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An NC State family’s legacy, a tradition of service to North Carolina

Governors W. Kerr Scott and Robert W. Scott Courtyard Dedication — March 9, 2010

I was fortunate enough to attend a university event this week that recognized the contributions of one family to NC State University and to the state of North Carolina.  That family is the Scott family.

Bill Friday, who has proven quite the public servant himself, put the family’s contributions into perspective and quite honestly, his comments moved me.  Here was another example of how this university has made North Carolina what it is today…one of the greatest states in the nation.

Friday spoke for a mere 10 minutes, but the history lesson he provided is one we should all hear.  So here, brought to you by NC State University, I present

Remarks by William C. Friday

We gather to celebrate and to remember the gifts and service of a father and son, both alumni of this place and to give permanence to their service through this dedicatory occasion.  We gather to honor their committed and superior service to the people of the state.

I had the pleasure of knowing W. Kerr Scott early on in my years of association with the University.  Like thousands of others, I greatly admired his energy, his intelligence and his commanding sense of the needs of people, especially our farm population.  In those days, the executive committee of the then Board of Trustees held its quarterly meetings in the office of the Governor, since the Governor was then the chairman of that body.  The great pastime amongst the members was the wager as to whether each session would last for one cigar or two.  The Governor’s adept handling of the agenda never exceeded that limit.   He was an especially entertaining and skillful chairman.

We all remember Kerr Scott as County Agent in Alamance and as our  Commissioner of Agriculture.  Being one himself, he was in close, intimate touch with the farmer, the issues of agriculture and its great importance to all of us.  He decided to run for the governorship of North Carolina against established and tradition succession and he won.  And it was during his administration that he exhibited his boldness and daring by calling for an unheard of  $200 million bond vote for highway development to lift the farm people out of the mud.  It was then that he truly won the hearts of all thoughtful North Carolinians.

Governor Scott did not waste time or words.  Once, in Chapel Hill, he demonstrated both qualities when he introduced Eleanor Roosevelt by saying, “She served as First Lady of our country.  Today she is First Lady of the World.”  Kerr Scott did many good and wonderful things while our Chief Executive.  During that term of office he made a very daring move that changed the course of history in our state and it was an action inspired by his dear wife, Miss Mary, who urged, and Kerr Scott did, appoint President Frank Graham to the United States Senate.  It occurred on the occasion of the very first O. Max Gardner dinner in 1949.  The faculty of the university campuses had gathered.  The evening progressed as planned.  The award to Miss Louise Alexander was made and at the very end of the evening, Governor Kerr Scott rose and said, “I have an announcement to make.  I’m going to appoint President Frank Graham to the Senate.  The room exploded.

Thoughtful North Carolinians looking back on that event now would see how truly daring it was.  Regrettably, Dr. Graham was not elected by popular vote in the ensuing election, but that election shook the state dramatically.  The campaign had its moments of hate, lies and character assassinations, and there were many, but Governor Scott’s selection forced North Carolina to look at itself in the mirror on the question of race.   In that process North Carolina began a new course in its evolving history.  Now a half century later, we look back upon the raw courage of both Governor Scott and President Graham in taking upon themselves the wrath and the fury of carrying North Carolina through the transition into the new world of universal citizenship and equal rights under both the State Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.  In my lifetime I have known no more dramatic moment of history than this one.  Great indeed is our debt to both of these heroes , but especially Governor Kerr Scott, who gave you and me a redefined statement of individual freedom we enjoy this very day.

Kerr Scott’s great and useful life of leadership, good will and demonstrable courage came to an end while serving his beloved state as our United States Senator.  I am so pleased that today we honor him in such an appropriate manner.

When Governor Kerr Scott’s son, Robert, became North Carolina’s Governor, it was only the second time in our history that a father/son succession had been achieved.  When Robert Scott assumed direction of the State, his administration set about on a program of reorganizing state government, reforming the prison system and along with his successors, enormous effort at attracting new industries.  He also devoted a lot of time to the expansion of health care, but for me, his signal achievement was bringing about the restructuring of state supported higher education.

Now, thirty years later, that particular action has benefitted the State of North Carolina and its growth and development like no other major action has done.  Indeed, the success of this movement insured the success of the Research Triangle, which is now, as we all know a word wide institution.  Historians will also tell us in detail about his successful years as President of the states’ community college system, as master of the State Grange, or head of the Appalachian Commission and many other achievements.  But it was the Governor’s long-time friend and colleague, HG Jones, who, in a separate publication identified a major role Robert Scott played that is not so widely known.  He was, as Dr. Jones titled, “the gubernatorial friend of history,” and at this time and this occasion, let me underscore how truly important were these actions.

This enduring legacy manifested itself in so many very important ways.  The establishment of the State’s Record Center, a resource of unlimited importance.  He led the critical renovation of the State Capitol itself, and the major renovation of the Governor’s Executive Mansion, to its present quality as an historical site.  To show his great diversity of interests, he inspired the establishment of the Reed Gold Mine as a state treasure.  Then came the preservation of the Duke Homestead and the singular role of tobacco in the life of our state.  And what must have been an unusual success, the establishment of the Carbine Williams Workshop, the story of the rapid fire machine gun that changed the course of World War II.

W. Kerr Scott and his son, Robert W. Scott, alumni of this noble institution, represented in their lives and in their work the noblest of traditions that has so woven itself into the life of North Carolina and made our state different and better.  That tradition is the commitment to serve the people in some useful way during one’s life.   Institutions of higher education perform many important functions, but primary among them is the graduation of generation upon generation of leadership mindful of the role that the careers of both of these men so dramatically illustrate.  They were men of the soil, both were devout men of the church, both were men of tradition, both were men of courage and goodwill who understood that the measure of one’s usefulness is their degree of commitment and service to fellow man.

In the long, very important and illustrious history of North Carolina State, no family name stands more prominently, no name more deservedly merits praise than that of the Scotts of Hawfield.

Therefore on this day and at this hour we gather to pay full respect and tribute to the nobility of their lives.  Let us also remember that it is upon our shoulders that this mantle of service has now fallen and it is that legacy of service to which you and should aspire.

Historians will say that W. Kerr Scott and Robert W. Scott served North Carolina, their alma mater and all of our people with uncommon courage and devotion.  It is therefore entirely fitting and appropriate that this beautiful expanse of land nestled here in the heart of the University they loved so much, henceforth will bear their names forever.

Passion Rules!

98 of 100


1 Scott Troutman { 03.11.10 at 7:00 am }

Thanks for recognizing 2 of NC State’s and CALS best alums:

W. Kerr Scott, Class of 1917, BS Agriculture (most likely now called Crop Science)

Robert W. Scott, Class of 1952, BS Animal Industry (now called Animal Science)

(only 2 away from 100, then what?) 🙂

2 Joe Hice { 03.11.10 at 7:30 am }

The Scott family certainly epitomizes what NC State means to the state; service, dedication, commitment. I could go on. What happens after 100? Guess it becomes 101 of many.

3 Steve Townsend { 03.11.10 at 9:49 am }

Congrats to the Scott family. On April 29, the PAMS Student Council is hosting a BBQ on this beautiful courtyard in honor of the 50th anniversary of the college’s founding.

Here’s to hoping the locations imbues our students and alumni with a little of the spirit of the Governors Scott (and President Friday, for that matter)!!

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