Donald Y. Leggett Oral History Interview






Donald Leggett
Narrator

Alston Cobourn
East Carolina University
Interviewer

June 3, 2020
Greenville, North Carolina

Alston Cobourn:
Hello my name is Alston Cobourn. I'm the university archivist at East Carolina University and I'm here today interviewing Don Leggett from my home and his home via webex virtual meeting platform and it is 6-3-2020, june 3rd 2020 around 10 in the morning. Don could you uh please state your full name and when and where you were born.

Donald Leggett:
Okay my name is Donald Y. Leggett. they call me Don and I was born on October 31st. I was a halloween baby uh 1935 in Windsor in Bertie county, north carolina and um lived out in the rural part of Bertie county and what we often times refer to as the Indian Woods area.

Alston Cobourn:
so can you tell us a little bit about when you first became aware of east carolina (1:09)

Donald Leggett:
when I was a small child and i'll go back to where I was in terms of what I just said in that I lived in in Bertie county for 12 years after my birth and then we moved away when I was 12 years old so I wasn't there all that long but while i lived there we oftentimes visited with a dear uncle and aunt of mine she was a graduate i think maybe I'm not sure she had graduated at the time but my uncle had and was an athletic coach and I dearly loved both of them and I would sit around and listen to their experiences that when they were at east carolina and I think they ended up meeting here and uh and of course they ended up getting married but they were just good to me and I just loved them to death and I just thought I want to be just like my my uncle and he went to east carolina university and that must be some wonderful land far far away that I might not ever see but i can aspire to do that and that's sort of where I first was introduced they told things about how things were then and uh it seemed pretty normal at that time at this point why I would seem kind of kind of strange but how strict the dorms were on the uh people who lived in them and all those things that we talk about so much so anyway to answer your question that's uh that's how I first heard about it. (2:44)

Alston Cobourn:
okay so uh you've touched on this but is there anything else you would want to say about what your first impression of East Carolina was.

Donald Leggett:
well what I heard about it I thought that if I could do all the things in life that I might want to do that would be something i would want to do to to go there and experience what i had heard oftentimes discussed but I know I mentioned something like that to my mother at one time and you'd have to know the circumstances on which we were living in that we were rural uh small farmers and did not have a lot of money and and I said something about uh when I go to college and she said son I'm not sure that we're gonna have the money to send you to college when time comes and I thought I didn't know that was a factor I just kind of thought when time came you went to college. I didn't know there was a food factor involved so that kind of pushed me for a while but I reckon maybe it might have been good she said that because it gave me all the more determination that I was going to find a way when the time came and you know the culture in that area that particular time was not that everybody was expected to go to college when they graduated from high school uh as a matter of fact I would say probably a very very small percentage of them did but anyway uh that's you know when you're a kid you think about a lot of things and that was one of the things I was thinking about.(4:36)

Alston Cobourn:
so then um you've also touched on this too but what made you decide to enroll at East Carolina what made you uh you know go from I guess thinking that's what you want to do to really doing it.

Donald Leggett:
well there was a long space in between what I just described and when time came to make a decision to go to college my father died when I was 12 years old and uh we were destitute in terms of having finances to. I had another brother in the household and of course my mother was trying to find a way to ensure that that we could survive and so we decided to move away from Bertie County and moved to Harnett County in the shadow of Campbell University and to live with my same aunt and uncle who I mentioned a while ago until things could kind of get stabilized again so I grew up actually in uh in in Buies Creek and like i said under the shadow of Campbell and there everybody's pretty much expected that it was kind of like just continuing on high school. you finished high school you went across the street to campus and kept on of course Campbell was junior college at that time there were a number of factors figured in I suppose in that uh uh here again when you are 17 18 years old there are a lot of things that you have on your mind. one was I wasn't real sure I wanted to go to college in my hometown. I kind of wanted to maybe to get away. in the meantime this same aunt and uncle of course had an influence on my life all the way down the way um had moved to east, to Greenville into East Carolina University and my uncle was employed here so that was another reason I could come and live with them and and then cut expenses plus East Carolina being a state institution uh the fees were not as great as going to a private institution. um I thought that maybe I could play basketball. I did not get a scholarship and that kind of hurt my feelings I think a little bit at Campbell that I was not offered one but I was offered the opportunity to walk on but I felt like well if that's the case uh I'll just go to ECU and walk on down there and see but as things work out you know they don't always work out as you think and I knew that I was going to have to work. We did not have the money for me to just do the things that most of the students did and do the things they wanted to do. I had work time that I had to provide for and so when I started basketball practice and realized that that was also the same time as my work job I mean my work so that kind of cut that short but uh just oh there's a number of reasons that I ended up here and plus the fact that uh I just thought it was a great place to go you know it wasn't like uh oh well if I can't go somewhere else I'll go to ECU I as I said all this time I thought that it was a wonderful place and when I got here I found it just to be that way that of course it was all inspiring because I graduated from a graduating class in high school of 13 so when I came here and ran into 3,000 people I reckon that's about what it was at that time oh I thought it was the biggest place I've ever seen and I would never be able to navigate around and find my way around but I did think well this is where I need to be and uh and that's what I did.(8:50)

Alston Cobourn:
what year?

Donald Leggett:
long answer to absolutely short question

Alston Cobourn:
good that's all really good information thank you what uh what years were you a student at East Carolina?

