S. Gerald Arnold Oral History Interview


1

Stanley Gerald Arnold
Narrator

Donald Leggett
Interviewer

East Carolina University
June 19, 2020
Greenville, North Carolina

Alston Cobourn:
Okay, it's good to go Don.

Donald Leggett:
Okay, thank you, Alston. This is Friday morning June 19, 2020 at approximately 10 am. My name is Donald Y. Leggett, I'm a 50 year employee of East Carolina University, currently working out of the Chancellor's Division on a part time basis doing special assignments. I retired in 1997 from full time services as Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations. Today, I'm here in my home in Greenville conducting an oral history interview with Stanley Gerald Arnold, an ECU graduate, I believe in 1963, and former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. He's a great Pirate and a longtime friend of mine, and as a matter of fact, he and I were inducted into the same class of the honor society of Phi Kappa Phi here at ECU. Gerald is at his home in Raleigh, and we're doing this interview by WebEx and we're doing it by the audible audible basis rather than in visual this time because of some technical difficulties. But anyway, this is all a part of a project entitled, The Rise of Alpha Dog. Judge Arnold, so as to sort of put this all in perspective, why don't we begin by asking you just to give us a brief biographical outline, and I know that he can't be brief because you've done so much in your short lifetime. But such as where you were born, where you've lived, jobs you've held, and actually what you're doing now. And I think I can answer that one because the best I know you're enjoying the retired life. Go ahead Gerald. (01:57)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well Don, I can be brief. I believe in brevity. Well, I was born in Harnett County and went to the public schools there and eventually ended up going to East Carolina College as it was known then. Went to law school at UNC Chapel Hill. I always tell people, I received an education at East Carolina, I studied law at Chapel Hill. I practiced law for a short time in Lillington, [unclear], and Raleigh. I served in the legislature for a while. I was fortunate enough to have a seat on the newly created North Carolina Court of Appeals. I served there for 24 years and ended up as Chief Judge and enjoyed my career. Then went with a company called Lawyers Mutual, which is the primary legal insurer for lawyers in this state, ensures 80% of the attorneys in North Carolina. And I retired from there as president and CEO of that company, and also took a leave of absence at one point and was director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. So in a nutshell. (03:37)

Donald Leggett:
Thank you Gerald. And of course, we are just proud that you ended up here at at East Carolina and for in the beginning here, I sort of separate this in three parts and in the beginning, we are talking about a time when the name of the university changed maybe once or twice, but anyway, I refer to it as East Carolina in the beginning. But when were you first aware of East Carolina Gerald? (04:07)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Don, I'm not sure that I can say. I guess I was aware of East Carolina growing up. I knew there was an East Carolina and I'm not sure. I was always aware that we had a college in this state. It was named East Carolina. (04:34)

Donald Leggett:
I see, well once you learned that there was such a place and at some point I'm sure you gained an impression of it and what, can you remember what your first impression of East Carolina was? Or what you thought about it? (04:55)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
I really I can't remember my first impressions Don. I do remember my first impressions in Greenville. I thought this is flat country you can see for two days. But but my first impressions of the campus and going there was a long time ago. Do, I don't remember a whole lot about that because I've been going back East Carolina for all these years since I graduated 1963. And as you know, I've been going back ever since. So it's just, it's really hard for me to give you, remember my first impressions. (05:43)

Donald Leggett:
And you have indeed been back often and you have served us well and we appreciate that. When you were choosing a place to continue your education after high school, was EC, I reckon it was East Carolina College at the time, a first choice institution for you, and if so, can you elaborate on that a little bit? (06:09)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
You know, that's, that's interesting because and it probably hasn't changed for a lot of students now. But, [unclear] one of my close friends had a brother who went to East Carolina and my friend and I and a other friend was sort of thinking about going off school together, which we did, and I also had, I went to a military school and two of my good friends were from Tarboro and they wanted to go to East Carolina because as they put it, that's where the pretty girls were. So East Carolina was the first choice for me because it seemed to be where my friends were going and I followed along. (07:08)

Donald Leggett:
Yeah, I have a feeling that's still holds true today that motivates a lot of people because of all the friends get together as they were wherever, okay, let's why don't we do this. So.

