EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #271
Mrs. Robert B. (Katie) Morgan
8 April 2018
EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW, CONDUCTED 8 APRIL 2018, WITH MRS. ROBERT MORGAN, OF LILLINGTON, NC, BY PROFESSOR JONATHAN DEMBO, OF JOYNER LIBRARY'S MANUSCRIPTS AND RARE BOOKS DEPARTMENT, IN JOYNER LIBRARY'S RARE BOOK ROOM.
THIS IS INTERVIEW #1.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOU AND YOUR EARLY LIFE
Q: When and where were you born?
A: Roseboro, North Carolina
Q: And when was your birthday?
A: September 22nd 1925.
Q: Could you tell us about your family background & early life? (0:45)
A: I was born on a farm, a well-to-do farm situation, I would say, during the Depression and I witnessed as a child my father feeding with food from a store that he would go purchase from a store in town for his tenant farmers of his that were starving. One family almost starved to death until he found out about it and came to the rescue. He was just a wonderful person and unusual for the time.
Q: And what was his name?
A: Robert Calhoun Owen.
Q: And your mother's [name]?
A: Maggie Gavin Owen. And she came from an education family. Her daddy was "Old Professor Gavin" in Roseboro, who started the school, a three-room school house, and he taught her all the way through. And she was very, very intelligent. (2:22)
Q: Could you describe for us your early childhood? Grade school? Junior High School? Well, I don't know if they had junior high schools back then. Grade school?
A: Well, I rode the school bus 4 miles to school and I graduated at age 16 as the Roseboro Senior Class did and enjoyed school doing [unintelligible] and then as I had planned to do all through high school I just continued at East Carolina Teachers College in Greenville, North Carolina and I loved it.
Q: What attracted you to attend [ECTC]? Was it just the fact that it was the only school open or did you have other reasons?
A: My first cousin, whom I adored, graduated from ECTC [East Carolina Teachers College] and I wanted to be like her so I just planned to go to ECTC.
Q: And what was your first cousin's name?
A: Dot Howell. (3:44)
Q: When did you first go to ECTC? What year did you go to ECTC?
A: I graduated from high school in 1942 and went on to East Carolina and graduated in 1946.
Q: What was your major in college?
A: English and French
Q: English and French. Was there a particular teacher that influenced you at ECTC?
A: All of them. I loved them all but Mr. Deal and Ms. Austin I loved. There was not one I didn't love.
Q: What are your fondest memories of ECTC: Activities or classes, friends that you made at school?
A: Well, I was a member of the Ki Pi Players. I joined that and I was president of my senior class at East Carolina. (5:02)
Q: I was going to ask about that.
A: [Continuing] and I enjoyed that. And there was so many things. And one thing I particularly enjoyed was dancing with Garland Bailey at the Wright Auditorium night after dinner at the dining hall. And he and I became real good friends and later on I taught for him at Grimesland High School.
Q: Did you have a job while you were a student at ECTC? Did you work in the library or the store?
A: [Shakes head negatively.]
Q: How did you get into that campaign to become class president? How did that come about? (6:04)
A: Well, I had a high school teacher that very few students really loved and every time she'd see my mother down the street in Roseboro she'd say "Miss Matthew, Katie Earle could be something if she just tried." And then I have it when I get home. And I went to East Carolina. And I didn't do much studying my first two years. However, I was involved with activities. And I worked a little on the school newspaper and I would have become editor of the newspaper but my grades were not high enough and so that gave me a warning. And that was it for me for involvement if I didn't study . . . . So I got busy and studied and became president of the senior class.
Q: So, how did? . . . I've never been elected to a class office of any kind. How do you go about becoming president? I mean, do they ask for nominees and you nominate yourself? How did that happen?
A: Well, I've forgotten exactly how we did it but there were two of us running for class president. We had Election Day. It was an all-day election. And I got more votes than she did. (7:56)
Q: Did you have to give speeches or print up flyers? Did you do any active campaigning?
A: Well, we campaigned on campus and everything but I don't know I was always talking about something so I was probably campaigning.
Q: Do you remember any of the issues: what you said you were going to accomplish, if you [won the election]?
A: We didn't go into issues. We just tried to get elected.
Q: What were the types of things that a class president did back in 1945 - 1946?
