The former manager of the N.C. Welcome Center on Interstate 77 in Surry County has been honored posthumously by Gov. Roy Cooper.
Cooper bestowed upon the late Chris McKeaver, of Siloam, the Old North State Award. It was presented earlier this month to family members of McKeaver, who died on March 25 while on his way to work at the welcome center.
The Old North State Award is granted for public service employment with the state of North Carolina, to those demonstrating “dedication and service beyond expectation.” It also recognizes persons who have devoted significant volunteer or community service in North Carolina.
“Even in his last minutes, Chris was checking road conditions so he could alert his co-workers — and visitors — to potential hazards,” says a statement from Bryan Gupton, director of visitor services for the N.C. Department of Commerce. It maintains nine welcome centers on interstate highways to assist travelers to the state.
Gupton’s statement refers to a snow storm that struck this area on March 25.
McKeaver, 45, died of natural causes while heading to work at the welcome center, according to Jeff Mills, who is now the manager there.
The late manager’s day-to-day functions also were cited by Gupton, the Department of Commerce official, who mentioned how McKeaver added a personal touch to his work. The Siloam resident had joined the state welcome center program in 2000, and was named manager of the Interstate 77-North facility in Surry County in August 2013.
“Having worked as a travel counselor, Chris provided front-line customer service to hundreds of visitors every day eager to see North Carolina’s attractions and to spend money,” Gupton stated. “Chris provided insider details that visitors love.”
During the years that McKeaver managed the Surry welcome center, he worked to update its interior, install a large-flat screen television set and ensure that all visitors were greeted in a prompt and friendly manner, according to Gupton.
He also engaged with local tourism contacts to increase their presence at the welcome center, ensuring that visitors to the Interstate 77-North corridor were aware of the area’s attractions.
“Chris worked behind the scenes to maintain meticulous records for all welcome centers, keeping records on attendance, visitor state of origin, international visitors, motor coach visitors and other pertinent data,” Gupton concluded.
In his spare time he was a deacon at Turkey Ford Baptist Church.
Among McKeaver’s survivors are his wife, two daughters and his parents, all of whom were present earlier this month to receive the Old North State Award in his memory.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.