemplary service that is above and beyond the call of duty, something friends and co-workers felt Frye embodied.
The award is granted to citizens who stand out in their communities, who have devoted their lives to serving others and whose efforts have made a significant impact on strengthening North Carolina. A state employee can be awarded the Order if they have contributed more than 30 years of “dedicated and enthusiastic” service to the state.
A modest Frye again said it is about the work itself and the many people that aid needy families every day.
“I had really great opportunities to work in programs that helped families and I had a really great staff,” she remarked. “I think it’s important as a manager to help people and trust the people you work side by side with. I’ve been fortunate to be honored in the past and it’s nice to be rewarded but the work is the most important part. It’s important to acknowledge the work that is done by many people to help families be healthy, happy and successful.”
In addition to the local and state recognitions, Frye was firmly on the national stage on June 22, when she flew up to New York to join Tony Peacock, a six-time winner of the National Hollerin’ Contest, and Robbie Goodman, who won the junior division in 1978, on Colbert’s program. She visited “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 2003, the first year she won the contest, and this trip was likely the swan song.
“The experience was very nice. The staff was gracious and it was done in really good taste,” said Frye, who performed an expressive melody during the segment, with Goodman and Peacock talking about the history of hollering and their hopes the national contest in Sampson would not come to an end.
Frye, who grew up on a tobacco farm in the Autryville, was part of the last graduating class at Clement High School in 1980 before going on to a higher education and her subsequent career in Wake County. A huge supporter of the Hollerin’ Contest through the years, Frye said she was honored to be a part of the segment — a fitting tribute to the event, especially if it does not return for its 50th anniversary in 2018 as speculated.
“I’ve done a lot of things over the years and I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of the hollering-related press. “I’ve been very active in promoting the contest for its place in history and its cultural relevance. I really enjoyed keeping that tradition of hollerin’ alive.”
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