A Model of Diversity—Nathan Garrett Receives Lifetime Achievement in Diversity Award

On Thursday, September 10, the Triangle Business Journal hosted its Leaders in Diversity Awards Luncheon at the Marriott City Center in Raleigh. The annual event recognizes the accomplishments of area businesses, individuals, and nonprofits that strive to reflect the essential, unique array of our community. We are honored to share that NCACPA member Nathan T. Garrett, of Durham, received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in Diversity Award. To recognize his contributions over many decades, NCACPA and the AICPA were proud sponsors of the event.

Upon receiving the award at the podium, Nathan immediately began acknowledging those who had pioneered a path of diversity before him in the CPA profession. “If anyone in this audience is under the illusion that this lifetime achievement award means that what I’ve been lucky enough to get done, I did alone… let me dispel that illusion right now,” Nathan said. “I’ve had a lot of help.”

He proceeded to tell his story of “being given a chance” by the first African-American CPA in the state of Michigan, which is where Nathan began his career. He earned his original CPA certification there in 1961, becoming the fifth African-American CPA in Michigan (and approximately the 63rd African-American CPA in the United States).

In 1962, after moving to North Carolina, Nathan opened his own practice and was the first African-American in our state to do so. “In the mid-1970s, when many were still strongly resisting civil rights for non-whites and women, we built a diverse firm of partners and staff. Of five partners, two were women and three were men. We were a model for diversity back in the 1970s.”

After many years and a lot of hard work, his firm became the largest and oldest minority-owned firm in North Carolina. Nathan practiced as a Certified Public Accountant in North Carolina from 1964–2004, served as a past chairman of NASBA, and received NCACPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

In addition to his former mentors, Nathan recognized the influence of his family several times during his speech. His wife Wanda, son Nathan Jr., and daughter-in-law Gail accompanied him to the event. “Let me just say a few words about this woman of 57 years; Folks, I married well,” said Nathan with laughter. “She had great career as a television producer and hostess of the State Parole Commissioner. She encouraged me to go to law school when I was 52 years old by telling me that ‘she was going to earn her law degree alone if I didn’t join her’… and so, I joined her. She has helped me in many, many ways, and kept the family life running smoothly almost single-handedly as I spent all those hours away from home.”

In addition to NCACPA staff, members of the Board of Directors and Minority Action Committee were there to celebrate with Nathan and his family. LaVonne Montague, CPA, and member of our Minority Action Committee, shared that she was honored to be in attendance, and was “encouraged by Nathan’s humbleness and graciousness.” She went on to say, “I was extremely impressed at how he acknowledged those who helped him along the way through his career as a CPA and in life. I aspire to leave a professional and personal legacy as strong as his.”

Jim Ahler, CEO of NCACPA, commented, “It was a personal highlight to witness Nathan recognized for his lifetime of achievement. He’s a wonderful example of perseverance, professionalism, and compassion, and always strives to excel in his profession, his personal life, and his community.”

When reflecting on Nathan’s accomplishments, Sharon Bryson, COO of NCACPA, said, “When you’re with Nathan, you’re keenly aware you’re in the presence of someone very special indeed. His contributions to the accounting profession—and to our community and society at large—are both significant and innumerable. He continues to go about his ‘natural business’ of making the world a better place.”

As an attendee of the event, it was rewarding to see both honorees and other guests greet (and even hug!) Nathan and his family. New acquaintances were made, former colleagues were reunited, and many photos were taken! It was quite evident that the focus to increase diversity within the business community is alive and well, as the contributions of each honoree were incredibly impressive and inspirational. As commented by Nathan, there’s work yet to be done. “This is a wonderful program and I hope that there will be many, many more because it is important to bring this up. Diversity is something that we still have a lot of work to do.”