Pressing On

Experience the historical inauguration of Lee King, 16th President of Lees-McRae

Although temperatures were warmer than usual, Oct. 5 began like most fall Fridays at Lees-McRae.

As the morning fog lifted from the mountains and bright blue skies emerged, campus too began to come to life, buzzing with excitement.

In just a few short hours, Dr. Lee King would take the oath as the 16th president of Lees-McRae before hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, family, and community members. It was going to be a day to remember. But first, the college had to set the stage.

Together, faculty, staff, and students, worked to set out countless rows of crisp white chairs. The ceremony was held in the Historic Commons at the intersection of two aptly named roads: Lees-McRae Drive and College Drive. The platform was on the stairs of the college’s flagship academic building—the North Carolina Building.

With a hand-carved college shield as the backdrop, the ceremony site was also flanked by several other notable stone buildings comprising the Historic Commons. In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate and picturesque place to hold such a momentous occasion. 


Only a 5-minute walk from the bustling scene unfolding in the center of campus, another gathering was taking place. At the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church, King and his family joined many others to participate in an interfaith prayer service.

Hazy, soft light streamed through the two-story-tall windows of stained glass lining both sides of the historic chapel as Rev. Tee Gatewood of nearby Arbor Dale Presbyterian Church welcomed each speaker to the pulpit. Many shared words of advice for King and his family as they take on this new chapter. They offered relevant Bible verses while also sharing quick anecdotes of their experiences with King.


Towards the end of the service, Tammy King, first lady of Lees-McRae, approached the pulpit to give a gift to her husband—a Bible and a prayer journal.

Inside the two books lied countless pages of individual notes of welcome, wishes, and prayers from individuals in both the college and Banner Elk communities. Many flipped to their favorite verse and highlighted lines they wished King to read. Tammy clutched the two books emotionally as she looked for words to say to her husband.

“This is Lee’s calling,” Tammy said fighting through tears and a brimming smile. “One that God has prepared him for for many, many years through many trials.” It was an address only someone pouring with pride could give and it was enough to leave many in the room welling with tears of joy.

Back across campus as the final hours ticked down before the inauguration ceremony at 2 p.m., volunteers were completing final touches including the addition of small evergreen saplings in each chair—a physical representation of the college motto, “In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains.” A tag hung from the bag surrounding each sapling, encouraging guests to nurture the young tree just as Dr. King will nurture the college in the years to come.

Following the prayer service, King and his family made their way to his office at the Rock House to share a few quiet moments before the ceremony. King pulled on his new emerald green robe with the college seal embroidered on the front panels.

It was only a few moments now.

Outside, students, faculty, staff, alumni, family, and visitors all took their places in their seats, anxious and excited to begin the ceremony they had all been waiting for.


Bagpipes in the distance ushered in the processional of faculty as well as college and university delegates who all took their seats to the left and right sides of the stage. Once everyone arrived, Board of Trustees Chairman W. McNair Tornow welcomed everyone to the event before inviting Rev. Alan Yawn, from Banner Elk Christian Fellowship, to give the invocation.

Greetings and charges from constituent groups—community, alumni, students, staff, and faculty—were delivered by representatives before a performance by the Lees-McRae choral group, The Highlanders.

Now it was time for the presentation of the symbols.

Before he could take the oath of office, King was bestowed three special Lees-McRae symbols: the college mace, the chain of office, and the Edgar Tufts Bible.

Presented to Dr. King by Provost and Dean of Faculty Todd Lidh, the mace is a tall, wooden staff-like object featuring the college seal and a depiction of the mountains surrounding campus. Though the mace has its roots as a weapon during the middle-ages, “the ceremonial mace evolved into a graceful object to symbolize trust vested in the president and the educational tradition,” Lidh said.

To present the next symbol—the chain of office— was Lees-McRae President Emeritus Bradford Crain.

“Dr. King, the chain of office is a visible symbol of presidential authority,” Crain said before placing the medallion over King’s head. “As you wear it, you take on the responsibilities, duties, and powers of your office, and I might add the palpable joys as well. I know you will bare them all with courage, faith, and humility.”

Lastly, Robert Tufts, great-grandson of college founder Rev. Edgar Tufts, approached the podium to present the Edgar Tufts Bible.

Given to Rev. Edgar Tufts in the summer of 1895 by Banner Elk community members, “this Bible was his constant companion and the word of God was his inspiration and guide,” Tufts said. “Dr. King, I pray that throughout your presidency you will keep uppermost in your mind the historic and symbolic importance of this Bible and that you will be guided in all you do by the values and vision it represents.”

Now it was time for Dr. King to take the oath of office. With Tammy King by his side holding the Tufts Bible, Dr. King repeated the oath read by Chairman Tornow:

I, Herbert Lee King Jr., solemnly swear 
That I will faithfully and diligently carry out the office of the president of Lees-McRae College
Abiding by the by-laws of the institution and guidance of its Board of Trustees
And that in accord with the mission, the vision, and the values of the college
I will do all within my power to support and uphold the college standard
Of innovative academic excellence within the liberal arts tradition
It’s spiritual heritage and vital campus, local, and regional communities
And it’s commitment to the success of its students through education and inspiration.

As the inauguration ceremony drew to a close, Dr. King spoke to those present with his keynote address, “Let’s Press On.”

“Lately, it seems I am constantly thinking of the awesome stewardship responsibility of this role,” King began. “We are stewards not just of an institution, the lives it touches, or its future path forward. We are stewards of an amazing legacy that brought hope and opportunity to these mountains.”

King said he often thinks about the Rev. Edgar Tufts and “the perseverance he showed in following his calling” and establishing several institutions in the High Country including Lees-McRae.

“I can only imagine the sheer tenacity it took for a still-student preacher…to build a church, to spread the gospel, and attend to the spiritual and personal needs of the mountain community, all while looking ahead with a vision of something far greater than his initial tasks,” King said.

While in Banner Elk, Tufts wrote letters to his future bride at home about “how tired he was, but yet how hopeful he was,” King described. “Despite his weariness and feelings of inadequacy, he carried on.”

King said as he begins his presidency at Lees-McRae and reflects on the early work by Rev. and Mrs. Tufts he had little doubt, “they approached their work with the Apostle Paul’s attitude that he reflected in Philippians 3, ‘One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to win the prize for which God has called me.’”

Forgetting what is behind and pressing on, King said, is a motivational challenge he wants everyone to embrace.

“Colleagues and friends…it is time we allow ourselves to dream,” King said. “It is time we take our determination that was strengthened in difficult years and focus that hardened will toward building something greater. It is time to press on to what we know that we can be.”

King concluded his moving address with motivational words of gratitude and optimism.

“I’m grateful that you are allowing me the privilege of helping guide us along this path as your new president and I am grateful that you are my partners in this journey. Together, with perseverance and determination, we will press on.”


Dr. King’s final remarks were punctuated by the release of a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk by wildlife rehabilitation senior Kaden Haver and May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Director Nina Fischesser. With a little coaxing, the bird of prey made its escape taking to the air and landing in a nearby pine overlooking the ceremony.

Following the inauguration, guests gathered in nearby Swank Park to congregate and celebrate the newly-inaugurated President of Lees-McRae, Dr. King.

With the mountains as their backdrop, King, the college, and the community would press on.

By Nina MastandreaOctober 11, 2018