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They met at N.C. A&T, married and started a business together. Now A&T's health and human sciences college is named for them.

They met at N.C. A&T, married and started a business together. Now A&T's health and human sciences college is named for them.

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Kathy Hairston John Hairston NCAT

Kathy and John Hairston, who graduated from N.C. A&T more than 40 years ago, met at the school, married and started a business together. The school also received a multi-million, multi-year cash pledge from the Hairstons.

GREENSBORO — N.C. A&T has named its health and human sciences college for a Charlotte couple who graduated from the university more than 40 years ago.

The university’s largest academic division will be called the John R. and Kathy R. Hairston College of Health and Human Sciences, A&T announced Wednesday.

The naming follows what A&T described as a “multi-million, multi-year cash pledge” from the Hairstons. The university said the gift is unrestricted, which means there are no conditions as to how A&T can spend the money. A&T said it will put the money in an endowment to be used by the health and human sciences college for student scholarships, fellowships, academic programs and other purposes.

“John and Kathy Hairston consistently demonstrate a commitment to the preeminence of our university through their philanthropy,” Chancellor Harold Martin said in a statement. “We are proud to honor them in this way for all they have done and continue to do to support excellence, innovation and community service through our College of Health and Human Sciences.”

N.C. A&T marks its 130th birthday with a new website that highlights key alumni and friends and major campus events.

John Hairston and the former Kathy Rouson met at A&T. He had come to A&T from West Charlotte High School to play football and to study to become a teacher. She was a Greensboro native and Dudley High School graduate who was pursuing a degree in social science. They both graduated from A&T in 1975 and married a year later.

John Hairston worked as a teacher and coach after graduation. For a decade starting in 1976, he taught industrial arts and coached football at Charlotte’s Independence High School, according to a 2019 story in the Mooresville Tribune newspaper. Hairston also ran his own small construction company.

To support a growing family — the Hairstons have three children — John Hairston enrolled in an owner training program for prospective McDonald’s franchisees.

The couple bought their first McDonald’s in downtown Atlanta, then moved back to Charlotte in 1989. For more than 30 years before they retired in September, the couple acquired 11 restaurants in the Charlotte area through the family business, John R. Hairston Enterprises. The Hairstons are past winners of several awards from the company. One of those is a Golden Arch award, which goes annually to the top 1% of owner/operators of McDonald’s restaurants for sales, customer service and community involvement.

The new endowment for A&T’s health and human sciences college is the latest in a series of gifts from the Hairstons. The couple previously set up a professorship in the sociology and social work department and endowed a scholarship fund to support students majoring in sociology and social work.

In 2013, A&T awarded Kathy Hairston its Alumni Achievement Award for her career achievement and support of the university.

John Hairston was inducted into N.C. A&T Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Hairston missed just one game in four years as an offensive guard for the Aggies and was an all-conference player as a sophomore.

“We owe a lot to A&T and the Charlotte community,” John Hairston said in a statement. “We want our legacy to be that we did what we could to make a positive difference in the world.”

Kathy Hairston added: “The advice I offer our fellow Aggies is this: Never forget where you came from, and always reach back to help others.”

The newly named Hairston College had nearly 2,300 students enrolled as of last fall — roughly 18% of the university’s total student population. The college has four departments: nursing, kinesiology, psychology, and social work and sociology.

Kinesiology and psychology rank among A&T’s most popular majors. Kinesiology was known as the Department of Human Performance and Leisure Studies until it was renamed in December. That’s when A&T announced that it would begin awarding bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology — the study of human body movement — instead of in sports science and fitness management.

Hairston College is the second academic division that A&T has renamed in the past two years. A&T in 2019 named its business school for retired pharmaceutical executive Willie A. Deese, an A&T alumnus and former chairman of its Board of Trustees.

The naming of the Willie A. Deese College of Business and Economics came after Deese donated $5 million to the university. A dedication ceremony held in February 2020 was one of the last major campus events at A&T before the pandemic shut down most gatherings.

A&T said it will dedicate the Hairston College after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and people can once again gather in large groups.

Contact John Newsom at 336-373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

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