A: I did so many things that were fun that it was hard to tell what was official and what was not, really.
Q: How would you describe your political ideas and philosophy? Where to you think they came from? Was it reading? Or personal interactions or your classmates? (9:07)
A: My mother's brother was in politics. And my first cousin was in politics. And I grew up knowing kind of a little something about politics even though I was not involved personally. So I just wanted to get involved and be part of what was going on.
Q: And what was your mother's brother's name?
A: Ed Gavin from Sanford.
Q: How do you feel that your political ideas have changed over the years? How have they changed in direction if not in content?
A: It's hard to say that they've changed in direction since I was not very political so far as Republican - Democrat and so forth. But my mother and father as I was growing up were both Republicans. Therefore, I registered as a Republican because my uncle was a Republican. And my first cousin, Robert Gavin, was a Republican. (10:30)
Then, when I started dating Robert, we began to go to political rallies and it was kind of embarrassing to a Republican right in the middle of a building full of Democrats. And so I went with Robert to a political rally one time and some senator from another state was making the address and he addressed it as "Ladies and Gentlemen and I hope there is no Republican present" and Robert kicked me under the table and laughed and I thought I am not going to put him through this anymore. And I went right home and registered Democrat. And I have been a Democrat ever since.
Q: [Chuckles] That's a great story. And I know that you and Robert were both at ECTC at about the same time although he left to go into the military in 1944. Did you know him at that time, or was this much later? (11:55)
A: Well, we met as freshman here, at East Carolina, and there were a thousand girls and 20 boys, I think, at the time. And everybody knew everybody on campus. And every night after dinner, and it was mandatory to eat in the cafeteria, or the dining hall, I think it was called, and after dinner we would listen to Camille Jernigan play the piano, at the dining hall. The most of us would go right over to Wright Auditorium and dance for an hour. And we had, I think it was called a Piccolo, that the music came from and that's where I met Robert and we danced together there and we've been dancing ever since. [Laughs]
Q: But that would be kind of casual dating?
A: We didn't date in college. We didn't date.
Q: Well, I mean the relationship was fairly [casual] It wasn't a serious relationship at that point?
A: No. Everybody was everybody's friend at that point. (13:16)
QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHING CAREER
Q: So, after you graduated from ECTC, in 1946, you got a job teaching. Where was that?
Q: What classes?
A: French and English.
Q: Dunn High School?
A: Dunn High School. And I taught that for three years [1946 -1949]. And the teachers' salary that year was so low that a lot of teachers were getting jobs of different kinds, so I did that too. So I got a job as a Girls Work secretary for the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] and I was assigned to a little place in Virginia called Frieze [F - R - I - E - Z - E] Virginia but the more I thought about it that summer the colder I got. Frieze, Virginia. And my mother was just sick about it because she thought that I'd never come back home if I got way up to the mountains like that. And so she would look in the News & Observer every day, in the want ads section, to see if there were any teachers needed. She found one needed in Duplin County and she said: "Honey, they need an English - French teacher in Duplin County and the name of the high school is Atkinson." I said: "Where is that?" She said: "I don't know, but your daddy would know?" So I asked daddy, I said: "Where is Atkinson?" "Down the railroad apiece" [he replied] That's the way they talked back then, during Depression days. And that didn't sound very enticing to me to go "down the railroad apiece" but, anyway, to please my mother, I went for an interview. I knew I was going to take the job if it was down in the backwoods. So, went for the interview, walked in. Mr. Shaw, the superintendent, asked for my name, and said: "You need a job teaching French and English?" "Yes sir" [I replied]. "OK, we've got one for you" [he said]. And that's the only interview he did. And he said: "Mr. Shaw, the principal, is on his way over here. If you'll wait just a few minutes, I'd like you to talk with him."
Mr. Shaw walked in. And I met Mr. Shaw, the principal. And the superintendent said: "Mr. Shaw, I've got you an English - French teacher here." He said: "Well, come follow me to Atkinson and I'll show you the school." Well, my mother was in the car waiting for me so I went and followed him and signed the contract and broke the other contract. (16:50)
Q: The one to Frieze?
A: So I taught that year at Atkinson High School and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was out in the country, on the railroad track, like daddy said, toward Wilmington.
