Karen L. Smith and L.T. Ward Honored with 2023 North Carolina Rural Leadership Award | Eastern North Carolina Now

Press Release:

    Raleigh, N.C.     Dr. Karen L. Smith and L.T. Ward have received the 2023 Larry Wooten Rural Leadership Award, presented by Governor Roy Cooper and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler at an Aug. 9 reception at the North Carolina Executive Mansion.

    Dr. Karen L. Smith has been a physician in private practice in Hoke County for more than 30 years. Dr. Smith has worked tirelessly to improve access to quality healthcare services for residents of rural communities including efforts to prevent diabetes, overcome COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy, and expand telehealth. Her pioneering work to implement innovative healthcare programs and advocate for policies that address the unique healthcare challenges faced by rural areas have made a profound difference in the lives of countless individuals. Dr. Smith has served in numerous leadership roles including as president of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, the North Carolina Medical Society Board of Directors, and as an elected board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Smith has been recognized for her contributions with numerous awards including being named the 2016 North Carolina Family Physician of the Year and the 2017 American Academy Family Physician of the Year.

    "Dr. Karen L. Smith's commitment to advancing rural health in North Carolina is truly commendable," said Governor Cooper. "Her dedication to ensuring that all North Carolina residents have access to quality health care has made a significant impact on rural communities. We are proud to honor Dr. Smith along with agricultural leader L.T. Ward with the Larry Wooten Rural Leadership Award for their exceptional contributions."

    L.T. Ward's remarkable work in Western North Carolina agriculture has been instrumental in empowering farmers and fostering sustainable agricultural practices. As a passionate advocate for agriculture and rural development, Ward has played a pivotal role in driving economic growth and revitalizing rural communities through his innovative approach to farming.

    "It is such an honor to recognize L.T. Ward's leadership and tremendous contributions to Western North Carolina and agriculture in the region," said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. "His thumbprint can be seen all across Western North Carolina, from its hemlock trees that have benefitted from the Hemlock Restoration Initiative, to the Western N.C. Farmers Market and the WNC Ag Center that draw more than a million visitors to the area each year, to Blue Ridge Food Ventures, Mountain Cattle Alliance and the WNC Regional Livestock Center that support farms and farmers. His advocacy and support have been a driving force behind these and many other successful initiatives that sustain the region and its citizens."


    The Larry Wooten Rural Leadership Award, established in 2019, celebrates outstanding leaders who have made a significant impact on North Carolina's rural communities. Named after its inaugural recipient, Larry Wooten, the award recognizes individuals who exemplify a deep commitment to rural endeavors, create lasting improvements in the lives of rural residents, and inspire others through their character and accomplishments.

    About the Larry Wooten Rural Leadership Award

    The Larry Wooten Rural Leadership Award was established in 2019 to honor exceptional leaders who have made significant contributions to rural communities in North Carolina. The award recognizes individuals whose visionary leadership and unwavering dedication have positively impacted the lives of those living in rural areas. The selection committee includes representatives from Hometown Strong (Governor Cooper's initiative for Rural North Carolina), the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the N.C. Department of Agriculture. For more information, visit https://hometownstrong.nc.gov/larry-wooten-rural-leadership-award.

    Contact: Sam Chan

    Phone: (919) 814-2100  •      Email: govpress@nc.gov
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