Max Ray Joyner, Sr. Oral History, September 12, 2009


Max Ray Joyner, Sr.

Zachary P. Dale
East Carolina University

September 12, 2019
Greenville, North Carolina

ZD: All right. It is Thursday, September 12th. This is Zachary Dale. I am here today interviewing Max Ray Joyner Sr. We will start with letting my interviewee introduce himself.

MJ: I'm Max Joyner and I was born in September the 16th, 1931 in the Red Oak community right outside of Greenville.

ZD: Max, what was it like for you growing up in eastern North Carolina (0:37)

MJ: Well, it was a good life. Of course, nobody had anything. You worked. I started trucking tobacco for 10 cents an hour when I was 12, but everybody seemed to be happy. They didn't have anything. Everybody was about the same, but it was a nice life. I didn't know any other. 10 cents an hour wasn't very much, but people didn't make very much. 12-15 dollars a week for a grown man, that's all they were making. (1:17)

MJ: I graduated from Greenville High School in 1950 and I was in the service, the Korean War, and I came back and I entered East Carolina on September the 10th, 1952. End of that, I had been in service so I got $110 a month from the government because I was in the service. Then I had three jobs. One of them was making copies of blueprint for Rivers and Associate. I did that at night. Another one, I worked for cigarette company. I'd go to the Y-Shop one day a week, about a half an hour, and I would give the students a cool test. I had small packages of cigarettes that had about five cigarettes in there and I would let them smoke one of my mine and I said, Is that cooler than what you're smoking If they said, Yeah. I'd give them those five cigarettes, so nobody ever failed that test. (2:50)

MJ: Then I ... Oh, I sold shoes on Saturday. In eastern North Carolina then everybody came to Greenville, the country people, came to town on Saturday. There was about five or six other college boys working in this shoe store. They paid me 75 cents an hour, but if you sold one of those expensive shoes, a woman's shoe that was six dollars and a half, they'd give you another quarter. Then the leading salesman for the day would get an extra dollar. I averaged about a dollar an hour, which was a great job. I graduated from East Carolina in about three years. After I graduated I went to work for Commercial Credit. My wife, Kitty, and myself moved to New Bern for a short while. (4:04)

MJ: Then I saw this ad in the paper while I was still in college. Wanted Progressive Young Men, that's all it said. So I went over to the Y-Shop the next morning. I was talking to my buddy over there, he was a veteran and everything. I told him about that, he said, Yeah, why don't you answer it First time in my life I ever answered an ad and he told me that. When I got home I called, nice fellow, and he said that he was Waldrop [Hugh D. Waldrop of Pilot Life Insurance] and he was in the insurance business in Goldsboro. Of course, he wanted to talk to me about coming in the insurance business. I told him, No, I don't think I'd like the insurance business, but I appreciate it. He said, Now if you ever change your mind, give me a call. (4:57)

MJ: After about two or three months down in New Bern, I wasn't completely satisfied so we were, Kitty and I, were going to the football game, Chapel Hill and Duke, and so I called Waldrop and told him that ... He said, Max, I'd be glad to come- I said, No, we're going to the ballgame. If it's convenient with you, I'll stop by your office, and if you'll be in there around eleven o'clock. He said, I'll be there. I went in, extremely nice fellow, explained everything to me. Then I started to leave, he said, Max, you could make pretty good money in this business. He reached up there and pulled out a little drawer. He said, Here's my last two paychecks. One of them was $1900 and the other one was $1700. I was making $350 a month over there. I thought, My god. His brother is president of the Guaranty Bank in Greenville, the biggest ... I said, His brother's not making that kind of money. I walked back to the car and I got in the car and I said, Kitty, we're going in the insurance business. (6:19)

