North Carolina Governor presents ‘Order of the Long Leaf Pine’ to Carnegie Hero

High Point (North Carolina) Community Foundation President, Paul J. Lessard, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at the foundation’s Dec. 12 board meeting.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is North Carolina’s highest civilian honor given to recognize lifetime achievements of Community Service. Established in 1961 it has been given by the Governor to those who have had significant impact upon our State. Past recipients include; Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, Bob Timberlake, Andy Griffith, and others.

Lessard received the Carnegie Medal for Heroism after a 1993 water rescue in which he saved the 62-year-old driver of a station wagon that was washed from a flooded highway into a creek. Using a hammer he had obtained from a nearby home, Lessard swam to the sinking car and broke out a back window. Lessard and another man who had swum to the car secured a hold on the woman and took her to safety.

Lessard is the Founder and Director of the Lighthouse Project. Established in 1994 with the monetary stipend that accompanied the Carnegie Hero Medal. For over 26 years the Project partnered with the Guilford County Schools Character Education Program to bring in over 50 nationally known role models including; Coach Boone, subject of the film, Remember the Titans; James Bradley, author of the New York Times best seller, Flags of Our Fathers; Clifton Taulbert, author of the seminal civil rights classic, Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored; Patch Adams; Robert Woodson, McArthur Genius Grant Recipient; Joe Erhmann, subject of the book, A Season of Life, and others. To date the Projects has impacted more than 650,000 students with their speakers.

Lessard is also the Founding President of the High Point Community Foundation which was established in 1998. Under Lessard’s leadership the foundation’s assets have grown from $5 million to almost $100 million. In the past 25 years the foundation has awarded more than $107.2 million in unrestricted and Donor Advised Fund grants that have impacted organizations with hyper local scopes to international.

Speaking and presenting the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at the ceremony were three local past recipients of the award, including Chris Greene and Jim Morgan.

“We are grateful to Governor Cooper for awarding this most prestigious and well-deserved recognition to our friend and teammate,’ Paul Lessard,” notes Ann Busby, Past Chair, HPCF. “It always takes a team to accomplish great things and I want to thank Chris Greene, Jim Morgan, David Miller and Tom Blount who all played key roles in the nominating process.

Paul earned his Bachelor of Arts in English and History at High Point College where he attended on a soccer/academic scholarship in the mid-70s. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in Communications from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was selected to pursue post-graduate studies in Nonprofit Management at Harvard University Business School in the summer of 2006.

In addition to the Carnegie Medal, Lessard received the Congressional Commendation for Heroism, a Key to the City of High Point, and a resolution of Commendation for Heroism. He was awarded the High Point Chamber of Commerce “Business Advocate of the Year” Award. He received the inaugural Dr. Kennedy Humanitarian of the Year Award for advocating for children. In 2020, the Boy Scouts of America recognized Paul Lessard as the inaugural 2020 Man of the Year.

Lessard is married to Jayne Isaacson Lessard and they have two adult children; daughter, Taylor Sprague, and son, Jordan Lessard. Along with his two children, Lessard is most proud of his five grandchildren.