Q: How long did you teach there? How many years did you teach there? Just the one year?
A: Yes. I taught the one year [1949-1950]. And, then Mr. Shaw made the mistake of telling a principal friend of his from Warsaw High School that he had a super teacher that could handle discipline, do this that and the other, bragging on me, you know. So, Warsaw principal said "What's her name?" You know, got all the information about me that he could. He went home and called me and offered me a job at Warsaw with a supplement. And I was the only one that . . . and I got a $35 a month supplement. And I was the only teacher in that county that year to get a supplement. Well, $35, that was big money back then in Depression Days, you know, and that was around the Depression. That's how I left Atkinson. But I loved all the schools I taught in. (18:25)
Q: How long did you teach at ? The new school was where? What was the name of the new school that you went to?
Q: Warsaw High School?
A: Warsaw High School [1950 - 1951]. And I loved it there but I wanted to finish my Master's Degree, so I moved to Greenville and got a job at Grimesland High School and at that school I was a supervising teacher for the college. And so I had student teachers plus teaching. Also, I was hired by Garland Bailey, my dance partner back in college. He had gone on and got his degrees and everything and come back and was principal.
Q: At Grimesland?
A: That's where I was when I was dating Robert. (19:36)
QUESTIONS ABOUT RELATIONSHIP WITH ROBERT MORGAN
Q: OK. When? That would be sometime around 1949 - 1950?
Q: Do you remember who introduced you to Robert? Who was the person who introduced you to Robert?
A: Oh, no. He was just a student. I was a student. Everybody was a student. And just everybody knew everybody.
Q: So. But you started to date about 1950?
A: Well, not that early. We started dating when he was in the State Senate. We were just friends and we would see each other when we would go reunions or something.
Q: So it would have been mid-50s when you started to date? (20:27)
Q: OK. So, when did you decide to get married?
A: We dated for six years and couldn't find a convenient time to get married because he was in political campaigns and I was in no hurry to get married because I was having a good time doing what I was doing. And so we just got married in 1960.
Q: So, how would you describe Robert at that time? What was he like? Outside of politics? What was his interests, hobbies, his activities?
A: Well, he was a good dancer. That was number one to begin with. And we went to every dance we could find to go to. And jitterbugging was our thing. You probably don't know what jitterbugging is. You're so young. [Laughs] (21:39)
Q: Oh, yes I do. [Laughs] Flattery will get you . . .
A: Well, that's what we did. And then I was in no hurry. We just knew we were going to get married. It was just finding a convenient time, which sounds silly, but that was the way it was.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR LIFE WITH ROBERT MORGAN IN RALEIGH
Q: Did you spend any time wondering whether it was a good idea to be marrying a politician who would be so involved in traveling and meetings and so forth?
A: It never crossed my mind.
Q: You knew about politics from your [experience].
A: No, it never bothered me at all.
Q: So, it was easy for you to adjust to being married to a politician? (22:46)
A: Oh, yeah, because I was political in college. I was in politics since I was [a little girl].
Q: So he had been in the legislature since 1955 and he continued in the legislature until he ran for Attorney General probably starting in 1964 or 1965 for the 1966 election. Did that concern you at all: the move to higher office? Were you for that? I mean, did you worry about that? Did you encourage him to run?
A: I was never a worrier. I mean, I took things as they came and they always came my way, it seems. And I was always a happy person and it didn't bother me.
Q: You had three children at that time and I can imagine that that would have taken up a lot of your time?
A: Well, the children were in politics, too. We took them to the political rallies when they were babies. (24:02)
Q: I've seen pictures of them as children and they were at political [rallies]?
A: They started making campaign talks when they were something like six and eight years old. One was six and the other one was eight. And they were getting so popular I didn't know whether they were going to take my place or not. They were novelties and they were good. And they sang the campaign song I wrote for them and . . .
Q: Can you remember the words?
A: I remember
Q: Am I likely to run across them in the [collection]?
A: I remember that the name of it was Robert Morgan's The Man. "He will do all he can" and so forth. But they remember it and they could stand up right now and sing it to you.