MJ: I didn't go with him, I went with a local gentleman in Greenville. I stayed with Jefferson Standard about 40 years. My manager retired in Goldsboro after about 13 and I got his job, that was northeastern North Carolina. The way it was, I had five other offices scattered out, Goldsboro, Wilson, Rocky Mount, scattered through, and they recruited people and sold insurance. Jefferson Standard had 75 agencies, and I probably had the worst territory like Currituck, Hyde County, nobody goes out there. But I had the number one agency for years and I retired in '95. I have been retired 30 years, 25. From when I was in the insurance business, I was fairly well-known, and a lot of people would come to me wanting me go in building apartments, wanting me to go in with them, so as a result I took them up on it and so I'm in the apartment business. Throughout the years, that's what I have done. That's been a very good business for me. I keep telling people I'm the oldest person in the county that's still working. Of course, I work a little. That's basically what my career has. (8:21)

MJ: Kitty and I had three children. Catherine lives in Raleigh, Max lives in Greenville, and he's on the board at East Carolina, and Julia lives in Wilson. I have 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. We have a nice family. I go to my coffee club regularly, but there are so many people that are died out that I think my coffee club is about to die. I've had a good life. I was in service, I was in Korea during the war. The 980th Field Artillery and I stayed in Korea during the war about 11 months all told. As soon as I got out I went to East Carolina and that's about the story of my life.

ZD: Yeah. Tell me about, I hear there's an interesting story of when you applied to come back to East Carolina College. (9:39)

MJ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ZD: Can you tell me that

MJ: What do you mean

ZD: Applying, once you came back from the service, applying to East Carolina College, I hear you have an interesting story. I think Dr. Jenkins had to get involved

MJ: Well, you got that. [unclear, referencing items on table]

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

MJ: Not that'll make a difference. I told it a couple years ago, but when I was at Chapel Hill right out of high school, I don't think I'd ever been out of the county. I wasn't real outgoing, so I didn't make very good grades at Chapel Hill. Then when I came home with Christmas, I went in the Army and didn't go back. I had finished one semester and so I got some C's and D's. When I came back to go to register at East Carolina I got my portfolio from Chapel Hill Carolina College so I went over there to register and registrar said, You're going to have to go back to Chapel Hill and pull your grades up. (11:02)

MJ: Then I walked and I thought my life was coming to an end almost because I couldn't afford to go back. Nobody had given me a penny since I graduated from high school except that first quarter my daddy paid Chapel Hill, but that's been it for me. I thought ... I went home, my sister-in-law lived next door, and my brother married her when he was in World War II, from Manchester, New Hampshire, and she was one of the best women I have ever seen. I went next door to cry on her shoulder and she said, You get back over there and go see Leo Jenkins. I said, Who is he I didn't know anybody over there. She said, He's well-known. He's vice chancellor under Dr. Messick. You go back over there. (12:08)

MJ: I go, found his office, went in there and secretary said, Yes, sir. Can I help you I said, Yeah. I'm Max Joyner and I'd like to see Dr. Jenkins. Is he in She about, Go right on in, MJ. Joyner. I went in and Leo was sitting there. What can I do for you I said, Well ... I told him the story. He turned around, said, Max Joyner's coming back down there, register him. He said, Anything else I can do for you I went in and they was glad to see me. I applied myself, I graduated in three years, and I have held more offices at East Carolina than anybody has ever had. Alumni Association, the foundation, I helped start the foundation, chairman of the board ... But it's amazing how your life can get twisted. I worked quite a bit with Leo before he retired and everything. Nice fellow. You know, he was a born leader. Some people have it and some don't, but he had it. He was a nice fellow. (13:41)

ZD: What can you tell me about your friendship with Donald Leggett

MJ: Don came to East Carolina about 50 years ago and he was head of the Alumni Association. I was president and I got to know Don. We liked each other and everything. Then Don, down the road, we found the Foundation. That was, the Foundation is about 50 years old. We got busy. Up to that time, East Carolina wasn't trying to raise any money. Most of the buildings over there Leo named them after politicians because back then you went to politicians to get what you wanted. Now, you're supposed to go through the Board of Governors, of course, they fudge a little bit on that. We started that and when we started the Foundation, Don got to be the head of both of them. (15:01)

MJ: The first time we started the Foundation and the next year we decided we would set our goal on raising money at $50,000. That was something like $3 for each graduate. That was our goal, we did not make it. Wasn't about $2.30 but I think we raised maybe $25,000. They weren't trying to raise money then. I followed Don's career and he's one of my best friends even today and everything. He's done a super job. He's the longest employee at East Carolina right now. He's still doing it. In fact, I had lunch with him today.