Donald Leggett:
I arrived here in the fall of 1954 and received my BS in the spring of 58 then of course I went out into the to the world and started to work and as I was in my job situation whenever I could find the opportunity or uh and on weekends I would come back to ECU and take graduate courses and finally in 1962 I received my Master's degree so from 58 off and on to 62.(9:50)

Alston Cobourn:
what was your what were your degrees in?

Donald Leggett:
My uh I wanted to coach and uh I just had a lot of things that I wanted to do and I had played basketball at my local high school Buies Creek and always felt like that they sort of left it unfinished a little bit because we never won a championship so I wanted to I still felt like that there was something I wanted to go back home and uh uh i wanted to coach back home so uh and in order to coach you had to teach I wasn't all that excited about teaching but I realized that was part of the package so if I was going to coach I had to had to teach so that was fine so I majored in physical education, I minored in social studies or history, I'm not sure which way they label it and then as time drew on I uh I realized that at some point I might want to go into public school administration so I got my Master's degree I think they called it you know a secondary education in principle okay it's covered a big area and territory you can you can go most anyway with that degree and uh and be okay with it in terms of on our school administration so that's what I have.(11:29)

Alston Cobourn:
When you were at East Carolina getting your undergraduate degree can you say anything about now you may not have had time because you were just talking about working a lot as well but were there any clubs that you were involved in as a student, and if so is there anything about those experiences that you could share with us?(11:52)

Donald Leggett:
well a very limited number of those as you uh surmise that I worked two meals a day in the cafeteria whatever they of course my assignment was at the time either uh taking food out from the kitchen to the serving line or frying silver or bussing tables or whatever it was so I knew that uh every morning early I had to be there for the crowd when they came in for breakfast and then I had one other meal a day depending on my schedule either had to do lunch or dinner so by the time you went to your classes and worked two meals a day and did the other things that you that you need to do in my view and I probably could have done differently. I don't know but I suppose I didn't see it important enough to devote that much time to getting into a lot of clubs and things but I did of course uh join my uh what they call the PE club, physical education club and uh I was in ROTC, and I don't suppose they didn't consider that a club but it was an elective that took some time too. That we had drilled twice a week and uh and the other things. Then I was in that for two years so uh I didn't have the time for a lot of the uh other things that you know, you just can't do it all and that was I felt like I was doing what I needed to do.(13:35)

Alston Cobourn:
Yeah. The about ROTC since you've, you know, been around East Carolina for a long time now. Is there anything you could really say about how ROTC was different than than it is now at East Carolina or, like the, the way the program has grown or changed, I'm imagining that it was probably smaller then than it is now, but I don't know that.(14:02)

Donald Leggett:
You know Alston I'm not sure about the numbers. We had a big Oh, what would you call it? Oh, I don't know what the formal name is the group, whatever, the whatever the whole population. But anyway, we had a good group and it was, course you know ROTC, I think has been at ECU from back in the mybe, the early 50s,(14:35)

Alston Cobourn:
I believe so

Donald Leggett:
the late 40s. And so it was a big thing at ECU then and a lot of people who I knew then went on to become Air Force officers and pilots and some of course became pilots and some did not but had a lot of very good ones there were a lot of well, I know some generals who went through that program and we have some now that are active in our alumni area here at ECU even now and of course they are continuing to come through as time goes along. We have had we've had an awfully fine ROTC unit for all these years that's put a lot of fine people in the in the military in the Air Force and and they've done very well and I'm just proud that I was a part of it for` two years. I kind of thought that maybe I would not make it into the into the what they call the advanced program. You're in it for two years and then you if you were accepted into the advanced programming you went into the that got real serious in the last two years that you were going to be heading into to the Air Force. But when I did my, my orientation flight over at Kinston, which you do, by that time you did at the end of your sophomore year, and when I, when we arrived back on ground and I saw the pilot take the plane over and, and hook up a hose pipe and wash out the back seat. I figured I probably was not going to go into the advanced program. So I realized very quickly that that I was not cut out to be an Air Force pilot. And of course, later on, I realized that I was colorblind and a few other things. So anyway, it was good experience and I'm just so happy that I had those two years. It's just such a fine programming, you know now or I suppose it still is. ROTC is a part of the College of Health and Human Performance and I worked with the College of Health and Human Performance for a number of years just just prior to this year, and got to know a lot of the people in the program raised a lot of lot of funds for the for the program and just got to know the people in the program to [unclear]. And then just, I can't say enough about it was just just to find outfit.(17:30)

Alston Cobourn:
out. So can you tell us a little bit about how you transitioned or how you so you were a student and then I know you worked at the university, still do, for many years. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came to be that you became a staff member?

Donald Leggett:
Well, that was a 12 year gap between the time that I walked out with my, with my BS and the time that I arrived back here to go to work. And so I did what I was expecting to do and hoping to do and that I had a job in my home county as a basketball and baseball coach and teacher in the high school. And then, as luck would have it, and what I was hoping would happen, a job came open back in my hometown. And so after one year at another school, transferred back to my hometown and taught and coached there and was an assistant principal and guidance counselor. Oh, anything else came up why I uh did it.(18:46)

Alston Cobourn:
your hometown in Bertie County?