Q: I'll ask. (24:57)
A: And so, we took them. They loved to go to political rallies and we had a lady who lived with us that looked after the children, you know, and a Black lady, Nelly, and she loved to travel. She'd go with us and look after the babies and sit with me and I would hold Mary, the one who is with me today, when she was a baby and she couldn't wait for Robert to say something for the applause so that her little hands were about that size of a tiny little fish and she would like this get so excited and everything and she just loved politicians.
Q: When Robert was in the legislature did you continue to live in Lillington?
Q: Or did you have a separate apartment or home in Raleigh?
A: We lived in Lillington until 1979. At that point we built a new home on the banks of the Cape Fear River on Keith Hills Golf Course, at Campbell University, which was four miles down the road and our back yard goes right down to the river and we mowed our grass riding down to the Cape Fear River. (26:26)
Q: At some point you also cared for a foster son, Rupert. Can you tell us how that happened? I couldn't find anything about him in the manuscripts except that there is some correspondence from him - when he was in the military - with Robert?
A: I was the supervisor with Harnett County Schools. And I wrote the project proposal for the first federal program that came to Harnett County Schools. The name of the program was Neighborhood Youth Corps 1967. And that hired children who needed money: jobs during school, like working in the cafeteria or in the library for an hour a day and he had been placed in a foster home because he had been in a bad situation, worse than I could explain here. And I went to school one day to deliver his check to him because I hired him as one of the students and the principal said "I need to talk to you because we can't find Rupert. He's not been here for two weeks." And they got paid every two weeks. So, he said that he just disappeared and that the foster home they placed him in was not a good one and he had disappeared. So they wanted me to see if I could check with some of his brothers and sisters in different schools in the county were they were placed and see if I could get any information. I went back to the county superintendent and told him the situation. He said, "You take this week off and see if you can find the boy". So I took the week off and it was a bad week and ended up I found him. It was too sad to quote. And he had nowhere else to I took him to my house and kept him. And we still have him. [Laughs] We didn't adopt him. We just called him foster son. And that summer - he was in the 10th grade at the time - and that summer we let him stay at home and run around and work with children [unintelligible] and then the following summer between junior and senior year we sent him to Hargrave Military Academy to get him used to being with people and different kinds of people. He ended up graduating high school. We sent him to Lees McRae up in the mountains and after Lees McRae he went to East Carolina - I mean he came here - and so he graduated from East Carolina. (30:12)
Q: Oh, great! That's a wonderful story.
A: But's it's a sad story. A lady from the Charlotte Observer asked me if I could tell her a story of how I got, or how we got, Rupert. And I said, "Yes, I could tell you but I prefer not to. If Rupert wants to tell the story he's free to do so - every little bit - but I would probably never make it through.
Q: I understand. I understand. It's perfectly all right.
A: She said "Well, would it bother you if I went down to East Carolina?" He was at East Carolina at the time. "Would it bother you if I went to East Carolina and interviewed him?" I said "Not a bit in the world. Whatever he wants to tell you he is free to do so." His picture in the Charlotte Observer. They had a big picture of him. It was a full page story. He told it all, or almost all. And he didn't tell all the nitty gritty that went behind it but he told enough so that anybody could get the message. And he still says "I would tell anybody because I'm just proud that I was saved." (31:51)
Q: In the collection is also the story of your third daughter, Alice Jean, who was born in 1965 and died at age two. Can you tell us how that affected you? It must have been a terrible burden.
A: It was. It was unexpected. It was something that I didn't think would ever happen to me and it took me a long time to get over it but I tried to forget it because [unintelligible].
Q: Well, I know similar events happened in my own family and as a child I could see my parents changing as a result. Do you see any - I notice, for example, that Senator Morgan began to talk about mental health issues, people with disabilities. There's a photograph of him in the exhibit, in a wheelchair, demonstrating how difficult it is to use a wheelchair. Do you think that the loss of Alice Jean had an impact on him in changing him in any way, or were these the issues that he was already espousing?
A: He was always for helping whoever he could help, whatever it was. (33:35)
Q: What values did you try to instill in your children? What do you think you were trying to get them to be, if at all?
A: I wanted them to be good and kind to everybody and help anybody who needed any, which they have done.
Q: Did you enjoy political life, would you say? What part of it did you enjoy the most?
A: Did I enjoy what?