ZD: Tell me about some of the positions you've held at East Carolina.

MJ: Well, I've never solicited, I never politicked for a damn job. I just never have. That's not the way I operate. (16:19)

ZD: Let's talk about your positions that you've held at East Carolina.

MJ: Well, I think the first thing I held was alumni president. Then we started the Foundation a couple years later and then I was the president of that. It was 1976 and '77 when I was president of the Alumni Association. Now I'm a life member. I wasn't even interested or active at all in the Pirate Club, I belonged to it and everything. I don't know how in the world I got involved with the Pirate Club. The next thing I knew I was president. I enjoyed it and that was in 1979. I'm a life membership now in the Pirate Club. In 1981 I was Outstanding Alumni Associate Award. In 1982 I was founding member and president of ECU Foundation, served on the board for over 20 years. In '85 and '93 I was on the board of trustees and I was chairman of the board in 1988 and '89. (18:22)

ZD: Why don't you tell me about your time on the board of trustees

MJ: Huh

ZD: Tell me about your time on the board of trustees. What was-

MJ: Well, I had a good background on the board because I had been president Pirate Club, Alumni Association, and the other. The second year I was on it, I think I was vice chairman, and you don't necessarily step up but I was running for chairman and a good friend of mine that had been on board a little longer, he was head Wachovia [Bank] Tom Bennett, and he wanted to be chairman to get it in his obituary I guess. Anyway, I backed off and didn't run. Tom came on as chairman and then the next year I was chairman. I guess I was, it was my third year on the board and I was reappointed to the board.

MJ: I made a lot of motions over there that went and later on they affected me because being in Greenville and everything I had access and everything. If I lived in Charlotte or Richmond, I don't know if I would've been that active, but I made a motion, two of them that I remember, that you can't serve but two years as chairman of the board. It affected me the first one and then the other one ... I think that's still a good one. The other one I made a motion that when you make a gift for a building or something over there, whatever you pledge you have to give 60% of it before we put your name on the building. Because it could be sometimes somebody might make one payment and not give anymore and it wouldn't look too good to be up there taking their name off. That works great and it's affecting me now. I have thoroughly enjoyed and I've met an awful lot of nice people, Dick Eakin, Leo Jenkins, Dr. Messick and on and on. (21:01)

ZD: Yeah.

MJ: I've served on quite a few search committees and I've served on chancellor, getting a new chancellor, football coach, athletic director and basketball. I have been very active and I have enjoyed every one. When we selected Dr. Eakin I was chairman of his installation. The BB&T leadership, I was on that board for over 30 years, Jim Bearden. After retiring in 2011 I got out emeritus. I figured after that long I had already told them everything I knew. I was on the athletic council many times. Then we had the first capital campaign in 1993 and I was head of it in Pitt County. We raised over six or seven million dollars in this county. The first endowed chair at ECU Medical Society is Max R. and Catherine Joyner chair. We've been funding, well, we funded it all at one time, endowed it scholarships for the School of Nursing. Anyway, they usually get two or three scholarships each year from that endowment. (23:11)

MJ: Oh, and there's another thing I'm proud of that is just in education. It's given each year for the outstanding teacher in the School of Business. This lady that was on the board at one time, and she thought of it, and I said I'll endow it. I think it was $17,000 many years ago. That won't be necessary, Max. I said, Yeah. It is. It's endowed and it comes out each year. It gives an outstanding teacher a monetary award. In 2011 I was on the Honors Association board and we had been taking honors scholarship and that was the first year that we had a board and a president. We had that and after serving for so many years I got off. I didn't run again. Give somebody else an opportunity because a lot of qualified people.