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
That's about the way it was.

Donald Leggett:
Well, are you glad that you made that decision? And what about East Carolina are you most proud, do you come up with something that maybe stands out above the other? (07:38)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, it was a good experience for me and having had that experience, I certainly am happy that I did go to East Carolina. I made friends, received a very good education, and the faculty enjoyed [unclear] there. (08:07)

Donald Leggett:
We're going to sort of shift gears a little bit here now and as I said, I kind of divide this into three parts, so let's transition it over into what I call phase two of our interview and and let me ask you this. Do you think that East Carolina, or ECU as it is today, has been or is currently perceived as a as an underdog university? And if so, why do you think this? (08:39)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, I think that, to some extent, it is perceived as an underdog university. I can't give you all the reasons. I think one reason might be it, we have generated it within our own Pirate nation so to speak. We've been motivated because most of us who went to East Carolina over the years we did not, certain in the earlier days when you and I went, maybe things have changed some, and indeed they have, but we didn't come from privileged backgrounds as a rule. And that was, we were motivated though. We knew we wanted something better. Our families wanted something better for us. It was a time when people went to college in order to improve themselves and we didn't end up owing large debts. It was, but the underdog idea basically is more from from us than it is from people who are not connected with the university. (10:14)

Donald Leggett:
I think your right. Where do you think Gerald that this perception of being an underdog manifests itself most? Where's it most apparent or where was it most first apparent with you when you realized that maybe we were considered to be an underdog university? (10:39)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
You know, sometimes we talk about in education, higher education, tails wagging dogs and I think that's true to the sport in athletics. And I think that's one of the one of the [unclear] tied to sports. We did not have as large a program as some of the other schools and universities in the state. And I think that's to some extent where it came from. (11:25)

Donald Leggett:
Well, that that being the case, do you think it's served a positive role for athletics?

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Probably so. Probably so. Anything that motivates you to work a little bit harder, you know, it's this idea that you take advantage of what is what you have, not what might be what somebody else have, you control what what you have nd you understand that that's how you succeed. And I think, you know, we I think, I think that's kind of the way I would explain it. (12:14)

Donald Leggett:
Let's enlarge on that just a little bit. And do you think the underdog role has served as a positive for the university in any other ways? Can you think of any other areas where you think that maybe the same attitude has helped to motivate people who are part of the Pirate Nation and of the university per se? (12:40)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, I think, I think East Carolina, you know, when I know a little something about our history, and during those times when there was tremendous growth in our [unclear] and East Carolina itself was growing faster than any of the institutions in the state. At the same time, we were funded per capita less than the other institutions. Much less as a matter of fact, we were right at the bottom and yet we were doing so much. And it was because we sort of had to. That whole idea that I think it goes back to our roots so doing the the greatest service for the greatest number of people. We followed that idea of serving the community and figured out a way to do it. When there was a need, the college university stepped forward and met it. We always had that, that strong background in education, teacher education, and that went out into the communities and it I think it's just this always was the strength of, of East Carolina. But when needs existed, the college was there and that idea of serving was was there. (14:26)

