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Part 1: A Legacy of Public Service
Part 1 begins with Bob Scott’s memories of his grandfather, Robert Walter Scott. Raised on a farm and intensely interested in agriculture, Robert Scott wanted to learn more about farming practices. However, North Carolina had no agricultural training program. As a result, he went to a school in New York State and returned full of ideas about new methods of propagating and raising crops. Often others in the area would ask his advice, and he became known as “Farmer Bob.”
Besides farming, Scott loved public service and felt obligated to serve his community. In 1888 he ran for a seat in the state legislature and was elected. In fact, he served several terms, alternatively as a senator or representative, until the early 20 th century. His service also caught the attention of Governor Charles Aycock, who appointed him to the State Board of Agriculture.
Scott’s love of public service was picked up by his children, most notably by his son Kerr. Kerr began his public career young, beginning with a position with the Farm Debt Administration. Kerr’s own three children would also carry on the Scott family’s public service legacy. Bob was the youngest of Kerr’s children. Much younger than his brother and sister, and rarely seeing his father because of travels, Bob spent most of his childhood either by himself or with his mother, whose career as a teacher helped him to appreciate the value of education.
Bob’s father’s travel schedule increased after he was elected Commissioner of Agriculture, since he had to travel to all of North Carolina’s counties. Bob fondly remembers one of his father’s more unconventional legacies as the founder of the “Chittlin Club,” a lunch club that began with Kerr Scott, Ralph Stephens and a group of their friends. The “club” grew to such numbers that it eventually became invitation-only and included some of the most prestigious political members in Raleigh. Stephens continued the club after Kerr Scott died, and it still meets once a year at the same restaurant.
In the late 1940s, Kerr Scott considered running for United States Senate. However, after asking several friends’ advice and receiving little encouragement, he decided to run for governor instead. Scott’s own experience as a farm owner in Alamance County shaped his political platform, and he concentrated on improving communication systems and schools in the rural areas.
After graduating from college, Bob enlisted in the Army. One of his commanding officers recommended him to the Counterintelligence Corps, where he stayed until the end of World War II. After the war, Bob returned to his father’s farm and briefly entertained joining the SBI, but because of a policy about leaving his county of residence, he decided not to pursue it. After his term as governor ends, Kerr Scott wins Willis Smith’s United States Senate seat. However, his term is very discouraging as he realizes, as a new senator, how little say he has in policy.
Bob’s own public career began after he and his wife were chosen to be one of five outstanding Grange couples in the country. Shortly afterwards, Bob was elected as Master of the North Carolina Grange and served on several commissions, including the United Forces of Education, which helped him to identify the needs of rural schools.
Part 2: Serving as Governor
Bob Scott begins part 2 by recounting his decision to run for lieutenant governor in 1964. Ironically, his decision to become involved in politics began after a short newspaper article surmised that he would be running for governor. Several phone calls from supporters and conversations with close colleagues made him realize that he did have support to run for political office, but by the time he formerly decided to run, the major gubernatorial candidates already had significant backing. After he held a press conference to announce that he would not be running for governor, his colleagues suggested the lieutenant governor’s race because they said it was a “sleeper” race and that the position of lieutenant governor had little governing power of its own.
He did, however, formerly campaign for governor during the next gubernatorial election, despite some very volatile issues that were plaguing the state at the time. After he won the election, the public division over school integration and the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War continued to haunt his entire term. Looking back, he says he is proud that he was able to facilitate communication between the two sides, even though he had to use the National Guard or the state police to keep the peace at times. His accomplishment as governor, he says, is what did NOT happen—the violence and riots that were occurring in other states.
He had to be a mediator himself, as he did in Harnett County when several of the town’s citizens were staunchly opposing integration, and during an anti-Vietnam War rally at the state capitol, when demonstrators burned him in effigy. The priority of government during the time was “law and order,” as he states, and he sometimes had to speak firmly about keeping the law or allow a group to speak to him directly to find some common ground.
During his tenure as governor, he also oversaw the consolidation of the state university system into its 16 campuses. Before his term, only five campuses were consolidated—Chapel Hill, NC State, Wilmington, Asheville and Greensboro. Changing college or university status at the state level was also done based on political support, so when college and university leaders heard that the state legislature would be deciding which universities to include in its state university system, they all showed up at the capitol. To make the decision-making process fairer, Governor Scott appointed the Warren Commission to study all of the issues and decide which universities would be included. Governor Scott says the decision was finally announced, but not without much blood and in fighting.
One of Governor Scott’s major priorities was to establish a kindergarten system for the state. With some urging, he talked the General Assembly into passing a bill to set up a pilot program in eight schools. As a result of the pilot program, Governor Scott discovered that the schools were not ready to implement a kindergarten program, primarily because they did not have either the teachers or the equipment to begin at that level. However, to pave the way for a future statewide kindergarten program, Governor Scott approved the first cigarette tax in the state—at the price of a soft drink tax that put his relationship with his supporters in the soft drink industry at risk.
Governor Scott achieved several other accomplishments as well, including an open classroom at Ocracoke Island in a new classroom building that had not yet been used and getting water to Mitchell County after they lost their main water source. One of the bills he hoped to have passed before he left office—allowing the governor a second term—unfortunately was defeated.
Part 3: Scott's Continued Legacy
After Scott’s term as governor ended, three of the major state agricultural leaders asked if he would take a new full-time position with the Agribusiness Council. Scott agreed, knowing he had a strong agricultural background and could benefit the council. While he was serving with the council, he encouraged his wife to run for labor commissioner after the incumbent commissioner decided not to run for reelection. She won the first primary, but a close primary count forced a runoff, which she lost. Scott got a disappointment of his own; his application for the position of president of the community college system was denied, a decision that Scott says was recommended by the governor.
In 1979, Bob Scott decided to run in the state primary against Governor Jim Hunt. His primary motivation in running was the recent passage of the two-term governor bill that Scott himself had initiated, and Governor Hunt had succeeded in having passed. Although he still had several supporters, he discovered while campaigning that the major political landscape had completely changed, and that the majority of voters did not associate him with the governor’s office. Hunt was successful at winning a second term. Scott was not the only family member disappointed by election results that year; his uncle Ralph, who had been in the state legislature for years, lost his bid for reelection.
Scott did succeed in becoming president of the community college system in 1983. As president, he was able to increase communication between the different community college presidents and eventually establish common credits that allowed community college students to transfer from one college to another, and from a community college to a four-year college or university. In addition, Scott helped to establish several programs that allowed citizens to obtain their GED or have literacy training.
Scott’s daughter Meg was the only of his five children to show an interest in politics. In 1996 she made her first run for public office in a campaign for a seat in the state House of Representatives. She lost that election, but four years later, she won her bid for state Commissioner of Agriculture, just months before Scott announced that he was resigning from his position as president of the community colleges. Although both Scott and Jessie Rae tried to talk Meg out of running for Commissioner of Agriculture, Meg had made up her mind.
However, during Meg’s term as commissioner, allegations about the mismanagement of her campaign funds began to surface. Scott says he was surprised not only by the allegations, but by the way the federal judicial system handled the situation. Although what happened during Meg’s case disappointed him, he says it has not left him bitter. Unfortunately, he says, stories like Meg’s discourage citizens from voting and leave them feeling as if they cannot make a difference in the political system.
Scott ends his time with Biographical Conversations by noting that he would like to be remembered as someone who cared about the citizens of the state and as someone who is willing to stand up for what he believes in—that the government exists to help people who cannot help themselves.