MJ: I'm a member of the Polaris Society in 2012. Then a member of the Phi Kappa Phi, the first one, at East Carolina. Then we funded another honor scholarship. We were both, Kitty and I both, were very active in the School of Business and most particular, the Four Seasons. We helped form that 20 years ago and we're still active in it. I'm a member of the Leo Jenkins Society and I'm a platinum member of the Order of the Cupola, and a membership in the Old Austin Society, member of the Order of Wright Circle. In 2015 Kitty and I both got a distinguished service award. Kitty got her master's from East Carolina so we were both got that award the same year. We're a member of the Cornerstone Society. (26:13)

MJ: A program that really I'm proud of, I've put up money to the program for Wounded Warriors. We had a good association here that they would bring Marines from Camp Lejeune to East Carolina to take more treatment. It's amazing. I got on that board and sometimes the government won't fund transportation, but I put up the money to transport them here because they couldn't drive. This program, one of the first things they do when they bring the Marines here, they carry them in the computer rooms and they have a specialty called 30,000 rolls of film. They sit down and look at it, and it's just like you're in Iraq or something. The operator can punch a button and a tank will blow up over there and a building will blow up over there, this and that and the other. The final thing they do, he punches a button, it's the same smell that they had in Iraq. Which is amazing and most people have a different smell. You may not realize, but they do. I know when I was in Korea in foxholes with the South Koreans, nearly took my breath almost, and I'm sure we smelled to them. Anyway, that's alive and doing well. (28:05)

MJ: Later on I'm in the Distinguished Military Service Society. I just fund more scholarships for the honor scholars. In fact, Kitty and I [phone rings at 002834] - cell phone.

ZD: That's quite all right.

MJ: I estimate that Kitty and I have given more than 50 scholarships to East Carolina students in the Nursing, Honors College, and the School of Business. April 19, 2018 I was awarded the Chancellors Amethyst Award by Chancellor Staton. There's very few people that have ever gotten that. Later, a couple years ago, in 2002, I was awarded the Thomas Jordan Jarvis Award, and that award has never been given but six times. I'm very proud of these awards. Last year, the College of Health and Human Performance Honorary Outstanding Alum, I earned that. I'm also active in local things in the county. (29:56)

ZD: Yeah.

MJ: I've served eight years on the Pitt Community board and I'm still active in that.

ZD: What sort of got you and Kitty ... I've got to think about how to phrase this question. Why did you start endowing scholarships

MJ: Huh

ZD: What got you started endowing scholarships

MJ: Well, you know, I started giving some in the School of Business, $300 or $400 a year, it wasn't that much. Then the School of Nursing, we gave money to the first chair and they had some extra money there so I think it was a little over $100,000 so I gave it to the School of Nursing. It was just like they got a dinner next week I think, the 24th or something like that, that we usually go to and they had the students. You know, everybody thinks that most of the nurses are females, uh-uh. Last year, I remember, we were sitting at the table with eight, there were three men at the nurses. That's good because sometimes the men might have a heavier load that women can't handle. We go to that. (31:35)

MJ: The lady that's in charge over there, a small scholarship but you're a graduate student, and I think she usually gives them $1000 or $1500 from that fund. It's just, they just get it for a year but there's two or three every year. We're going in about 10 days. We usually go to those dinners and everything. I've enjoyed working over there. Never had a problem with anybody. I'm glad I've done some of the things ... I've done about as much outside the ... You ever heard of Time for Science

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

MJ: That's named after us. We were in [location unclear 003237] I think or somewhere on a convention years ago. They had a deal that everybody, some of the people wanted to go out in the desert and watch the stars. They carried a picnic and when it got dark, there was a gentleman there with a spotter. He was showing, This is Mars. That's so and so. He was smart as hell. It flipped Kitty. Good lord, when we got back ... We've been all over the United States looking at stars and we got active. There was Time for Science over there close to ... Have you ever been over there? (33:15)

ZD: I don't think I have.

MJ: They got 450 acres of land, but a lot of it can't be used for anything except [unclear] work. To stargaze you've got to have dark skies. We got involved in that. Kitty had this little old telescope, we'd go over there and there wouldn't be but four or five other couples. We'd be standing in weeds that damn high, but we'd be looking. Then it's grown. This girl Emily Jarvis. Do you know her? (33:53)

ZD: I don't think I do.