Donald :
No, no, no in Orange County, Buies Creek where I grew up. Okay. Yeah. And so I was like I said, all those things that I was in charge of there and plus the fact I was coaching men and women's basketball and baseball. But anyway, that's all to say that, of course in the meantime, I had some interviews for principalship here and there. But what I'm where I'm going with this is that from the time that I graduated, here, I always wanted to come back. That was my, it had been in the back of my mind somewhere there was always that desire. If I ever get the opportunity, I want to go back to East Carolina University. And I want to work there and that's really what I want to do in life. But you know, the chances of that happening. I thought were pretty slim but still was in the back of my mind, but In the meantime, I had the opportunity to go to Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh as the assistant basketball and assistant track coach. And I reckon one might even be my greatest claim to fame as a basketball coaches. I was the assistant coach of the year that Pete Maravich was a senior at Broughton High School and one of the greatest basketball players the world ever known. And so that was a nice experience to be associated with that team that that Pete was was playing on. You know, he went I don't know, young people now probably don't remember who Pete was but he was just an outstanding and then ended up in the in the pros and was outstanding there too. But then as time went, I coached for two years, and then the opportunity came open to for the system principalship at the at the school, which I did. And that was a good experience too, as you know, everything falls in line. And so having those two years in administration in one of the finest high schools in this part of the world was a was a nice experience and good. So that's where I was when finally the opportunity came to interview for a job at East Carolina University. And I reckon the rest of that is that is history in that, you know, is interesting, though, the I reckon its maybe first or second year that I was out after I graduated, I had the opportunity to come down and interview for the job that the Rudy Alexander finally ended up with. and spent a career in here. But I came down and interviewed for that job and they(22:03)

[unclear]

Alston Cobourn:
what's job exactly? Can you can you say?

Donald Leggett:
Well, it was long story and but I can't remember what Rudy's his title was you know he's in charge of Student Union. Mendenhall. He was the one that started the the concert series of Rudy Alexander Rudolph Alexander concert series and all of (22:30)

Alston Cobourn:
That's helpful. Thank you.

Donald Leggett:
It was too. At that time it was to sort of be the person in charge of determining entertainment groups who came to the campus and nothing to do with coaching and but it was a chance for me to get back here and get my foot in the door and I thought that well I better take advantage of whatever there is if I wanna get back. But as, as one of the reasons they were even interviewing somebody for the job is because they had a bad experience with an entertainment group that came to the campus. So they wanted to have somebody in charge to screen those groups out a little better more. Before, you know we've moved to have come here. So long story that one was, Rudy ended up getting the job and I didn't get it crushed again and went back went to work, and then how many years later the opportunity came about again, I just got the word that they the position of Director of Alumni Affairs as it was called then was open and that maybe I would want to apply for it, which I did and Dr. Charles Brown. who was in charge of that are at the time was good enough to maybe see some little bit of potential in me and to give me a job to be the Director of the Alumni Program.(24:07)

Alston Cobourn:
Are there, can you tell us a little bit about what what positions have you held since you've been back at East Carolina? I know there's been a couple.

Donald Leggett:
Well, you got a couple hours?

Alston Cobourn:
So you you've done several things then?

Donald Leggett:
Well, I came here as director of I think it's called director of Alumni Affairs, and that was in 1970. And the alumni program was, they began to they began to try to formalize a little more to to make it a separate legal entity in that they incorporated the Alumni Association.(25:04)

Alston Cobourn:
Okay.

Donald Leggett:
It became the ECU Alumni Association, Inc. And they did, of course, all the legal work to make it what it was to be. So that started in about 1967. And when I arrived here in 70, that process was just getting to the point that it was operational. Still a few things that were left to do, which I picked up and finished the process, but that's where that program was at that time when I arrived here in 1970. And so I stayed in that role and I can't remember I'm bad at dates so I can't come up with the exact dates and the numbers of years, but I had not been in that role long before. And the ECU Foundation was going through about the same process that the Alumni Association was it was just getting it's feet off the ground.(26:13)

Alston Cobourn:
I was wondering that

Donald Leggett:
A person by the name of Reynolds May, who was a local citizen was in charge of it. And about that time, he decided that he did not want to do that no more. And so that left that position opened and so somewhere along the way, I can't remember when Leo Jenkins, who was president at the time, as he was called, came to me and asked me if I would, I'm not sure he asked. I think he told me I was going to was going to also be the person in charge of the foundation.(26:52)

Alston Cobourn:
Okay

Donald Leggett:
So really during those early years, I was the chief person in charge of all the fundraising on campus at the time just, I had a part time I've reckon I had a full time assistant at that point, and some administrative help and that was pretty much it. But we were the fundraising arm of the university until about 1979, somewhere along there. Okay, so that went all the way until I reckon it was 1979-80. And then we had another changeover we had another a new chancellor came in reorganization of the whole program. And I stayed in the role as here again, we call it part of the time director of alumni relations, sometimes director of alumni affairs, whatever it was called. But anyway and same general responsibilities, except I no longer had the foundation. And along the way, of course, there wasn't a lot of money to be handed out in salaries, so occasionally we would get a new title and that was our reward. But anyway, I stayed basically with in the same general area until 1997. When I finally retired after 27 years in that role, with the title of Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations, I think it was then the story begins. I decided then that if I had the opportunity that I'd like to work part time after I retired and maybe just do fundraising and that type of thing with the advancement area and a lot of changes are going on all over the place at the time. And so the titles and whatever change but I ended up working in, in the area of development and fundraising, I had some responsibilities in planned giving. Then as time went along and different people came and went I would be stuck in the interim in this roll, that interim rolll So the numbers of them I don't even I can't remember them all, a lot of those interim situations. And, and then even before that happened, I was interim director of the Regional Development Institute. They had a turnover there. And so I was in that role, I reckon some few months, might have been a year. I don't know. Oh, but Most of the things for primarily around the, what we call the advancement area and my most recent thing before moving over to the Chancellor's division and doing some special projects there was I think they called me a development specialist in the College of Health and Human Performance. And I was in that role, I reckon, approximately five years or so. And that was good because that was, you know wheremy first love was and to get to be a part of that and feel that I might have left it a little better then it was when I went into it in terms of fundraising or whatever wasgood and but in the meantime, I ended up being in their Wall of Fame and also was one of the centennial leaders that they picked When they had the centennial(30:55)