Donald Leggett:
If we look at the, you know, the whole picture of this underdog thing, what difference does it really make if ECU is perceived as an underdog? And let me add another question along with that, tail on to the end of it. And then, with assuming this perception is there, and do you think we'll ever wear it out? Whether it require a conscious effort to shed the image or how did how do you think this will change as time goes along or will we always be an underdog. (15:05)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well you know things don't just fall out of a tree and change, you're always affected by what's going on in the nation and the values that surround you. East Carolina probably would, will not consciously put aside that, that feeling. It was, I mean, it's just it's been out there for so long with so many people. But I do think gradually it will change, I think it is changing. But I hope we can, I hope we don't, you know go too, too far in another direction with with the alpha dog concept either. There's an in between. and but I think it's changing. I mean, I think that, for one thing the millennials and young people even just don't have the memory that our generation has of East Carolina, and that, that enters into it. I mean, you just look look at this, this influence in this state in health and health education that comes from from our university at East Carolina now. It just didn't exist at all until a few years ago and in the state and the students and their families see East Carolina much differently today then we used to see it. I think the underdog role, I think it is still there, probably gonna be around a long time, but I think it's changing. (17:13)

Donald Leggett:
Yeah. What do, you do you think there's a reluctance to changing it Gerald? Do you think we [unclear] the members of the Pirate Nation? Go ahead.

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
I don't think the Pirate Nation has as much to do with it Don as what you see happening is the rise of other institutions that will have their day and they look at East Carolina as an example of we want to, as competitors certainly in the sports area. You know, it's a big big deal for schools to beat East Carolina's football team today. That hasn't always been the case. We've always had competitive teams, but nobody had ever heard of us. Well, we we've been heard from. (18:10)

Donald Leggett:
Absolutely. Go ahead, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you.

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
So so you know, what's going on in the nation about us what's going on in the state and our region, the eastern part of the country, that's having an effect how other people look at us and, and they do see us. So, I think that's, that's having an effect and I think it will, in the long run, have more of an effect and then what we as the Pirate Nation have to say about it. (18:56)

Donald Leggett:
Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. I'm gonna let you take you catch your breath here for a minute. You know, as I said earlier, we kind of, or I do kind of divide this into three parts and we've been through the the time when you were preparing to come here and then coming and finding that maybe there was some degree of attitude about our being in an underdog situation. So now let's move in kinda look at the the alpha dog aspect of it. What do you think Gerald, I know this is a difficult one, but what do you think our alpha dog university will look like? (19:38)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, you know, just think about what's happening right now. The pandemic that's going around with the Covid-19 virus that nobody could have foreseen. {Unclear] things it's very hard if your gonna prophesize someone said, you better hedge a little bit, because you gonna be wrong. I think higher education, our public education our schools, we've seen a big change in East Carolina is perhaps in a better position to deal with it. I mean, consider all the online schooling that's taking place right now, that's what I'm really getting talking about. I'm not so sure that the the grand experiences that we had, being on campus, and students have always looked forward to that, it may change. I know East Carolina's technology reaches all over this state and just almost almost daily at times I run into people who tell me they're taking an online course at East Carolina. I mean, from Asheville to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, recently, well not to recently. (21:23)

Donald Leggett:
I think we've sort of led the state in that area for quite a while.

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
And, and, and I'm sure that that's going to, that technology and that outreach is going to continue to even to grow. It's over my head in a way. So as to what it will look like in the future, I do think this, we will always need more funding in higher education, public education, this country it's been the strength of this nation and I'm not sure that the public has the same appreciation today that that we used to have as to how important it was to do that funding. We have we have moved up in a position where we are no longer beggars at that table when it comes to handing out the resources. And you look at what's on our campus. It's, it's mind boggling. It's it's overwhelming when you and I look back on where we were in the 60s when you and I started, the 50s. Well, let's go back to the 50s when we really started [unclear]. Forget that part, lets just go in the 60s, in the 70s, and 80s. And now, beginning with the 90s, just look at the tremendous amount of money that has gone in our campus and what we're doing down there. And so, we we are in a very different position, different roles, we are not in an underdog role and effect in reality. And I think that future we will continue to, to be a big player and the university system and the state is so organized today that East Carolina's place at the table is, is very much established unless something really drastically happens. (23:40)