Q: Political life.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Activities: the traveling, the speeches, the meetings? Did you enjoy that? A lot of people enjoy these things. (34:36)
A: I enjoyed every minute of it. And I traveled. If Robert went to this section of the state, they would put me in the mountain section, and so we didn't see each other all that much during the campaign because we covered more territory that way. Because when I would go I would get the coverage, you know, and it would be the name, Mrs. Robert Morgan, it was the same thing as Robert Morgan, and down here it would be the same. And so we were getting double coverage that way. And I would be gone sometimes almost a week at a time. I had my own campaign manager. Carroll Leggett wrote a lot of my speeches. And another lady wrote some. And I wrote some and I talked off the cuff, whatever I needed to do, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Q: It's always a good thing for a politician to have a wife who's really interested and active in his campaigns, but you were also involved in campaigns on your own. I mean, for example, I understand you were involved in Gov. Dan Moore's campaign. Can you tell me about that? (36:03)
Q: Governor Dan K. Moore's campaign. Carroll Leggett suggested that you had a role in that campaign.
A: Well, I just. Not in any particular way. I'd make speeches when they'd call on me. I was more active in Jim Hunt's [Gubernatorial campaign].
Q: What were the kind of activities that you did [for Jim Hunt]?
A: Making speeches and just campaigning and, oh, I was active in all the Democratic campaigns.
Q: What kind of social life did you have? Was politics the same thing as the social life?
A: It's the same thing and fun. It's what you make it. And Robert and I made it fun. And we both enjoyed the same things and that made it good.
Q: When Robert was attorney general from 1968 to 1974 you were involved in a number of charitable activities, the North Carolina Cystic Fibrosis Chapter and as a member of several organizations including the Professional Women's organization. What were the types of activities that you participated in? (37:52)
A: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation I have [unintelligible] for North Carolina for the North Carolina chapter and I was the one that the governor gave credit to for getting it organized. I traveled in every county in North Carolina for Cystic Fibrosis when I was getting it organized.
Q: When was that?
A: It was in the middle 1970s. You see, I had been campaigning in North Carolina and all I had to do was to call some of my campaign managers in different places and they would help me.
Q: Well, that's good.
A: And so, Cystic Fibrosis was my thing. And I was on the national board. I was given the key to the city of Raleigh and all that stuff by the governor. Then, I was elected to the national board and I stayed on that until I needed to campaign. (39:32)
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR LIFE WITH ROBERT IN WASHINGTON DC
Q: And when Robert was elected to the Senate in the 1974 election you obviously had to spend a lot of time in Washington, DC but you remained in North Carolina?
A: The girls, Margaret and Mary, didn't want to go to school in Washington. They wanted to go school back in North Carolina. And so I stayed home and commuted. And I taught, too. And what I would do - I was teaching at Harnett Central High School, in Harnett County - I would drive to school, leave school at 4 o'clock, hop in my little Opel station wagon, drive to the airport, get on the airplane and I'd been so much that they knew me and they would just usher me right on into the plane and it would take an hour to get to Washington. Someone would be there to pick me up; I'd run to the apartment, get dressed, and go to the White House to a dinner or something and then, at the White House, sometimes it would be, it was mostly 12 'clock when we'd leave, but if were having a really good time, we'd stay until 1 [o'clock AM], which was a dance or something, come back and I'd undressed and dressed for school leaving the clothes I had up there. Now, I had clothes in Washington and clothes at home. I would get ready to go back home, lie down on the sofa, take a nap. Someone would pick me up at 6 o'clock. I'd get to Raleigh - Durham [Airport] at 7 [AM]. I'd walk in Harnett Central [High School] at 8 o'clock, sign in with the rest of them [i.e. the teachers], and most of the time they would not know that I had been anywhere unless I just happened to confide in someone. (42:07)
