Member Spotlight – Phail Wynn Jr.

Mar 26, 2018

phail wynn croppedFor most people, retirement is a time for rest and relaxation. For Phail Wynn Jr., his first attempt at retirement was only a brief respite which lasted one single day before he immediately started work as vice president of the Office of Durham and Regional Affairs at Duke University. Now, after a decade of work with the university, Wynn once again plans for retirement in June.

Wynn completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma in 1969 and enrolled in the Army, where he did a tour in Vietnam. While serving at Fort Bragg, he enrolled as a graduate student at North Carolina State University. There he completed his master’s degree and doctorate and was inducted into The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. 

Wynn joined the staff at Durham Technical Community College in 1977 and became president in 1980; the first African-American community college president in the North Carolina system. He recalls his time there fondly. “I was engaged in the noblest form of recycling – to provide the first, second, third or last opportunities for adult learners to achieve their goals or get on the right pathway to become lifelong learners. Providing open access, low barrier opportunities for learning was something I was proud of in my community college days,” Wynn shared.

In the nearly 28 years he served as president, Wynn repeatedly shared one of his favorite quotes at commencement exercises: “The road to knowledge has no end.” The sentiment and his work impacted the college so strongly that the quote was emblazoned on a plaque mounted to the campus building named in his honor, the Phail Wynn Jr. Student Services Center. The quote would hold true for Wynn when he retired in 2007 and headed down the road to Duke University. 

During his time at the university’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, Wynn worked to build the relationship and programs between the university and the surrounding communities. In the ten years under his guidance, the office has created partnerships to improve economic and community development, public education and quality of life through civic engagement initiatives.

His plans for retirement include travel, golf and catching up on his reading. “I have 15 years of accumulated reading which I plan to plunge into. I’m an old-style hardbound book reader, and I’ve been collecting books so I can annotate them and put them back on the shelf.”

Wynn takes great pride in his membership in the Society. “I knew the prestige of Phi Kappa Phi and decided to embrace the honor once I was inducted. On my résumé, I proudly indicate that I’m a member,” he shared. Wynn became a life member in 1995.

In his time as a member of the Society – following in the footsteps of his professor mother, Valree Wynn, who is also a member – Wynn has led a life that lives up to the Society’s motto: “Let the love of learning rule humanity.” He noted, “For all of us as members, the important thing for us to spread is the notion of lifelong learning for all. So when we have the opportunity, that should be our mission in life – to encourage those who have completed terminal degrees, not completed any degrees at all, or those in the middle. We should advocate to them the importance and necessity of embracing lifelong learning.”