Donald Leggett:
Gerald you know, when we have events on campus, and I suppose is most obvious at athletic events that we just have a tremendous pirate pride and pirate spirit and it's moving and it's intense, Where do you think that, what do you think we'd have that same pride and intensity, if we feel that we have reached that point that we are no longer an underdog, that we are alpha dog and that it's a, it's not unusual for us to, to win, it's not unusual for us to be the best and to sit alongside the better institutions, or the best institutions, in the country and, and be proud of it. And let me just add one little anecdote, as you know, I've coached in the high schools for a few years and I've coached teams where we never won championships even though we always aspired to, and honestly it wasn't hard to motivate those kids. I mean, they go out there and willing to leave their skin on that floor. Would you believe now, I've moved from there to a institution that was expected to to win championships every year, and you can motivate both of them, but it's a different form of motivation and it's a whole different approach to things in motivating an underdog and what I thought a frontrunner. So, will we see that change? (25:18)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
I think, I think what we're, the shift that comes if you want that, you always want that motivation out there. But I think we have to focus more on who we are. We have to focus more on believing in who we are and what we are. I think we have to have confidence and trust in what we're doing. And we do it. When you have programs that work and you know, they work, you don't abandon them because somebody else is doing something great. We don't, we don't pursue greatness for the sake of greatness. We, we, we keep on providing that service and I think just just having confidence in what we what we are about, what we do, and who we are, and how we do it. Day after day, we have to stay motivated to do that. That's true in every aspect of the university, it's not just on the athletic courts and fields. (26:36)

Donald Leggett:
Then as we are sort of winding down now toward the the conclusion of this, and usually about this point, in an interview, I'm reminded all over again that, in my view, there is a theme that runs through all of this as a constant. It's in there from the day that we were founded in 1907 until right now, and that is the attitude of service and the commitment to services, the to serve motto. That's just a I think the glue that holds all of this together regardless of what phase we're in, we still are adhered to, we still adhere to, to that, that commitment. So that brings me to this question. Is it possible Gerald for ECU to be among the best and the most respected institutions in the nation and also serve the needs of the region given that its primary service area includes, well, one of the most impoverished and economically and culturally deprived regions of the state. So can we do both things? (28:02)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, you, first of all you, you've stated so well, some history there with respect to service and I think that's, I didn't articulate it very well, but kind of what I was talking about a few moments ago. To be among the greatest, you know, I look at it this way, Don. I think we continue to go toward greatness by doing what we have been doing, not to forget, that the journey is as important, the journey is more important than the destination. Having confidence and trust and faith in what you are doing, and accomplishing day after day after day, and that's what East Carolina is about. It's always been about the greatness has already, we've already achieved it. Now, the trick is you have to do it every day, you can't let up, and and that's where we are. Whether the people recognize that greatness, and I think again, I think outsiders, sometimes more than East Carolina alums and the Pirate Nation and I don't know how we educate educate them, and maybe we don't try. You can't, when something works, well change it, you know, and East Carolina always has changed, and I think they said earlier that what happens is what East Carolina does, is greatly affected by whatever the movements and whatever influences whatever's going on in this nation. And that will continue to be true and I have confidence that East Carolina will rise to the occasion as we have in the past. Whatever, whatever those movements, whatever those needs are that come up, I think East Carolina will rise to the occasion. But I think, I think we you know, the future begins one minute from now, it's here. And I think, I think, I think probably East Carolina is seen by so many people. I see it that way, I think it's a great, great institution. (31:13)

Donald Leggett:
Gerald, go ahead.