And when Hirohito and the Empress came to the United States and Robert and I were two of the couples invited to the White House for that and - this is funny - I was naturally wanting to go to that, so I flew up there after school, hopped in my gown right quick, and got to the White House, and I sat beside the interpreter from . . . that came along with the Emperor Hirohito. Well, I was just in the habit of saying "I'm Katie Morgan from North Carolina." That's the way I always introduced myself. So I turned to him when I sat down. He was already seated. I turned to him and I said "Hello, I'm Katie Morgan from North Carolina". [Mrs. Morgan imitates the unintelligible, high pitched sound of the Japanese interpreter's speech]. And I thought "Well, you're not very nice" and I went on and said "As I said, I'm Katie Morgan of North Carolina". [Mrs. Morgan repeats her impression of the interpreter's response in Japanese.] He couldn't speak English and I didn't know it. [Laughs] So I turned to my left and our interpreter from the United States was sitting on my left and I said "That man's not very friendly. I introduced myself and all he said was [imitating Japanese speech again]. He died laughing. He said "Mrs. Morgan, he can't speak a word of English." I said, "Oh, my goodness". (44:03)
But anyway, back home the next . . . I got back on the plane, got back, signed in, not one soul at that school knew that I went to see the Emperor and the Empress. There was one teacher that was kind of hard for everyone to get along with and at the break, ten minute break, we'd all go in the teachers' lounge for a cup of coffee, or something, but she'd always go to her desk and read the paper and not socialize. We'll, we were sitting at the table, she was over at her paper, and I saw her when I went in, she was holding it up like that: "Emperor and Empress at White House Last Evening" she was reading. So, I didn't say anything. In a few minutes, she turned around, very sarcastically, and said: "Why Mrs. Morgan, I thought certainly you would have been at the White House to be with the Emperor and the Empress." I said, "Why'd you think that?" [Tittering] And she turned to continue [reading]. I didn't tell her I was or wasn't [at the White House]". I just said, "Why'd you think that?" Nothing else was said. That afternoon, after school, another teacher, a male teacher, came and said, "Katie, I want to ask you something. Were you at the White House last night?" I said, "Yes". He said, "Why didn't you tell her that you were at the White House?" I said "She didn't ask me. She just thought I was there." [Laughs] (46:03)
END OF SIDE A
Q: You can continue.
A: The reason I didn't tell them about what I was doing is the easiest way to lose friends is let them think you're having more fun than they are having. [Laughs] So I don't [unintelligible] to ask them that.
Q: You've answered a number of the questions that I had. Who was your favorite American politician that you knew in Washington?
A: Ronald Reagan.
Q: Ronald Reagan? [Unintelligible] Because at one time you were a Republican or because he was a favorite movie actor?
A: No [coughing]. That had nothing to do with it.
Q: What was it that interested you?
A: [Coughing] Personality.
Q: Personality? (47:24)
A: I had met Ronald Reagan in Wilmington. I went to the Azalea Festival1 and my roommate and I were in Greenville. We got home from school one afternoon about 4 o'clock. I said, "Let's go to Wilmington to the Azalea Festival". She said, "We don't have any tickets, or anything." I said, "That don't matter; we'll get to see who's there."
We got dressed right quickly and packed a little [unintelligible] and here we went. I said, "Well, we might as well go first class and get started right at the top." We went to the hotel where I knew that all the celebrities were. [Coughs] That's where you can really see people. Well, the governor [Governor Luther Hodges] saw me and I waved at him and went up and spoke to him and he said, "And what is it you do?" I said, "I'm a teacher". Oh, he was so excited that a teacher was there [unintelligible]. And so my roommate and I just chatted with him. He said, "Where are you ladies staying?" I said, "We don't have reservations. We just came after school. We're going on home after. I'm from Roseboro; she's from Clinton. We didn't make reservations so we would go." "Would you like to stay," [he asked]? I said, "Oh, sure, we'd love to stay but we don't have reservations." He said, "I have an extra room in my suite and a guest of ours is not coming. I'll be glad for you to use that room since you're teachers from North Carolina." Oh, he was so excited. So, he said, "Follow me." We went with him up to the desk. He signed us in. And so from that point on we were part of his party. [Laughs] (49:52)
And, the next morning, we were going down to Wrightsville Beach and he said, "Get in line with us." So I was, we were just not far from the governor, you know, and I was driving Doris's [car] and we drove from the hotel in Wilmington down to Wrightsville Beach, giving it this [waves] waving out the window, you know, like we were celebrities.
