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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 4, 1998. Interview C-0336-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rural childhood holds more influence than father's political career

Although he was the son of former North Carolina governor W. Kerr Scott, Robert W. Scott never anticipated a career in politics, he says in this passage, in which he describes his rural background. As a child, he learned values from his closely knit, churchgoing community, an inward-looking place that did not necessarily prepare him for the political arena, but did prepare him for a rewarding personal life.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 4, 1998. Interview C-0336-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Governor Scott, I want to begin with some questions about your early political interest and development. When did you begin thinking about a career in politics?
I don't know that I ever thought about a career in politics; it just happened. At this point of time when we are discussing, I'm approaching my sixty-ninth birthday, and in reflection I've actually had four careers. The one that I was formally trained for at NC State University, in animal science—I grew up on the farm and returned to the farm, and my job was to manage the farm. My father, who was living at the time, made the comment to me that one politician in the family was enough and he would take care of that and my job was to run the family business, and what that meant in those days was farming. So the career in agriculture, and then the career in politics. We can talk about that a little later. And then, of course, like most folks, I had a period of time in the military, but that wasn't a career—I considered that, at one time. Then the career I guess on the periphery of politics—that is to say not running for and holding public office but being involved in governmental work. In this particular case it was the Department of Community Colleges, the community college system, where I worked for twelve years. I guess that was a career of education and administration. And then the fourth career I guess I'm in now, which is doing a little bit of everything and just trying to enjoy life and make some contribution and get at a less pace. So, I mean, I never set out with the goal of having a career in politics, or to hold public office, or any of that stuff. I was always active in a political sense, even in high school and in college, being involved in student government activities, whatever's going on. But not with the idea of having a career track of any sort. I grew up, of course, in a rural community that was very typical of Piedmont North Carolina. My mother and father—my father was acting politically, my mother was his helpmate, she was a very quiet, diminutive type of woman, very supportive of my father, but really didn't care for the public eye that much. So I grew up in a rural environment, agriculturally oriented. I'm a Presbyterian by faith—I didn't know there was any other denomination until I was old enough [unclear] , because the Presbyterian Church was the center of our activities in this little rural community. I went for my first grade to the little community school, and that was the last time that that school operated. The first round of consolidations was back in the 1930s, so the little community school where we had seven grades in three rooms, that was consolidated into a larger community school, with several other rural communities. And the church and the community are very old, historically. I had an aunt, who I just barely remember, but she remembered seeing troops, both Union and Confederate troops, going up and down the road in the community. This community was in the route from Hillsborough to Gilford Courthouse during the Revolution. The church was established about 1755, and our family have been members here, for all of that time. So our roots are very deep here. And later on in life as I had opportunities, maybe, to better myself, if you will, financially and in other areas, I never seriously considered it, because this is my home, and I understood my little pond here and I didn't really care to get out and swim in the ocean.
What is it about the values of this sort of rural environment and rural community that you think appealed to you, that caused you to want to stay there initially and in fact for the rest of your life?
Well, the values—there's no question about it, the rural environment here and the influence of the church and the rural community school where everybody knew everybody—that had some intricate impact upon me and my decision-making in later years in public office. As I said in my inaugural address, in the closing comments of my inaugural address in 1969, that I wanted to serve in the office of governor—this is not an exact quote—that I wanted to serve in the office of governor in a manner that would reflect credit upon my parents, my family, my church, and my community. I did not want to disappoint them and the values that were instilled—and included in that, I think, were my teachers at the school. I didn't want to do anything that would lessen their expectations of me. I knew what those expectations were and I wanted to meet those expectations. And I knew those expectations included a set of values and ethics. So it did have a great influence on me and I can talk at length about my church activities growing up and the rural community school and the closeness we had. Even when I entered the first grade, when we moved to the so-called consolidated school, known as Alexander Wilson School, located on Highway 54—it's still there, although it's only an elementary school now. There were only twenty-nine in our graduating class, and there were twenty girls and nine boys, and we boys loved that. Practically all of us—having only nine boys who were seniors, and old enough to drive a school bus, we all were driving school buses. If we had any kind of athletic team at all, everybody got to play, because we just didn't have that many people. Everybody was in the school play. So it was a close-knit community of people, and that, too, had its impact on me. I think the community of Hall Fields, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant—yes, we had minorities, African-Americans working here, obviously we had them in our farm here, but it was still a very close-knit community. And if someone is interested in writing about anything in my early childhood, if they would read the book which is in the state library and other libraries entitled The Church in the Gold Fields, written by Dr. Herbert Turner, who was a son of this church and this community—he's dead now, of course—and he was a professor of history and philosophy at Mary Baldwin College. But he wrote a book about this community, and I think it captures many of the—one can sense the elements there that came into influencing my makeup, as well my parents, because they, too, grew up here. They were just a couple of miles down the road from each other. They were childhood sweethearts, they went to the school closings together and all of that. And I met my wife here in the consolidation of that school in the first years.