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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 >>

The beginning of Scott's political career

Scott describes how he sort of fell into the rhythms of a political career without intending to do so. He became the head of the North Carolina State Grange, as his father had done, and rubbed elbows with influential citizens at his father's duck hunting events. It was after one such event that his name arose as a possible candidate for governor. A small newspaper item sparked Scott's curiosity, and soon he was exploring the possibility. He decided to run for the lieutenant governorship instead, but the experience formally launched his political career.

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

JACK FLEER:
Now, we've talked a lot about your early days. I have been exploring, as you can see, any roots of a political career here, and virtually few, maybe almost none, have been revealed. When did you begin thinking about politics as a possible, not necessarily career, but activity?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Well, it came much later. I'll preface that, my accounting for the turn, by saying that my activities in college and student government and other organizations was not geared toward basic training for a political career. It just didn't occur to me that that would be the route that I would take. And also, even after I graduated, came home, and began farming, and I began to work with farm organizations—the North Carolina State Grange, particularly—my father had been head of the state Grange in his early years, and I became head of the state Grange. But again, this was not—you had to be nominated for those offices. At the time I was in the service, of course, there was not anything political about that. So what got me going about this was that when my father was governor, he had, every year in the fall of the year, the opening of the duck hunting season. And he would invite friends to come to hunt. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
…Duck hunt. The opening day of dove season friends from over the state. And it got to be quite a big thing, they would hunt all day and then have a dinner or a late afternoon dinner. It grew to such large proportions that we eventually had to discontinue it. It was kind of dangerous, too—people out there in the fields shooting.
JACK FLEER:
Was this held here?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
It was held here, on the farm. And people came from all over the state. There were usually two or three political writers included in the group, and they always would write a little piece about it. After my father died, his brother, state senator Ralph Scott, continued the tradition for several years. My father died in 1958. Then Ralph Scott indicated that he—and did, and he hosted it over at his farm, which adjoins ours, for two or three years. The year following my father's death, or maybe two years after that—I'm not sure of the time, here—but this was the year that Richardson Pryor, Beverly Lake, and Dan Moore were running for governor. It was also—oh, the year prior to that. And the campaign was beginning to warm up. And everybody knew that the Democratic primary—that Richardson Pryor and Dan Moore and Beverly Lake Sr. were going to be the main Democratic candidates.
JACK FLEER:
This is 1963 we're talking about.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
OK, this would be 1963. Well, at the duck hunt, of course, political gossip was going on around, and I didn't know anything about this until later, because I was busy helping host the thing and seeing that food was out on the table and all of that. And as I said, usually after this there would be a little item in the paper about the gathering of political people. So apparently there was some discussion that who were the so-called "Branch-head Boys", which was the term given to my father's supporters, who were they going to support in the Democratic primary for governor? And they weren't really that happy with any of the candidates, although as it turned out most of them leaned and did support Richardson Pryor, Judge Pryor. And somebody had apparently talked about, "Well, what about Kerr's son Bob?"—or Robert, they called me. And again, I didn't know about all this at the time. Well, there was a little item or two written in the paper about it, and the political column of the News & Observer, known as "Under the Dome", had some question raised about, what about Kerr's young son Bob? Well, the Associated Press kicked in, and it got about two or three column inches in two or three of the newspapers around. As a result of that, and this would have been in the early fall of 1963, I got, maybe, two phone calls and maybe one letter, and I thought that was a mandate. That's how naive and how egotistical I was. So I jumped in the car and started driving over this [unclear] . And stopping at barbershops and service stations, and talking to people that I knew that were supporters of my dad's. Well, I continued this. That was the year that Jack Kennedy was assassinated. And we all remember what a traumatic experience that was. And that just stopped politics dead in its tracks. And there wasn't any need to be going to talk to anybody about anything, because that was all that was on the minds of people. Well, soon after that, it became the holiday season, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and people's minds were not really on politics that much. So by the time things sort of cranked up again after the first of the year, and I was still making some phone calls and going to see people, it was too late. There was a lot of feeling of goodwill towards me, but they were already committed to one of the other candidates, it was a little too soon for me, so forth and so on. But in the meantime, of course, the newspapers knew that I was doing this, [unclear] and there was getting to be more speculation about it. Since I was inclined to support Richardson Pryor to begin with, he and the other candidates had already established their headquarters and were well on with their campaigns. I met with him, early in the year of 1964, at the Old Carolina—no, the Sir Walter Hotel, in Raleigh. And I told him that I was thinking about running for governor, but I hadn't made up my mind yet, but I wanted him to know that I was not opposed to him, but I felt I needed to explore that opportunity. Of course, he expressed his wish that I would not run, that I would support him, but it was an amicable discussion and we parted ways. I came to the conclusion, though, that it was not due for me to run for that office at that time, because, one, so many people had already committed to the other candidates, I didn't have any money ways to run a campaign, and there was some hesitancy out there for it. There was all that, "Well, yeah, you know, that's good. But…" And there was always the caveat, there. So I came back then—excuse me, my meeting was not at the Sir Walter Hotel with Richard Pryor, it was at the Carolina Hotel. [pause] I think. Anyway, one of the two. And I called a press conference. Shortest press conference I ever held in my life. And everybody was interested to know what I was going to say about the governor's race. So I told the press conference, "I have reached a decision that I will not be a candidate for the office of governor of North Carolina. To those who have expressed interest in my campaign and offers of support, I'm here to say, Keep the faith." And I walked out of the room. Well, the reporters just clamored, raising Cain. It was a two-sentence news conference, and I walked out, and went down the hall to where a handful of the people that I, my political advisors and so forth, were sitting. Included in that group was the late Ben Rooney. He was my father's administrative assistant and mentor. And he was, later on in life, administration for Rocky Mount. And Roy Wilder, Jr., who had served on my father's death in the U.S. Senate in Washington. Betsy Henton, who was from Clayton, and she had been in the office of Terry Sanford, who was governor, as a secretary, and was working with me and my efforts at that time. Anyway, we talked about it, and I said, "Well, there's support out there for me, but not for this race at this time. So what are the options?" Well, we talked about my running for Congress. I didn't really want to run for Congress, I didn't—it just didn't appeal to me. What about commissioner of agriculture? My father was commissioner of agriculture. Well, that didn't really appeal to me either, because the nature of the office had changed, it had become primarily a regulatory seat, and you couldn't exert much leadership there, really. Then something was said about lieutenant governor. And I'll never forget what Ben Rooney said. He said, "Aw, who cares anything about being lieutenant governor? That's just a place where you're put out for pasture after you've served long and well in the general assembly. Four years and that's the end of it." So we talked on a little further, and we agreed, we adjourned and agreed that we would come back in one week, which we did. And Ben Rooney said, "You know, I've been thinking about the office of lieutenant governor. I believe that might be a sleeper. Nobody cares anything about that office, they don't pay any attention to it, and you might just be able to win it." But two of my close friends were already running—Clifton Blue, from Aberdeen, who was a former speaker of the house, and John Jordan, Jr., an attorney from Raleigh. Both good friends of mine, and they were already announced candidates and already running. We talked further about it, in that little meeting we had there at the Carolina Hotel, and following that I made the announcement that I'd be a candidate for lieutenant governor. Well, that just came out of the blue. Now, that was my first interest into politics. Going back to the time that they had the dove hunt, and with the subsequent article in the newspaper which generated the couple of phone calls and the letter or two—if anybody had told me at that point that I'd be a candidate for a statewide office, I would have laughed in their face. And a year later, when I took the oath of office as lieutenant governor, if anybody had told me that I would be doing that, or any other political office, a year prior to that, I would have thought it very amusing.