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Of the successes in the past, but in just what I said the strength of it's the faculty, the administration, the students, the families, the whole East Carolina family, Pirate Nation is the new word, way to look at it. You know, we're not, we're not the regional communities that we used to be because of the media and the social media. What happens in on the west coast is is happening in eastern North Carolina and, and this country has changed so much. (32:09)

Donald Leggett:
You know, Gerald you've said so well, my belief all along with this thing you have, as I've seen all those three phases, I suppose of the university I arrived here just as it was becoming East Carolina College, it had just moved from ECTC to East Carolina, and then seeing it become a major university. And, you know, I'm, of course, convinced that the road to greatness happens one step at a time and whatever your charge is at the time and your commitment is the time if you do that well, and then you will move to the next step, but it's often difficult to to skip those steps in between. You know if you start up steps and try to take four or five at a time, what's gonna happen to you? So, I think we have done that. We have taken what we were committed to do and done it well and proven ourselves and therefore we will move on and keep moving on to greater things. Let me move into the final few minutes of this Gerald and we have hit a couple of times only only area of athletics and it's important to have, importance to make the university. What role does athletics play in determining how we are perceived as a university and, and how we perceive ourselves as when we have successful athletic teams, when we are not so successful, as we move in from one conference to another. I'm sure you have some thoughts about all that. Can you share those with you with us for a minute? (34:07)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, Mr. Leggett, you and I, how many years we have cheered, we have cried, we've cursed, we discussed. We have watched football games together and events and we can say that sports are not happy, sports is that what the university is all about. Of course, that's obvious. But on the other hand, it is a very outward expression. It's the way so many people see our school, their school, his school, her school, is through athletics. And so you have to concede that it's important, it is important. It's important to the students and their families and we all like to be part of the team. And if we can be part of the team that means that actually we are because we're fans, we pull for our team, our school. So it's important, so we have to support we have to support our athletic programs and the Pirate Club and events on the field and on the court. We have to. (35:36)

Donald Leggett:
You know, you know, sometimes talk about our our own Manifest Destiny here. And, you know, we all, I suppose, are looking for the day when we feel like we have "arrived" and how all these years when I've been involved in, really all my life for the most part with ECU, I kind have been looking for the day when I can sort of take a deep breath and say, okay, we've attained all of that, that we've been struggling for all these many years. How will we know when we've arrived? Is it is it possible to know when we've arrived? (36:25)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
I don't, it goes back to what I said while ago. It's the journey. You never arrive. And if you ever think you have arrived, you probably have your probably mistaken and shortsighted in what you were trying to accomplish. I don't. I think that's what I was had in mind when I said it's the journey, because it's always out there to achieve. You, you you you education, as I think that's just kind of what education is, and you think about what, what you learn today, won't do you much good tomorrow because it's changed and you have to relearn and learn something new. And I think that's just the nature of the university. (37:22)

Donald Leggett:
And I think you're absolutely right. And I think that's a good point to close this out with. And as we do, I always ask if there's any other topics that you were thinking about as we went along and think well, maybe I'll get the opportunity to expand on this a little bit. But any other insight into any of this or anything you want to add to any of this before we close down Gerald? (37:51)

Stanley Gerald Arnold:
Well, I simply would add this, relevant to East Carolina, but to all aspects of our society and institutions. But we have we have been very lucky to have had good leadership. Good leadership begets good leaders. We've had the spirit that you've spoken about, from from our faculty and, and, and families and, and, and students. But we've also worked hard at providing leadership, the university has. And, and we've been really, really blessed in having some good leaders. And I'm not talking about just presidents and and chancellors, but [unclear] down the line and I just want to make that point that things don't just happen, they don't just somebody sneezes and it falls out of a tree. You've got to work for it and and plan it and make it happen. And I think that has been a great strength at East Carolina. (39:18)

Donald Leggett:
Gerald, thank you so very much for doing this. This has been a great accommodation for us and we'll get this into the records and into the library and and Alston will continue to work with you on all of that and if you will, if you have not already, mail back your waiver form, permission form I suppose it is and will. (39:48)


Title
S. Gerald Arnold Oral History Interview
Description
Sound recording of S. Gerald Arnold's interview for the "The Rise of Alpha Dog" oral history project conducted by Don Leggett. The project explores perceptions of East Carolina as an "underdog" or "alpha dog".
Date
June 19, 2020
Extent
Local Identifier
UA95.18.05
Location of Original
University Archives

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