Sharon and Doug Rothwell

Coming Home, Giving Broadly

By Gini Hamilton

They say you can’t go home again, but dedicated Tar Heels Sharon and Doug Rothwell are proving that to be a false assumption.

Sharon, originally from Dunn, North Carolina, and Doug, originally from Philadelphia, met on the first day of orientation for the UNC Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) program in 1978. In 1980, they left Carolina as newlyweds and M.P.A. graduates, moving first to Delaware and then to Michigan, where they have spent most of their careers. 

Sharon and Doug have both served four governors in two different states and held executive positions for Fortune 500 companies. They credit the UNC M.P.A. degree with allowing them to work across sectors navigating policy, politics and business. 

“The arts define the community in which you live. …I don’t think Chapel Hill would be anything near what it is today without Carolina Performing Arts.”

Doug Rothwell

 Sharon was vice president, corporate affairs, for Masco Corporation until her retirement in 2015. Prior to joining Masco in 2003, she served as Michigan Gov. John Engler’s chief operating officer/chief of staff. She previously served as Michigan’s director of labor relations and Delaware’s director of human resources. 

Doug recently retired as president and chief executive officer of Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable. Formerly, he served as chair of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, an organization he founded, CAO at Bank of America’s credit card subsidiary, Delaware Gov. Michael Castle’s chief of staff, and General Motors’ global real estate executive director.  

While living in other places, however, they remained connected to UNC through their love of basketball—attending games throughout the country, including in Maui—and their commitment to supporting public higher education and the arts. And in 2014, they moved “home” to Chapel Hill on a part-time basis. 

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In 2005, they created the UNC School of Government M.P.A. program’s premier Rothwell Scholarship, which provides funding to high-performing M.P.A. students. More recently, they funded the development of a strategic plan to support the program into the future. 

“UNC and our M.P.A. degrees have opened doors throughout our careers and helped us succeed in life,” Doug said. “This is our way of thanking the University and helping more public service-minded men and women to have that experience.” 

In 2010, they considered what would make the next phase of their lives enjoyable and meaningful in retirement. Sharon proposed moving to Chapel Hill. “That’s about all it took,” Doug said. This past March, they made their place on Franklin Street their full-time home after selling their home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

 For a couple who describe themselves as “rabid Tar Heel basketball fans,” athletics was certainly a draw, but so was Carolina Performing Arts. 

“We both feel that the arts define the community in which you live,” Doug said, “and we believe that universities play a major role in exposing both communities and students to the arts. It is important to us to be in a community where you can have world-class opportunities in the performing arts. I don’t think Chapel Hill would be anything near what it is today without Carolina Performing Arts.” 

The Rothwells are generous supporters of Carolina Performing Arts, contributing annually and to special initiatives such as the 100th anniversary celebration of The Rite of Spring and recently to the development of CPA’s new website. They are season ticket holders and recently created the Sharon and Doug Rothwell Endowment to support classical and jazz musical performances and the creation of new musical works. 

In addition to recognizing their graduate school and performing arts, Sharon and Doug have established a women’s volleyball endowed scholarship and their planned giving will include a campus improvement project. 

Both Sharon and Doug continue to serve UNC in various leadership capacities. Sharon is chair-elect of the Carolina Performing Arts International Advisory Board and is a member of the Rams Club Executive Board of Directors. Doug chairs the Ackland Art Museum’s National Advisory Board, serves as UNC’s executive-in-residence for economic development, and is a member of the Downtown Chapel Hill Partnership Board. He is past chair of the UNC Board of Visitors. 

“We both feel strongly that one of the most significant ways you can help the future is by supporting higher education,” Sharon said. “We’ve endowed scholarships, are annual givers, and are contributing as part of our estate planning. We think you need to give now, and you need to plan for the future in terms of giving back. With public funding for higher education decreasing across the country, both annual support and planned giving are essential for the future of our University.” 

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