Hudson to retire after three decades of supporting, nurturing students

There’s no doubt that Gail Faulkner Hudson is looking forward to her next chapter. In mid-June, when she leaves her Royall Center office for the last time, she plans to spend long, “uninterrupted” stretches of time at Kure Beach, to read books on her back porch beside a cooling fan, volunteer with a few nonprofits, travel, and spend more time playing with her grandchildren.

Yet if you ask Hudson about her upcoming retirement, she may let a few tears slip. “It’s the students,” she says. “It’s so important that someone unconditionally loves these students.”

As dean of counseling, Hudson has been nudging NCSSM students on college choices, teaching them time management skills, counseling them through anxieties and crises, helping them navigate conflicts, supporting and loving them since 1988. In the last decade or so, she and her counseling team have worked to help students control their skyrocketing stress levels. “It’s indicative of our world, the increased competition, the financial stressors to get scholarships, their wish to please their families. Our kids are striving to be perfect, when really all they need to be is themselves,” she says.

While student stress has grown, so has our community’s acceptance of diversity, Hudson says. She used to get more angry phone calls from parents about their children dating a boy or girl of a different ethnicity or life style. “Thankfully, that’s gotten better,” she says, “in all realms of diversity. It feels like students can be themselves.” And more students ask for help when they need it. “They used to think they had to squelch their problems. Now they seem to understand it’s all a process of growth, and they do a wonderful job accepting help from each other.”

“Gail has had such an important impact on NCSSM in her 27 years of service to the school,” says Chancellor Todd Roberts. “She has truly dedicated her time, talent, and heart to our school. Gail has been instrumental in helping create a living and learning environment that is supportive of students, allowing them to grow academically, as well as socially and emotionally. The positive impact she has had on students and the NCSSM community is immeasurable.” 

Her two daughters grew up with their mother’s job. Cressent Hudson Pressly, now a family practitioner in Winston-Salem, graduated from NCSSM in 1991. Katie Hudson Collini is director of finance and human resources at Carolina Friends School, a job she took in 2012 after working as the internal auditor at NCSSM.

After three decades in a demanding job, Hudson doesn’t see herself lounging with her feet up most days in retirement. She is president of the board of the Durham Literacy Center, which empowers Durham County residents to improve their lives through stronger literacy skills. The nonprofit runs a program specifically for men imprisoned in the county jail to work toward earning their GED; she’d like to create a similar program for imprisoned women. And then there’s the grandchildren, “my seven distractions.” They range in age from toddler to nine; she’s enjoying developing relationships with each of them.

Gail Hudson’s “seven distractions,” spread between Durham and Winston-Salem and ranging in age from one to eight.

It took a health crisis three years ago to make Hudson realize she was ready to retire. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, she was facing a risky 10-hour surgery at UNC Hospital when the anesthesiologist in the pre-op room looked at her and said, “Gail?” She turned out to be a former student from two decades earlier, someone Hudson had helped and felt close to. The connection lifted her spirits, only to have an audiologist — the tumor was close to an acoustic nerve, threatening her hearing — introduce herself and also happen to be an alumna. Then, just before she entered surgery, a third alumna friend came up and kissed her cheek. She was a pediatric anesthesiologist, she explained, but when she saw Hudson’s name on the schedule for surgery, she asked the neurosurgeons if she could be in the operating room with her, holding her hand.

“I felt like I was being held, like I was lifted up,” Hudson remembers. “It was like my years of giving to these students were coming back to me. Here were three young professional women who had grown up on our campus, and they had such heart. I was thankful to have played a little part in shaping their lives.

“What I always treasure about our students are their hearts and souls. Those three women weren’t in that room only because they were bright and intelligent. They were in there because they had heart.”

Each day following the surgery Hudson was visited by former NCSSM students who heard she was in the hospital: nurses, physical therapists, hospital administrators, financial managers, social workers, physicians, “on and on and on.”

“I had this feeling then that, OK, it’s come full cycle, these students are taking care of the world, I can let go,” she says.

Hudson says she will miss the staff, students, and parents terribly, but knows she’s leaving students in good hands with the counseling team, including counselor Lori Hackney, who is stepping into the dean’s role. “They’re a pretty remarkable group,” she says, “just stellar, skilled individuals who love the students as much as I do.”