Got down there and we parked, went in, and we were without a seat. Nobody had a reserved seat at that point. So, we had to find our own seats. So, I said, "Let's just walk around and see who we could see." We kept walking and walking. And we spotted Ronald Reagan. And I said, "There goes Ronald Reagan!" He was a movie star then. I said, "Let's us go that way." And we went by and there were two seats in front of Ronald Reagan. And he said, "Are you ladies looking for a seat?" I said, "Yes." I said, "We didn't have reservations." He said, "We've got two extra seats. Have a seat with us." So, I sat right in front of Ronald Reagan and he had with him Steve [Canyon] and I haven't figured out yet who that was."
Q: Steve Canyon? That's a . . . there's a cartoon strip in the daily papers? (51:26)
A: All I knew he was a cartoon character, but that's all I ever found out."2
Q: He was a fighter pilot of some kind, an Air Force pilot, I think, in the cartoon.
A: [Continuing] And they were ultra-nice to us. And you would have thought that we all went together he was so friendly. And I never did forget how kind he was. And then, when he became top notch [President] and I select him as my favorite.
Q: Well, that's a great story. That's a great story. I'm always reading about how political families, today, have all sorts of troubles, dealing with the fact that they're constantly in the public eye and have the news media constantly prying and so forth. Do you have any advice for political families today that might help them deal with these kinds of pressures?
A: Well, it never did bother me. And they were always kind to me and never did bother me. I mean, they interviewed me quite a bit but that was OK. (53:06)
Q: Did you have . . . The Senator had a fairly large staff of assistants and aides and legislative liaisons and administrative liaisons and so forth. Did you develop a political - I mean - a relationship with any of them that continued afterwards: a friendship.
A: All of them.
Q: All of them?
A: Practically every one of them. Carroll Leggett I love like a son. Nick Weaver. Everyone coming here today, that was on his staff. Yeah, I knew them all and was crazy about them. And now, my minister, at Memorial Baptist Church, in Buies Creek, was also on Robert's staff.3
Q: Ok. Ok. I've seen the files and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of people that worked with him at one time or another, including interns and pages and all sorts of people borrowed from the Defense Department or this department or that department, so I couldn't keep track of them all? (54:28)
A: Well, I can't keep track of all of them and, of course, I was not that close to all of them because you can't - that many people - but the ones that I worked personally with, oh, I'm still involved with. They call me, they're just very, very, nice. And, Carroll Leggett comes by to see me, quite often, and Nick Weaver - I don't know whether you've met him or not - but he's fabulous.
Q: I don't think so. I've read about him in the collection. There's a number of files he created that are in the papers.
A: [Continuing] And then Peggy Stewart was Robert's secretary for years and years. And I adore her. [Coughs]
Q: Do you still keep in contact with any of the people you met in Washington? I mean, political figures?
A: Most of them have passed away. I'll be 93 in September and I've kind of outlived most of them, you know. [Laughs]
Q: Even at my age , it's started to happen. (55:50)
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR ECU ALUMNI ACTIVITIES & PERSONAL LIFE
Q: So, now, I'd like to talk a little bit about your activities as an ECU alum. Since you graduated from ECTC in 1946, you've had a lifelong interest in ECU and been active in alumni affairs and contributed in many ways. I think it's fair to say that you are one of the most important supporters that ECU has ever had. What was it about ECU that inspired such loyalty and commitment and over such a long period of time? What do you think?
A: The faculty, the students, that I met here, Dr. Leo Jenkins [Chancellor] and Robert were very close. They worked together on a lot of projects and was always involved. And I was on the Board of Trustees here one time and I've just always loved East Carolina because it meant so much to me.
Q: You were named one of ECU's 100 most outstanding women graduates.�� What did that honor mean to you? (57:11)
A: It was one of the nicest honors I've ever had. It was a touching thing for me because it was ECTC coming back home, you know. I don't know. I don't know the thing that was touching about EC connection. I taught in Grimesland for six years. That's where Garland Bailey and I taught together and I just was [unintelligible] about the thought of ECU. No, I suspect I'd better leave this thought off.
Q: I asked you before about advice you might give to other families today and so now let me ask kind of advice you would offer to ECU students and recent graduates, today, how they can make the best of life in the years to come? If you had any. Sometimes
A: I really don't have any advice because all individuals are different, personalities are different, and what I might think and what I might do might not fit the personality of another person.
