MURRAY, Ky. — The Murray State University Alumni Association (MSUAA) is proud to announce that four outstanding Murray State alumni have been selected as the 2020 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award. 

For more than half a century, the Distinguished Alumni Award has been presented annually to Murray State alumni who have made meaningful contributions to their professions on a local, state and national level. It is the highest honor an alumnus or alumna can earn from the MSUAA and recognizes those who have excelled both professionally and personally. This year’s recipients include Capt. Steven J. Blivin, ’86, Janet Lomax-Smith, ’76, Dr. Robert McGaughey, III, ’65, ’69 (posthumously) and Dr. Denise Rutherford, ’84, ’85. In addition, the inaugural Distinguished Young Alumni honor will be awarded this year, sponsored by the MSUAA Young Alumni Council. Rebecca Francis Ballard, ’02, is the inaugural recipient of this award. 

Blivin resides in Virginia, though he is a native of Murray. He currently serves as the Deputy Medical Officer of the U.S. Marine Corps, with plans to retire later this month. Blivin graduated with a Bachelor of Science in engineering physics in 1986. While a student at Murray State in 1984, he was selected by the director of Naval Nuclear Programs for the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program and served aboard two fast attack nuclear powered submarines.

The Murray State University Alumni Association (MSUAA) is proud to announce that four outstanding Murray State alumni have been selected as the 2020 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award. Pictured is recipient Capt. Steven J. Blivin, ’86.

Throughout his nearly 36-year military career, Blivin has been honored with numerous “Legion of Merit” medals and other commendations. In his role as Deputy Medical Officer, he oversees all of the medical quality and safety for over 9,000 medical staff members serving over 186,000 Sailors and Marines. He has served in medical leadership with the Marine Corps internationally on multiple occasions, including stints in Okinawa, Japan, as the officer in charge of the Corps’ Sports Medicine and Reconditioning Team system and in Southeast Asia, where he provided support and medical aid following the tragic 2004 tsunami. He also served as the commanding officer (chief executive office) of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples, Italy, the largest naval hospital in Europe. Blivin was honored as a Significant Sig in 2019 by the national Sigma Chi organization.

Lomax-Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication in 1976. She began her work in journalism as a student in the newsrooms of both WKMS-FM and MSU Channel 11 on Murray State’s campus. Upon graduation, Lomax-Smith landed an internship and then a job at WAVE-TV in Louisville. From there, her career took her to Rochester, New York, where she spent more than 36 years on the air at WHEC-TV before retiring from the anchor desk in 2016. 

Pictured is award recipient Janet Lomax-Smith, ’76.

Her “second act” led her into higher education, as she was selected as the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Minett Professor for 2018-2019. The prestigious Frederick H. Minett Professorship brings distinguished multicultural professionals to the RIT campus for one academic year to share their professional knowledge and experience. 

Throughout her storied broadcast career, Lomax-Smith had the opportunity to interview national leaders and A-list celebrities. Among her favorites were First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. She has received numerous industry and community awards — including an Edward R. Murrow Award — and she was inducted into the New York State Broadcaster’s Association Hall of Fame. She is currently Journalist in Residence in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion at RIT.

Bob McGaughey of Murray, known to many simply as “Doc,” will be honored posthumously after his sudden passing in June 2019. McGaughey first came to Murray State in 1961. He served in the University’s ROTC program, participated in athletics and served on the staff of the Murray State News before graduating as an ROTC honor graduate in 1965. He went on to become the first master’s degree graduate from Murray State’s journalism graduate program and later earned his doctorate in mass communications from Ohio University. He also served in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Vietnam and 18 years with Kentucky’s 100th Army Reserve Division. 

Pictured is Dr. Robert McGaughey, III, ’65, ’69, a posthumous award recipient.

McGaughey returned to Murray State as a member of the faculty and an advisor for the Murray State News in 1969 and became the department chair in 1974, a role he held for 23 years. Not only was he a beloved and highly effective member of Murray State’s faculty and campus community for decades — his impact on the greater journalism community was felt throughout the state and nation, recognized through countless awards and by his selection to serve in leadership roles for numerous industry boards and organizations. 

Dr. Denise Rutherford spent many years in Murray, Kentucky, and is a graduate of Calloway County High School.  Rutherford holds a B.S. degree in chemistry and mathematics (1984) and an M.S. in chemistry (1985) from Murray State University. She earned her doctorate in chemistry from Colorado State University in 1989. Rutherford is currently senior vice president, corporate affairs, at 3M Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in her 30-year career at 3M, she has held a wide variety of positions.  

Pictured is Distinguished Alumni Award recipient Dr. Denise Rutherford, ’84, ’85.

She started as a senior research chemist in corporate research, working on biodegradable plastics. In 1995, Rutherford joined the ranks of technical management, where she led teams working on new products for electronics and industrial markets. She moved into business management in 2004 with an assignment as managing director of 3M Belgium and subsequently led 3M’s aerospace business from 2008-2013. Rutherford has enjoyed several other international leadership positions at 3M, including vice president of the Latin America area and serving as the first female president of 3M China and president of 3M Japan. In 2019, Rutherford was appointed to her current role, where she leads global teams working in communications, design, brand, public affairs and sustainability. 

Throughout her career, Rutherford has been an advocate for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and gender equality, speaking on these topics at global conferences and with 3Mers around the world.  She has enjoyed returning to Murray State several times to visit with chemistry students and faculty, embracing the opportunity to engage with students on careers in the industry. 

Ballard, the inaugural Distinguished Young Alumni Award recipient, was a Presidential Scholar and graduated with an honors degree in public relations from Murray State in 2002. She went on to earn an M.A. with distinction in public communication from American University in Washington, D.C. She began her career in the nation’s capital at Public Strategies, a business advisory firm specializing in public affairs, crisis management and public opinion research. 

Rebecca Francis Ballard, ’02, is the inaugural recipient of the University’s Distinguished Young Alumni honor, sponsored by the MSUAA Young Alumni Council.

In 2011, Public Strategies merged with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a global communications consultancy and public relations network. Ballard took on a series of roles leading communications for the agency and developing its people and culture, including head of communication and culture for H+K U.S. and founder and executive director of the firm’s women’s network. For her contributions to the industry, Ballard has been named to the PRWeek 40 Under 40 class in 2014; a Diversity in PR Individual of the Year by PR News in 2016; and co-chair of the “PRC Next” board of next-generation industry leaders by the PR Council in 2018.

In January, she made the move to Purple Strategies, a leading corporate reputation strategy firm, as managing director, communications, marketing and engagement. Ballard was selected as the 2020 Distinguished Young Alumni recipient from the inaugural MSUAA Young Alumni Top 22 Under 40 class, which highlighted 2020’s best and brightest Murray State alumni under the age of 40. A full list of the 2020 class can be found at 

With this year’s dinner cancelled amidst the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients will be honored in-person alongside next year’s class at the 2021 awards dinner, set for April 16, 2021.

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