Earnest Lee Waters was recently presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on an otherwise already auspicious occasion -- a surprise party for his 80th birthday. The award, considered the highest honor for private citizens of North Carolina, was presented by Chief of Staff Kristie Jones on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper. Waters, owner of two businesses, Tiffany Gardens Development Company and Earnest Waters Construction Company, has provided housing and apartments throughout Wayne County, and affordable housing to low-income families. In 1996, then Gov. James Hunt appointed Waters to the N.C. State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, reappointing him in 2000. During his 12 years on the commission -- having been appointed for another four by former Gov. Michael Easley -- he helped numerous organizations and associations receive grants to help build race relations across the state. Waters has been active at Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, where he is currently serving his 15th year as president of the missionary circle. A Mason for 58 years with J.W. Hood Lodge No. 8 in Goldsboro, he is a board member of the Bear Creek Association.