April 4, 2017
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Four to be Honored at WTAMU’s Annual Phoenix Banquet
CANYON, Texas—Four West Texas A&M University alumni—a world-renowned auctioneer, a retired Silicon Valley-partnered attorney, an innovative professional sports/entertainer insurance broker and a national leader in nuclear physics—will be recognized when the University presents its prestigious Distinguished Alumni Awards at the 54th annual Phoenix Banquet April 22 on campus.
The annual event is the University’s opportunity to recognize and honor the best of WTAMU’s alumni. The four honorees—Tom ‘Spanky’ Assiter II ’79, ’81, Debra Summers ’74, Alex Fairly ’85, and Dr. John Meason ’59—were selected for outstanding contributions to their professions and community from a field of many other successful nominees. This year’s recipients have achieved exceptional success in each of their respective professions since graduating from WT, proving that a degree from West Texas A&M University more than prepares students for rewarding and successful careers.
Spanky Assiter earned a bachelor’s degree from WTSU in mass communications in 1979. Childhood dreams of being a square-dance caller or an auctioneer went by the wayside as he joined the workforce at the local Budweiser affiliate. It was there that he was enticed to go back and earn his master’s degree at WT in 1981, but it was an opportunity at a local auction house that altered the course of his life.
Traveling far and wide to study the techniques of different types of auctioneers, Assister developed his own unique and versatile style and eventually founded his own auctioneering firm of Assiter & Associates. He has auctioned off an exciting variety of items including the Batmobile and a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake for $5.5 million. He was named World Champion Automobile Auctioneer in 2005, but he admits a local estate auction for a community member needing money is what makes his job worth it.
“Spanky Assiter may be the greatest auctioneer of his generation,” Dr. Neil Terry, dean of the College of Business at WTAMU, said. “Whether it be real estate auction, car auction or benefit auction, Spanky has a stage presence that encourages competitive bidding between buyers resulting in greater profit for his clients.”
After graduating from WTSU in 1974, Debra Summers took a job with Amstar Corporation in her hometown of Dimmitt. She made such an impression that she was soon transferred to the corporate home office in San Francisco, Calif. It was Amstar that encouraged her to enroll at the University of San Francisco to attend law school, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1980.
A distinguished career in law followed. Summers became one of the first female partners at the premier Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, where she was fierce practitioner of real estate and later environmental law. She provided legal counsel to leading technology and growth companies and was a key factor in many decisions regarding environmental laws in California. She also appeared and prevailed before the California Supreme Court.
“For those of us that worked with her, she was a fun, intense, self-effacing role model for a generation of women. Though she built her career in the multicultural, sophisticated business climate of Northern California, she never lost her small-town Dimmitt, Texas, outlook or accent.” said fellow attorney Marcia Kemp Sterling.
Alex Fairly graduated from WTSU in 1985, and he immediately began to develop his “out of the box” approach. He began as a database analyst and worked his way through the ranks until he landed an opportunity at Hilb, Rogal & Hamilton Company (HRH) as an insurance producer. Working for one of the world’s largest publicly-traded insurance and risk management companies, Fairly had found his calling.
As Fairly’s client list began to prosper, he found his passion representing the sports and entertainment industry. Starting with the Amarillo Rattlers in 1997, Fairly was soon representing the entire Western Professional Hockey League followed by the East Coast Hockey League.
HRH eventually became Willis Towers Watson and in February of 2016, it became The Fairly Group. Now with superstar clients like Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Viacom and many more, The Fairly Group is the nationally recognized leader in the risk management field.
“When his efforts take him to the largest cities in the United States and he is asked how he could ever develop such a successful insurance and risk management practice in Amarillo, Texas he is always quick to praise his team and brag about his roots in the area including his education at WTSU.” said friend Barry Odell.
Dr. John Meason graduated from WTSU in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. He continued his education at the University of Arkansas where he earned a Master of Science in nuclear chemistry and a Doctor of Philosophy in nuclear chemistry and physics.
The United States Army recruited Meason, and he was commissioned as a U.S. Army major while serving at White Sands Missile Range. For several decades, Meason led a community of scientists and engineers to ensure U.S. weapon systems remain operational following an enemy detonation of a nuclear weapon. He eventually became the director of the Nuclear Effects Directorate at White Sands, the nation’s only Directorate in the Department of Defense.
After retirement, Meason accepted a position as the director of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech (NMT) and embarked on the second half of his career as an educator. At NMT, Meason expanded his department into areas such as semiconductor testing and research, cyber security research, kinetic-cyber research and training and counter homemade explosives research. He also doubled the university’s annual contract activity from $25 million to $56 million per year.
When I worked in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Meason was recognized as an innovator and entrepreneur at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. I regularly cited his work to Navy and U.S. Air Force personnel as someone to emulate. He consistently delivered test services to developers of military equipment destined for all three military services and enabled them to provide quality systems to our men and women in uniform.” said friend and colleague John V. Bolino.
This year’s banquet will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 22 in the Jack B. Kelley Student Center, Legacy Hall. Tickets are priced at $50 per person and can be reserved by calling 806-651-2311.