MJ: Her husband's an attorney, but he's active. He's on the town, county commissioners now. Emily, she is something in this world. They had a situation in Greenville at the end of Pitt Street. You know if you're going down Dickinson Avenue there's a building. They had this gentleman that the county was paying in there, he didn't do a damn thing. Two or three years ago they put both of them on Emily because over there now is 20,000 students that they had last year over there to watch the stars. It's named after us. She just got me with another building over there. Because if it's raining or something like that, it's a [inaudible 003448] building. I think they got it under construction now, but it gives them a place to go if the weather's inclement. She is something in this world. You don't get away from her and she's just a ball of fire and everything. (35:08)

MJ: Anyway, we got active in that. We're active in it now. We've got this young man, Brian Baker from Florida, he's probably a little older than you, not much. He came up about four or five years ago, of course, that was his background. We hired him and I paid his salary for a couple of years. He is carried away with it. He used to live at one of my apartment complexes. He would wake up two o'clock at night and drive over there, certain stars you can't see at a certain time. He'd go there and watch the damn stars. About two years ago he moved over there. There's a few houses. It's over there, you know where the Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant is? (35:57)

ZD: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

MJ: You go right past that and take a right about two miles down there, but he lives down in there. I mean, he loves that stargazing. We went all over, in Texas, and ... We got to a place, Kitty would, naturally she'd want a telescope to go with her, and so UPS, we used to carry it through the airline and that was a pain. It was not all that heavy but I could do it. She figured ship it. We started shipping it UPS and I always thought UPS flew that stuff out. Something like that, it went by truck. If it was heavy then we'd have it delivered to the place we were staying, the motel. Hell, it'd be there when we got there.

MJ: We would go out. One time we were in Texas or somewhere and we went out there ... Kitty was good. She was much smarter than me. She got in cahoots with this woman up in Connecticut or somewhere and Kitty got on the computer and found out she owned a cottage at the stargazing village there. Kitty got there and she ended up renting her cottage to us. We went there and she said, Be sure to carry some vegetables, canned goods, but if you want to use some of mine, replace them. First time we went the nearest grocery store was 85 miles away. We got in there and there were two or three cottages all there on a five acre lot. The key was under the mat, found it and opened the door. It was lunchtime. The damn place, all the beds were a mess and you could tell some carpenters were working on the front of the house to put a. At lunch, I think they'd gone to lunch or somewhere. (38:27)

MJ: I said, Kitty, there ain't no way we're going to stay here. We backed out and I put the key back under there. We saw this lady around the corner there at the cottage so we pulled in there. Kitty got to talking to her. She said, Oh, Grace is so absentminded. She said, Come on in. She said, You see that cottage right there, it looks just like it. Those people live in Charlotte, I know them. Anyway she called them, we got a different cottage. Then she called that lady that we rented from because she knew her too. She couldn't understand why we weren't staying there. She sent our check back. The two mornings, just a rough cottage there, two months later we woke up and the whole damn cottage was shaking. I thought, What in the hell It was open range. We got up and looked out the porch. Looked, there was two horses backed up to the porch rubbing his ass on it. The things shaking, the whole damn thing. Kitty loved stargazing. God. (39:42)

ZD: You've helped bring a lot of cultural things to campus, the Four Seasons, I believe some theater things. We should talk about why in bringing those things.

MJ: Well, Ara Gregorian, you know Ara. We helped get that started. Dr. Ira Hardy lived out there. He had that nice condo that the college ended up to, his good friend. He was active in music too. Basically he was the one that got Ara started. He would invite people in his condo there and, hell, 50 or 60 people would crowd in. We got to know Ara. Of course, Kitty's always loved music. Hell, she played the piano, the accordion, and the organ. Her mother was the organist First Presbyterian church 50 years. But Kitty taught herself how to play the accordion. She was smart. She went to Germany when she was a sophomore at Duke. Bought that accordion, small damn thing. (41:08)

MJ: Hell, she'd get up, play the piano every morning, then work in her garden. She didn't waste time. She'd always get nice, go out there. I used to kid her that, tell her she didn't work. She did not work outside the home. She'd always say, I work harder than you do. As she's passed away, damn if she wasn't right. Keeping a house is awful. Just like this man been on my damn house for over a month tamping around. Well, you saw his truck and everything. He told me he was finishing this week, but the water leak and all that damn mess. I never carried a child to the doctor and I never carried a pet to the vet. She was the ideal wife. Smart as hell. She got her master's from East Carolina. She graduated from Duke. She was a good one. (42:18)

ZD: Yeah. When did you meet her

MJ: In high school.