Alston Cobourn:
Okay

Donald Leggett:
but that was before I started there as their fundraiser the centennial leader was but they picked I think 100 what they called I'm not sure how many but they they picked a number of Centennial leaders and I was picked as one of those Centennial leaders good experiences in love the area and still do, and feel very indebted to it for a lot of what has happened me along the way that run into a lot of good people along the way a lot of good programs and probably leads us into some more questions. So [unclear](31:36)

Alston Cobourn:
yeah, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about you know, in your time working at the university, what achievements or projects that you personally have been involved in Are you the most proud of

Donald Leggett:
Well, that's a hard question. I'm proud of all of it, for the most part, because ECU has done so well during that period of time. And I say that period of time, which is a big part of the history of the university, from 1970 until now was that 60, 65 years I suppose it is. And the so that's probably half the life of the university that that I've been a part of it so to see it, become what it is now. Surely gives me a great deal of pride to think in some small way somewhere along the way that I might have done something that helped it be where it is today.(32:42)

Alston Cobourn:
Right.

Donald Leggett:
I always hoped that's the case, anyway, and I feel like that maybe it is, but I reckon, you know, I've got a lot of pride in the fact that When I took the alumni program in 1970, that it was a fledgling program just getting off the ground and to bring it along to the point that when I retired that I felt like that it was doing what it needed to do, or to be worthy to be in an alumni program in a major university. And I felt that it took a long time it doesn't happen overnight. And you're dealing with attitudes you're dealing with, with budgets, you're dealing with all the things that you have to be concerned about in in moving a program along so over 27 years, as you might well imagine, a lot happened and a lot of growth occured population, the alumni population grew. And just as an example, I think when I arrived here in 1970, as I remember which might or might not be accurate, we had basically 20,000 alumni, and our annual budget was $20,000. So we were budgeting $1 apiece for our alumni. And, and so of course to grow to where it is today is surely as a source of great pride for me and yeah. Then, you know, things along the way that you get involved in because of the position that you hold and the committees that you serve on and you end up often times getting into some things that have a great deal of permanence. And one of those things I think, and I see it every day is that I was appointed to a committee to name the streets on the university campus and they decided it was time to name the streets because, of course, the campus was brewing as it was. And the municipal people were concerned that if there was a fire and the fire truck was called a particular area, what street do you go to?(35:05)

Alston Cobourn:
Right.

Donald Leggett:
They needed to identify all the streets and whatever, for all the various reasons that being one them. So I was sitting on a committee that was chaired by Mary Jo Brattonn, who Dr.Mary Jo Bratton who is deceased, but was a long time professor here at the university and wrote one of the campus history books, but dear person and good professor great professor and but she was chair of the committee. And there were people on there who had some strong opinions as to how the streets should be named. And one of them was of the opinion that all streets should be named with a colonial history theme. Like one street might won't be Queen Elizabeth Boulevard or another will be king so and Sir Walter Raleigh and all that stuff is good stuff. But anyway, that was just one one person's opinion. And I did not agree with that. Because I wasn't real sure that that we had that much identification on our campus of all the colonial going ons and that maybe I just felt very strongly that we needed to do something to honor the peoples who had been a part of making ECU what it was at the time that People who had worked hard and had contributed so much to the growth of the university and whatever. So both good programs, both good, good schemes and so forth and, and good ideas, but just two different people with two different ideas as to how it should be. And so I presented a program, or schedule of names. And I knew that we couldn't name streets for all the individuals who had done something personally but I said, Well, we can recognize groups of people who have done things like the alumni, like the trustees, like our founders, like whatever. So now when you ride through the campus you have founders drive you have trustees way you have (37:51)

