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
- 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.
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[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
- 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
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.