Northcentral doctoral candidate awarded PhD posthumously during graduation ceremonies

Capt. Edward Wheeler Counts, Jr., passed away in April but he added two more milestones to a lifetime full of achievement by being the oldest graduate of Northcentral University's Class of 2011 and being awarded his doctoral degree posthumously.

"Buddy" Counts was midway through his doctoral research program when he contracted a rare and virulent form of lymphoma. Northcentral administrators decided to award the degree, and to have his diploma signed and delivered at his memorial service two days later in Clover, S.C., as "a gesture in honor of the diligent Student he exemplified in his scholarship and his service to others," said Northcentral President Clinton Gardner.

On hand for the official awarding of Counts' degree were his wife, Connie, daughter, Dr. Melissa Reid Counts Toth, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and son, Zachary Francis Counts, a captain in the U.S. Air Force who has twice served in the Afghanistan and Iraq war zones and who is an F-16 instructor pilot at Luke Air Force Base.

"This means so much to us and would have meant even more to him," Counts' daughter said during a reception following graduation ceremonies. "He was always involved with higher education," she said, noting that the former commercial airline pilot was deep into researching the effects of airline mergers on personnel.

"He was pursuing a Doctorate both for personal enrichment as well as to fill a void of information in the airline industry on the often drastic, direct effects mergers have on personnel, particularly those approaching retirement age," she said. "He was so frustrated when he became too ill to continue."

Counts' son said it's ironic that "a health problem would occur and would take him so fast. He flew commercially for 32 years and never missed a flight due to illness. He brought the same commitment to higher education and its capacity to not only improve his life but make the world a better place."

The family members each said they were especially grateful for Northcentral's "above and beyond" efforts in particular, those of Registrar Rebekah Blakley to send the diploma in time for the memorial service.

"We are truly touched and will never forget it," Zach Counts said.

Even before he could pursue his own advanced degree, Buddy Counts was underwriting the education pursuits of others through the Buddy Counts Scholarship Fund at Newberry College.

"He was an ardent supporter of advancing that institution, but a greater supporter of advancing individuals," his son said.