Alston Cobourn:
Right

Donald Leggett:
You have Chancellors Way And all the things that most of them pertain and some individuals were just important personalities to the growth of the university but a lot of I thought names that kind of sounded academic and at the same time honor people who and groups of people who were important to this university but long story of all that was that plan basically was adopted. You see it in force now and when I ride by that's something that I can always point to that I was a part of. And then, as a matter of fact, I hadn't thought about until I was thinking about this interview this morning. There is a tree that is growing in front of the old cafeteria building, between the Cupola and Old Cafeteria along that wall. It's October, Glory maple tree was named for me at my 40th anniversary of my employment here. It has a stone underneath it that looks like it might be somebody buried there but it does have a little stone that looks sort of like a footstone in the cemetery that, that that state's that. And I've told my wife a number of times that I know that kids walk by and wonder who this Leggett guy is buried under that tree, but that's special to me, that's the area that when I was in school and walked that route so often going to work in the mornings and in the afternoons and so to see that tree there now with my name on it, it just really is special to me and to know that hopefully that tree last long time now. I'm going to begin to worry if it dies [unclear] And the next thing too. You know, I've been a part of a lot of I've been a part of a lot of fundraising in and some of that was some some pretty big amounts of funds. And and so that's a source of pride to the some of the the biggest gifts that we've had to the university. And I think maybe even the biggest one that the biggest endowment that we have right now, I'm not even sure but anyway, I've been a part of a lot of the negotiations that were going on and the relationship building and whatever that led to some of the biggest gifts that the university has ever gotten, and that surely, you know has to, in my mind is is a source of pride and has to be significant to this university.(41:02)

Oh, one other thing that I wish I knew there was one item that has been special I spent a year I think it was I'm not sure when 2004 maybe it was the year after Dr. Muse left the university as Chancellor. And before Dr. Ballard came and Bill Shelton was the interim chancellor between those two and at the time that that happened, I was working with Bill in the advancement area and ended up spending a year in the chancellor's office as his special assistant And that was really a nice experience so that, you know, it was like to have come to school here back in the 50s. And wondering if the next course was going to be the one that I wouldn't be able to make it would end up going home. And finally getting a degree and then these numbers of years later to come back and be sitting beside the Chancellor of the University. It was just really a nice thing for me to do. And I have great memories of that.(42:34)

Alston Cobourn:
As a staff member, what do you think have been the biggest challenges that you've faced?

Donald Leggett:
Alston, you know, when you are you in any kind of administrator role That's probably a challenge a day and to pick out you know, a particular challenge. You go from day to day, year to year you never have enough money. You know, I've never seen an organization have enough money yet, always budget always personel problems. Right. So but I don't know of any great catastrophe that jumped in the way of what I was doing. I dealt with good people I had the opportunity to work for Leo Jenkins, who as you know, is a legend among administrators here. And that was a neat experience and in all the other chancellors I've worked with, and colleagues, I can't remember how many now I think maybe when I say work with the ones I've known and or worked with, I know, came to school and adopted Messick [unclear] here and then from that point to now, I've worked with every other Chancellor or president, whichever The title was at that point. I think it's running about 11 or 12 now but to have the opportunity to work with those fine people, all of them good leaders. So, you know, its just really a nice, nice thing. And what was the question? My challenge(44:35)

Alston Cobourn:
It was about challenges but I think you

Donald Leggett:
You know, there's always challenge of change. You just have to deal with it when you got that many ultimate bosses and changes are going to occur each time for the most part and You know, change always presents challenges and you deal with them. And I just, I don't know of anything that really jumps out and okay. Challenges must not have been too great because im still here now after how many years, 60, 50 50 years i reckon but it's always been a good ride and just a lot of good people.(45:22)

Alston Cobourn:
Well, so I guess this is sort of related, but not exactly. So what are some of the like, are other really notable changes? You know, you like you said, it's been a long time. The university has definitely changed and grown. I mean, for example, you know, it's, the name has changed, right and the different stuff so are there, what do you consider to be the most notable changes that have occurred, just in the school overall since you've been part of the university or the college?(46:01)

Donald Leggett:
Well, as you said, and I don't have to tell you this, that the changes have been so dramatic over the period of time that I've been associated with the half life of the of the university. Just to see it be what I maybe at some point could envision it being at some time but never really expected to see. Now I'm seeing it. And you know, you think that that will happen in my lifetime. And I've been fortunate enough to live a good number of years and to see a lot of things happen and to remember it as it was in 1954 when I arrived here And to see it now in 2020 and to try to even get my arms around the, the the difference in what it is today and then is such a, an awesome kind of task. But just the appearance the size and you and you can't underestimate the Okay, one can overestimate the value of the medical school? You know, we haven't really talked about that and that has made such a difference in everything. The medical campus and medical district, the the medical school in general and of course, all that goes along with the medical school and really I was involved in in that when I first arrived to the campus, we were just getting into that business of trying to bring a medical school here. And I was directly involved with that in the beginning and working with alumni generating support for it and all this kind of stuff. So I've seen that whole thing happened. And from remember that is, I suppose it was tobacco and corn fields out there that what we see when we ride down Stantonsburg Road now. That probably is the biggest change. Because I tried to think what it would look like if the medical school happened to happen.(48:46)

Alston Cobourn:
Right, right.

Donald Leggett:
And so I think maybe the medical school being approved and been a success it's been it is, is maybe the biggest change that that I know of but just the whole university to becoming a great nationally recognized University from being basically a teacher's college when I came here which was good, it was a good teacher's college. But you know the focus has changed over all these years because when I arrived here, it had just the it just changed its name, I think in 1951 it became East Carolina college, and prior to that, it was East Carolina Teachers College. All of them were, were good as a matter of ruling in right, vigor and finer and greater and we just had a I just have a something to be very very proud of that I am.(49:57)

Alston Cobourn:
Thank you. Are there any speakers or concerts or campus events, visitors, maybe anything like that, that stick out specifically in your mind from any of the time that you've been at East Carolina.(50:24)

