UMSL's 2013 Distinguished Alumni

The 2013 UMSL Distinguished Alumni Award recipients are (clockwise from top left) Frederick R. Buckles, BA political science 1968, Nicole Colbert-Botchway, MBA 2002, Gordon S. Heddell, BA political science 1971, T. Christopher Peoples, BS civil engineering 2008, Grayling O. Tobias, BSEd 1980, and Opal M. Jones, BSBA 2000.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis Alumni Association honored six alumni at the university’s Founders Dinner on Sept. 19.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is traditionally presented to alumni whose extraordinary, long-term careers and significant roles in community service set them apart from their peers.

The 2013 award recipients include:

The Honorable Frederick Buckles remembers UMSL’s earliest days – when classrooms, the library and cafeteria were all crammed into the old clubhouse. He graduated from UMSL in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and went on to St. Louis University Law School. He served as a public defender early in his career then went to work in the U.S. attorney’s office. As assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the Organized Crime and Violent Crime section, he successfully prosecuted some of St. Louis’ most notorious organized crime figures. In 1989 he was named magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court-Eastern District of Missouri, one of the highest honors an attorney can receive. For 24 years, Judge Buckles has served that office with distinction. He will retire in November.

Nicole Colbert-Botchway is assistant attorney general for the state of Missouri and earned an MBA from UMSL in 2002. She is a dedicated public servant and an outstanding role model for other women in the legal professions. Colbert-Botchway works across the state to litigate and modify child support obligations, represents the Family Support Division in child support actions and balances a large individual caseload. She has received numerous awards and honors including the 2012 Rising Star Award from the UMSL College of Business Administration Alumni Chapter and became the first African American president of the Women Lawyers Association. She has served in numerous leadership positions within her profession and in the community serving on the Missouri Bar’s Task Force on Professionalism and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

Gordon Heddell earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMSL in 1971. Since then, he has added to his remarkable record of achievement, assuming leadership positions in the highest echelons of the U.S. government. He began his government service as an officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He joined the Secret Service as a special agent, and personally protected U.S. presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. He rose to assistant director serving a total of 28 years in the U.S. Special Service. President George W. Bush appointed him inspector general for the U.S. Department of Labor where he led efforts against labor racketeering, leading to the conviction of many major organized crime figures. In 2009 President Barack Obama appointed him inspector general for the U.S. Department of Defense. He is the recipient of many distinguished awards for his outstanding government service. Gordon retired from government service in 2011, and now works as a consultant in private industry. But as fate would have it, he came out of retirement in July to accept a presidential appointment as acting deputy inspector general for the Department of Labor. Gordon will remain in this position until the Senate has confirmed another nominee.

Opal Jones earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2000. Today she serves as president and CEO of Doorways, an interfaith, nonprofit organization that provides housing and related services for people affected with HIV/AIDS. Doorways programs and services benefit 1,000 households in many Missouri and Illinois counties each year. Jones oversees a staff of 70 and a budget of $6.5 million. She is a graduate of the Coro Women in Leadership Program and was recently named to the National AIDS Housing Coalition. She is a tireless advocate for neighborhood revitalization in the city of St. Louis. Said one of her board members, “Opal is a compelling leader and caring investor in our community. She works in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in our community to ensure the safety of Doorways clients.”

Grayling Tobias is in the business of educating future St. Louis leaders. He is superintendent of the Hazelwood School District, one of the largest school districts in the state. He earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1980 at UMSL, but didn’t go right into education. He went on to play for the Major League Baseball  farm teams of the Montreal Expos and Detroit Tigers. He is a member of the halls of fame at UMSL and McCluer High School, as well as the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. After baseball, he returned to St. Louis and began his career in education, first as a teacher, then administrator in several school districts. He earned both a master’s and doctoral degrees in education leadership along the way. For more than a decade Grayling has served as an instructional leader in the Hazelwood School District and played a critical role in its stability and growth. A year ago he was named Hazelwood’s superintendent. In that time he has reorganized the district, revised existing curriculums, developed new ones and continues to make a difference in the lives of children.

T. Christopher Peoples received UMSL’s second Outstanding Young Alumni Award. He is a 2008 civil engineering graduate of the UMSL/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program. As a high school student he traveled from his home in north St. Louis to Kirkwood High School each day. The two disparate communities made him wonder what career would help him bring about change in his own neighborhood. As a single parent, he juggled part time school with full time jobs at Pitzman’s Co. a surveying and engineering firm. He started off as an entry-level surveyor, but as his education progressed, he moved up in Pitzman’s ranks. Today, at 34, he is president, CEO and managing partner of Pitzman’s. He is an accomplished professional with experience in both engineering and surveying fields working with private developers, municipalities, state agencies, hospitals and schools. And earlier this year, he was named to the St Louis Business Journal’s 2013 Class of 40 Under 40.

Visit or call the Office of Alumni Relations at 314-516-6453 for additional information on the UMSL Alumni Association.

Maureen Zegel

Maureen Zegel