ZD: Oh yeah.

MJ: We had homeroom together and I wasn't outgoing too much. Kitty, it was Miss Strong's homeroom and that was the class for the ladies sewing. The first time I ever really noticed she was sitting at the sewing machine, domestic. Hell, I hardly ever even spoke to her or anything. She saw me one day, said, Would you go to the Sadie Hawkins Dance with me You know what that is, don't you (43:00)

ZD: No. I don't think I do.

MJ: Lil Abner, Sadie Hawkins, in the funny paper. I said yeah. Sadie Hawkins, the girl asked the boy. Of course, I lived at Red Oak. I said, Yeah. You want me to tell you where I live She said, I know where you live. That night she came out there and got me, and you know the rest of the story. We went together for seven years. Of course, I was in the service too. I got behind her two years because I was in the service. She taught for three months after we got back. She finished teaching. She was teaching in New Bern. She finished teaching. She was very active too. Everybody knew Kitty as a lady. Look at me, you didn't put that on the table, not in here. If you wanted a drink, you poured it in a glass. Yes, ma'am. Everything, you really knew Kitty as a lady and she was it. Quite a few people knew Kitty. She was something. Stubborn. Once she made up her mind, that was it. We never argued. We never talked money or anything like that. She wouldn't argue. If I'd get upset or something, she wouldn't. She wouldn't say a damn word. Hell, I'd be arguing with myself. She was something. I always thought she would live longer than I would, but she got ovarian cancer. Lasted about a year and everything. She was quite involved up at East Carolina too. (45:19)

ZD: Yeah. What kind of stuff was she involved in Any particular ...

MJ: Huh

ZD: What kind of stuff was she involved in With any particular things at East Carolina

MJ: You name it, stargazing ... Oh, oh. At East Carolina

ZD: Yeah, East Carolina.

MJ: The music department. She was the first president over there, the music department. The library, she was the president of the Library Association. They had Sheppard Memorial Library, she was president of that. She was very active. She had no damn ego. She'd rather be vice president and let some nerd be president. She didn't want any credit. When Kitty died I got a letter from a little girl who used to live beside her over on Pitt Street. She wrote me a nice letter. She lived out of town. Said, Growing up with Kitty, she said, Max, you realize she had no ego. She didn't. She didn't want any credit for anything. Very smart and very well qualified. (46:26)

ZD: All right. Well, is there anything else you want to talk about before we-

MJ: No. I don't know a lot of things.

ZD: All right. Well, Max, I appreciate you doing this interview.

MJ: Yeah, I enjoyed talking with you.

ZD: With that I guess we'll close it out.

MJ: Okay. You know what that is

Max Ray Joyner, Sr. Oral History, September 12, 2009
In this oral history interview Max Ray Joyner, Sr. speaks about his early employment, how he started working in the insurance business and details of his career, and how he met his wife, Kitty Joyner. He speaks about how, while he struggled academically before serving with the U.S. Army in the Korean war, on returning he was admitted to East Carolina College by Leo Jenkins, at the time Vice-Chancellor under Dr. Messick. Joyner gives an account of the involvement he and his wife had in establishing and supporting community service and cultural organizations at ECU and in Greenville, including the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival and Time for Science. He discusses his services to East Carolina University, including his role in founding and directing the East Carolina Foundation and his involvement in the Pirate Club and the Board of Trustees, as well as serving on administrative and athletic search committees and establishing several scholarships. Joyner also speaks about his wife, Kitty, and her interests, education, and service activities. Interviewer: Zachary P. Dale.
September 12, 2019
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oral histories
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University Archives
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