Donald Leggett:
Here again, one of the things I, one of the regrets I have is that I did not go to more of and still did not go to as many of those items as as I should, and that I have the opportunity to go to and I look back and think why didn't I go to more of those [unclear]. You know, oftentimes when you have worked all day, and did you leave the campus? Oh, I don't think I'll go back tonight. Yeah. But I wish I had. And so really the thing that I did go to and enjoy it and wish that we had more of it, even though we're doing some of it now is the summer theater that we had. back I don't remember what years, I reckon in the 70s Yeah. But they were big time productions. And they had people come in from all over the country, renowned actors and actresses and used our own talent and put together and I don't, I don't don't see that many Broadway plays, but people tell me that they rival some of the the Broadway plays that they have seen. The way they were produced and all of that so that was special. I've enjoyed, enjoyed that. And I remember we had a journalist to came and spoke. I think that was when I was in school. I remembered some things he said and some predictions he made that saw that became very vivid in my mind later on. Things that he has said about people oftentimes come back and think, well, that's what what he's saying. I don't recall his name, but I probably recall it wrong. But anyway, thats pretty much the story of that one.(52:34)

Alston Cobourn:
are there maybe events that you didn't, you know, end up attending, but that you remember, maybe there was like a buzz on campus about it, that somebody was coming or a presidential candidate or you know what I mean, some public figure, I wonder if there were things like that where the the campus was sort of a buzz maybe.(52:58)

Donald Leggett:
You mean in recent news?(53:03)

Alston Cobourn:
whenever I mean do you have any memories of times like that you know that that maybe you weren't necessarily end up being involved in anything but you remember all [unclear] excited about something or nervous?(53:15)

Donald Leggett:
I remember when John Kennedy came when he was running for the presidency when he came to town but I just didn't want to get into all that. Yeah, all the hassle and all the crowd and everything and I don't remember whether I was even on the campus at the time, but I was thinking that but that's not something I want to get in the middle of I just but I remember, it happened and that was talking about a buzz. That was a buzz because Presidential candidates and presidents didn't come to Greenville that often in those days it wasn't as easy to, to get in here and out and so forth. And but for John Kennedy to come was really a big thing. And let's see, of course, we we had we had an who was the other, George Bush came, did he not? In last few years, a say few years it is probably last 20 years whenever, you know, in recent times, yes, he has come, but it doesn't create the kind of buzz down because it seems to be much. Now, I don't know whether it's probably not better organised, it seems easier to to get it in and out than it used to be. I reckon, because of all the modern methods of communication and transportation and whatever but yeah, doesn't seem to have the same buzz now that it did in in the early years when there was a chance that the President was coming to the campus probably because we didn't see the president that much on TV you know, right. Now we sort of feel like that he lives in our living room often times because he's there all the time. Right. I don't remember that was was the biggest one of the biggest things that happened when I first arrived here was and of course these are things that you remember not necessarily part of what happens at the university but affects the university was Hurricane Floyd, Hurricane Hazel right. They were just really memorable things. And that things you wish had not happened, but that you remember them when it's time goes along. Yeah, I remember that I was working in the cafeteria that you know, you didn't have the advance notices in the 1950s that you have now when something like that is going to occur. And I was working in the cafeteria and they made an announcement to everybody to stay there because there was a hurricane on the way. And I thought to myself I'm not going to spend the rest of the evening here in this place. I [unclear] across town to my place where I was staying. And remember the hurricane was blowing in and tree limbs were falling in front of me and i was running tryng to get there. And all that kind of stuff. So you remember those things and interesting. I won't mention the first pantie raid that I ever heard about that happened right after I came to right after I enrolled I think was the 1954 and some of the guys we still kid about it and even to this day some of them I know, but I won't call the names but it was something that people still talk about a lot. Yep 19 whatever it was pantie raids. Yeah. Oh, part of student life I reckon. Yeah.(57:22)

Alston Cobourn:
What have you enjoyed the most? I don't know if you have an answer for this but what have you enjoyed the most about your time at East Carolina? You've touched on that some.

Donald Leggett:
That's that's that's not a hard one. That's probably the easiest one you could ask is people that's what I have enjoyed the most. Oh, everybody from chancelors down to wherever on campus all that everybody that you run into during the course of a career the not people just on campus but those I had the opportunity and was fortunate enough to, to build relationships with in the alumni population. So I had the opportunity to be around and amongst current students as well as former students, so I just had a big population to, to work within and enjoy [unclear] it and every person who met along the way. Wonderful, wonderful people. Wonderful, wonderful professors and staff and, and great chancelors I've had the opportunity to do to deal with and You know, some of them you enjoy more than others but still just when you look back on it, I just relish the fact that I've had the privilege of knowing so many good people.(59:12)

Alston Cobourn:
Yeah. How is your impression of East Carolina changed over time? When and you know why? Or maybe it hasn't.

Donald Leggett:
Yeah, that's, that's that's difficult because I always thought it was wonderful and I still think it's wonderful. I don't know if its changed that much. But the the the fact that from day one, when President Wright was first getting the university of the ground. I mean, to [unclear]. We started off as Teachers Training School and ended being a university but in the in the first days and when it was decided that this university would always focus on service and the motto to serve came about and that to me has been [unclear] would be the strongest thing that we have about this university that that item has stayed as a common strand that's run through this university from 1907 to 2020. We I don't remember ever. there being a time when that wasn't put out front. And so my impression when I was here, was that the people who were here to help me get an education really tried to, to help me do that.(1:01:19)

Alston Cobourn:
Mm hmm.