Q: Do you have any ambitions or dreams that have not yet been fulfilled?
A: I think I have had everything nice happen to me that could possibly happen. (59:40)
Q: You don't have a list of things you still want to do?
A: No. Robert and I traveled wherever we wanted to go and I reckon we went halfway round the world and, I don't know, we danced. Dancing is my thing. And my doctors at Duke [Duke Medical Center] say that's the reason that I have stayed so healthy. It's my dancing.
Q: I was going to ask that very question?
A: It is. Robert and I [Coughs] Excuse me. Robert and I had our physicals at Duke for several years, every year. We were members of Duke Health Medical - something, I forgot - anyway, a couple of years ago -I continued after Robert passed away - two years ago, I was at Duke, my daughter took me, I was there all day, and they examined me head to foot, and then [there was] a conference at the end of the day. So, we went into the conference - this was two years ago - and there were two doctors there, ready to take notes, and one of the doctors, the chief doctor, said, "Miss Katie, I'd like for you to tell us what you attribute your good health to. We have examined you, now, for several years, and we have never found anything, internally, wrong with you. The only thing we have ever found wrong with you was - at age 85 - you had osteoarthritis in your left hip. Could you tell us, give us, what you think caused you to have good health? You're the healthiest woman that we've had." (1:01:57)
A: I said, "Yes, I'd be glad to tell you." Alright. And they got their pens out and they started taking notes. They said, "Number one, what do you attribute most of your good health to?" I said, "Dancing. I've danced all my life. High school. ECTC. The whole works. And Robert and I, after we got married, we danced together. And I reckon he attributes his good health, all the way back, too. And, he looked at the other doctors and he said, "Didn't I tell you? Didn't I tell you?" They had discussed it and they thought that I had been dancing. And they said, "Number two?" And I said, "Laughter. And having a good time." I said, "I have had a good time all of my life and I've just been fortunate, I just been fortunate."
Q: Great answer!
A: So he said, "You don't need to come back now. You go to your regular medical doctor. If he checks you and finds anything, internally wrong, come back." And so he hasn't found anything in the two years. (1:03:28)
Q: That's good. Knock wood.
A: [Continuing] But I've still got that osteoarthritis in my left hip.
Q: Maybe that's from dancing too? [Both laugh]
A: Well, I'm going to the dance Saturday night as a matter of fact.
Q: Well, I'm out of questions. Is there anything that I haven't asked that you'd be interested in talking about?
A: No, I don't think so. But I would like to add that some of the happiest days that I ever spent were here at ECTC.
Q: We hope that the rest of today is just as happy as the ones you remember?
Q: Thank you very much.
A: Yes. (1:04:15)
1 Ronald Reagan was emcee at the festival in 1959; he also attended the festival in 1960. Sources: Azalea Festival, by Craig M. Stinson, Encyclopedia of North Carolina, Edited by William S. Powell (2006) https://www.ncpedia.org/azalea-festival; 12 Azalea Festival Celebrity Guests Who Were Actually Really Famous, by John Staton, StarNewsOnline (2 April 2015) http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/NC/20150402/News/605041082/WM/; What Year Was Ronald Reagan Grand Marshal of the Azalea Festival? By Jim Ware, My Reporter.com (2020) http://www.myreporter.com/2010/08/what-year-was-ronald-reagan-grand-marshal-of-the-azalea-festival/
2 Steve Canyon was a cartoon character drawn by cartoonist Milton A. Caniff, who also drew the "Terry and the Pirates" cartoon strip. Source: Milton Caniff, 81, Creator of 'Steve Canyon,' Dies, By John T. McQuiston, New York Times (4 April 1988), p. B10. https://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/04/obituaries/milton-caniff-81-creator-of-steve-canyon-dies.html
3 Rev. A. Edward Beddingfield, Jr. has been pastor at Memorial Baptist Church, in Buies Creek, NC, since 2015. He was pastor at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC from 2001 - 2015; Source: Longtime Fayetteville pastor leaves to take new position, by Vince Vaughan, Jr., Fayetteville Observer (17 April 2015) http://www.fayobserver.com/article/20150417/Lifestyle/304179701
10/11/2019 10:40 AM
MRS. ROBERT B. (KATIE) MORGAN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #OH 271
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