LUMBERTON — The curtains closed for Patricia Fields, director of Givens Performing Arts Center, on Wednesday as she said her goodbyes to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke during a retirement party.
Fields’ retirement party was filled with stories from friends and staff thatr evokes laughter, tears — and a surprise: The 15-year director received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest honor that can be given to a resident of North Carolina.
“I’m doubly blessed today,” Fields said as she accepted the award. “I came here 15 years ago a Robeson County native thinking I knew everything about the county. But I had just started learning, not from the academic environment, but from the love and sense of community.”
Fields decided to retire earlier this year after 30 years of service to the state. She worked at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville for 15 years before joining UNCP.
Fields said she retired so she could spend more time with her husband, Richard, as well as her 82-year-old mother Nora Smith.
“For 30 years I worked crazy hours,” said Fields, who graduated from UNCP with two degrees. “Sometimes I would work 80-hour work weeks, and my wonderful husband would be waiting up for me when I got home at 2 a.m. Though it sounds a little June Cleaver, I’m ready to be a housewife and to spend time with my mother.”
Teary-eyed, Fields thanked her mother, who attended the party with her sisters, for supporting her and said she could have never gotten to the place she is without her.
Fields’ aunt, Mary Register, said that her niece goes out of her way to look out for her mother and her mother’s sisters. Her life-long friend, Loretta Broadwell, said there was always something about Fields that drew people to her.
“We went to high school together,” Broadwell said. “The one thing I remember about her is you never saw her without a smile on her face.”
“She is an awesome server the way she helps her family and the community,” said Broadwell’s husband, Jeff, who is also Fields’ pastor.
Wendy Lowery, vice chancellor for advancement at UNCP, testified to Fields’ giving nature during the party.
She recalled Fields’ job interview and the moment she first realized that Fields wasn’t only a person to turn to professionally, but also personally.
“We have been searching for a replacement for Patricia, and people have been asking what the hardest part of this job is going to be,” Lowery said. “The hardest part of this job is going to be filling Patricia’s shoes.”
Diane Jones, former vice chancellor for Student Affairs, hired Fields and said she stood out from the moment the interview process began.
“She was down to earth, professional and had a caring sense about her,” Jones said. “She understood the importance of community and the job turned out to be perfect for her.”
Jones credited the advancement of the Givens Performing Arts Center to Fields’ willingness to get out in the community to learn and understand what shows appeal to Robeson County residents. Fields’ successor should be able to relate to all types of people, have an appreciation for the arts and must be a team player, she said.
“I love this university,” Fields said. “My only regret in leaving is that I didn’t get to work with Chancellor [Robin] Cummings very long. I love where he’s taking this university. But I will be back for shows and visits, and the food here is great, so I’ll even be back for lunch.”