Donald Leggett:
And I still feel like that we have a role to play in serving this part of the country. And we do it well. I've always said that if you serve your primary service area, well and do a good job with that then the recognition beyond that will happen. And so I feel very strongly that we need to never veer from never vary from that from that to serve, attitude, and if we keep that we will continue to be successful and grow and always be mindful of what this university means to Eastern North Carolina and to the state, but particular the eastern part of North Carolina that and I'm glad that we are continuing to focus on economic development of the east as we are, we have a special programs special offices and whatever. They're dealing primarily with that and making sure that we are an integral part of all of that. So that is, is an outgrowth of all that has happened along the way, from the time that that I was a school leader. So I reckon that's how the impression has changed a little bit because there wasn't we were serving because we were serving the need for teachers in this state later on its need for nurses in this neck of the woods and so forth. But but the fact that we have kept that motto and kept that focus I just think that's, you know, the, the impression is changed, I suppose, but in a good way in that. Obviously now as as a national university as well as being as serving is basic service area very well.(1:03:41)

Alston Cobourn:
well, that sort of folds into my next question throughout the years that you've that you were in school here and working here. Did you feel ever that the university was looked down upon? You know, do you so do you feel that way now? And why did you or do you feel that way?(1:04:11)

Donald Leggett:
Um, you know, I hear a lot as you were talking about buzz about it I hear a lot of buzz that have heard through the years of us being a chip on the shoulder University. We're going to show everybody what we can do, and, and all that and some of that I think is good, but I think at some point we have to come to grips with the fact that we are now a very fine major university in this country that we are in an athletic conference with some of the finest universities in in in the country those with the greatest reputations and and are just nationally recognized fine universities so we're rubbing shoulders with some of the best there is. And so I think that you know the the underdog role serves you well for a while and that it gets people fired up, in an athletic contest my gosh, were going to show them and you know, that's not all bad. But at some point I think we have to to come to grips with the fact that we are expected to be good that we are expected to win, that we are expected to be the best. And rather than when we are that we've upset somebody. So and particularly athletic contests I, you know, I hear this, like when we have upset some of the, the major rivals that we that we play that and there's nothing wrong with be getting super excited and all this type stuff. But I think that we need to, at some point say, Well, this is not needed as we do this all the time. Were expected to be front runners. We're not expected when we win for it be considered an upset every time and I don't know, maybe I've said it very poorly. But from that point of view, I think there are those who still kinda see and feel that we are considered sort of an underdog situation here as we go about things and I and I reckon maybe they're, I don't know. It's just it's an attitude thing I think now and and it's hard to change attitudes overnight. And I think it's something that why we might have to grew out of like we have grown out of the party school image that we had that time when of ECU is a party school, and you can't just say we're not a party school and it goes away. It has to ware of through generations and feeling of being an underdog or being looked down upon I think part of that still have to wear off with time but but I think we can do maybe some things to create the attitude that, gosh, we're supposed to be good and we've been there before this is not new for us. We've beaten the best before.(1:08:23)

Alston Cobourn:
Well, I think it's interesting when you talk about that, you know, they're the two there's some you sort of made me think about the two sides of the coin. There's the an underdog like what other people think about you versus what you think about yourself, right? And so it sounds like you're kind of getting at the regardless of whether anyone else outside the university is perceiving as a as an underdog, it is important to think about what the university or you know what we think about ourselves. Your comment about the like expecting, you know, we've done this before we should win, maybe think about? Yes.(1:09:14)

Donald Leggett:
I know, years ago, someone said, said, you know, the further away from the campus you get seemingly people have better opinions of the university often times and the people rightunder the doorsteps of the campus and because somehow this stuff gets engrained, it is hard to get out. But as people outside in a way and read and hear about the good things that are happening. The year and know what's happening here. See us as a very finen, nationally renowned, impressive University and many of our people do, but I think we still are carrying a little bit of the the underdog situation that eventually we won't be but I'd like to see it gone as good as anybody.(1:10:27)

Alston Cobourn:
Do you think that you've ever sort of seen that underdog kind of role like manifested in you know, ECU dealings with the state legislature? You know, so the board or the UNC Board of Governors, right, any of those bodies at the system level Or the funding bodies? Do you think you've ever seen that manifest there?(1:11:00)

Donald Leggett:
Alston, I don't know enough about all of that to an opinion particular one that is going to be recorded. As I just don't know, you hear opinions about it. And through the years you hear comments made about that type of thing, but I would not want to get in a conversation about that because I really don't know. I don't know. I don't live that close to where all the decisions are made andthe people who are making the decisions and what the reasons for those decisions were and I'm sure that people when they're making these decisions think that they're doing what needs to be done and do it in the best way and we just have to assume that that's what's happening.(1:11:59)

Alston Cobourn:
You've mentioned that you feel like athletics is a place in particular where our underdog role perception of ourselves of the university's perception of itself manifest. Is there a, are there any other areas that you that you feel like you particularly see that perception showing up?(1:12:27)

Donald Leggett:
Well, as you know, as we hear the expression that athletics is your front porch of the university and it has so much exposure and people are so aware of it get so excited about it as well they should And because it's so obvious and so out out there where you can see it and it seems to, to be [unclear] of you seem to be able to recognize the fact that it is manifested there to some degree,(1:13:18)

Alston Cobourn:
right

Donald Leggett:
Because of the publicity and in the fact that it's so visible then it you know, we think surely that's an area where we hear a lot of conversation about it. Well, you know, when you win you upset somebody and when, you know, we, we got to show these people, the [unclear] and all that kind of stuff and as part of athletics but I don't necessarily Oh, no, you know, I just can't come up with any in it real in areas where I am aware that people sort of have an underdog attitude about it. We've got so many areas now that people have alphadog attitudes about it the most what I hear in this day and time is, how great our programs are and how great a job we're doing and how we're serving the areas where we are expected to serve and doing a good job with that, and so most what what I hear now is people are very proud and seem to think that that most of our areas are very alphadog rather than underdog.(1:14:47)

Alston Cobourn:
Are there any Is there anything else that we haven't talked about today that you would like to talk about

Donald Leggett:
Let me call you in about 30 minutes because I'm sure when you leave I'll think of al whole bunch of things that I overlooked and going through all this and

Alston Cobourn:
anything about your time at East Carolina at all. Its ok if there isn't but if there is something else you want to talk about that's we certainly can do that.

Donald Leggett:
I don't know anything else I probably right at the cusp of retiring and I will surely miss that because really, that's been I haven't had as many hobbies and applications as a lot of people do because I've allowed my career here to be both of those things and I'm not sure that's the best way but It happens. And so I know that it's going to be a great transition. [unclear] But I will miss a lot of good people. Yeah, but still, that's life.(1:16:11)

Alston Cobourn:
Actually speaking of people just think of another thing to ask you. I know that, you know, Max Ray Joyner Sr., well, that you two have known each other for a long time at the university or through the university. I guess if you were willing, is there anything you might be able to speak to about how you got to know him? And sort of, I know I believe you worked on some projects together.(1:16:50)

Donald Leggett:
We might have scheduled a whole nother interview. My beginning of my senior year I think it was here. This was in 1957 I was changing my place of residence here in town. I can't remember why but I was looking for a place to stay in my senior year. And they were building a new sort of a private little dorm and I read that might have been one of the first private student housing projects in town over on Hollis Street, which was called the collegiate set up with a group of little adjoining rooms room, a room a bath between which situation so I arranged to rent one of those for my senior year. And we arrived there on the night to move in and went and found that there were no mattresses on the beds. Okay, so we went back out kind of a little bit of what do we do now with this guy was out there and he said, mattresses will be coming soon and they'll be here we'll need some guys to unload those mattresses so that was Max right. The first time that I'd ever met Max and so we struck up conversation and he knew that I needed all the help that I could get financially and this long story about it but he ended up hiring me is the janitor for the building. And so I got my room rental i think i got most I'm not sure it was full rental anyway he gave me a cut on my room to be the janitor for the building. So I did that for him that year. And he helped me with the room and helped me get through that year. So when I came back then amazingly enough, and to in 1972, take over the alumni area. And Max was on the board of directors of the Alumni Association, and very soon became the president of the Alumni Association. So this was another contact I had with Max and all the time just was learning what a fine individual he is and was at that time too, and such a generous person and does things that people probably would never know about. The things that he does for people and causes and whatever. But for this university, I don't know of many people who have done as many things as much for this university as Max has and not only in terms of his financial contributions but just being of service you know, he's been Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He would take people into his house when there might be someone coming to the campus for an interview they needed someone so he and Kitty would take them in and they would spend a night or two at his home. So what ever they needed Max to do he was always there to do it. And of course, I've been in some fundraising situations with Max and he helped me over in the HHP area, fund some things there. Some some other things that these involved in but Just a. And in the meantime, we've just become close friends. And Max now is a little older than I am. So we talked about a lot of old times and and that type thing, but just over the over this period of time we've just developed a long term close relationship in terms of just just friendship because you know where his heart is? And he's just got a wonderful heart and does so many good things.(1:21:34)

Alston Cobourn:
That's an interesting story about how you met you. So was he already then it sounds like he was working at the university, or was

Donald Leggett:
he had just graduated and was was just getting into that might have been his first I wouldn't say that it is because I don't know. But it could easily have been the first financial development kind of project that he got into building that building. I know he had a friend who he was in partnership with and building a building together. But I could he was beginning his career at that point. Okay. He's always been an entrepreneur and a developer. Yeah, that is courses is, is is what I call his day job was in the insurance business. He was a premier insurance agent. They just did wonderful things in the insurance business, regional executive and all that kind of stuff. But other than that he was big into developing properties and [unclear].(1:22:59)

Alston Cobourn:
Okay. Well thank you for talking to us today. Anything else before we wrap up?

Donald Leggett:
No, I think I've my mouths about run out now, going to have to lubricate it a little bit

Alston Cobourn:
thank you for sharing your experience.

Donald Leggett:
Thank you, Alston, and thank you for leading me through this.

Alston Cobourn: No problem.(1:23:23)


Title
Donald Y. Leggett Oral History Interview
Description
Video recording of an oral history interview with Donald Yates Leggett conducted by University Archivist Alston Cobourn. Don discusses his childhood, experiences as a student and 60+ year employee of East Carolina, and perceptions of East Carolina as an "underdog" or "alpha dog."
Date
June 03, 2020
Extent
Local Identifier
UA70.22.02
Location of Original
University Archives

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