Pride and regret in reflecting on gubernatorial term
Scott is satisfied with his term as governor, he says, but he also has regrets, especially the disruptions of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests, which he feels interfered with the business of the state. He notes some of the accomplishments of his term as well, including some educational initiatives and, of particular pride to Scott, improvements to a school in a rural county and water works for a mountain community.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. 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
- ACK FLEER:
A few questions to end with, on looking back on your service as governor.
When you became governor, I assume you had a notion, if not a formally
written statement, about what you wanted to accomplish. Were you able to
accomplish what you wanted to?
- ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Heh! I'm trying to think back, what it was, why I
Let's put it this way. I'm satisfied,
I'm pleased with what we were able to do. I wish we could
have done more. I think we could have done more, provided we had had the
opportunity and the time to do so.
As I stated earlier, in one of the earlier interviews, that the times in
which we lived required us to give so much time and attention and effort
to the matters of civil unrest, caused by students being upset about the
Vietnam War, about civil rights, the aftermath of the assassination of
Dr. Martin Luther King and President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and all
that. The marching in the streets, the fires, the calling out of the
National Guard, all of those things that consumed so much of our
attention. And one can only speculate what we might have been able to
do, had we been able to devote those energies and that time to more
positive things. I've heard said, many times, that the great
story of North Carolina will never be told, because it didn't
happen. I refer, of course, to—we
didn't have the larger tragedies that some other states
experienced with respect to civil rights issues, activism. We had our
problems, we didn't get by without them, but we were able to
prevent a lot of things from happening that were just on the verge of
So I guess in that sense I feel very good about it, but the history books
will never show it. So I think we could have done more, and
I'm not sure where that would have been. And yet we were able
to do some things.
- JACK FLEER:
Well, when we think about a couple of things we've mentioned
earlier, specifically, say, for example, the tobacco tax. Has that met
the purpose and the goals that you thought it would, whenever you
proposed it and worked hard to get it to pass?
- ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Yes, it did. We were able to get the money, and we did in fact lay the
groundwork for the public school kindergarten system by getting these
demonstration units going, and starting the training for public school
kindergarten teachers, and all those things. It didn't show
up much until it began to show up in the Holshouser administration more.
But we were able to get it started.
And I feel that the School of Veterinary Medicine, at NC State, was
decided in my office, and I think people know that. When I approved the
program for a department of veterinary science at NC State, which was
the forerunner of the veterinary medical school. And we knew that that
was the way we were going to go about it. Some years later, when the
school was established and the ribbon-cutting was going on, and
dignitaries were there, I got a hurry-up phone call from somebody, and
the powers that be over there were chagrined, because the new dean
they'd brought in didn't remember my role in it,
and somebody had told them, said, "Well, why isn't
Governor Scott here? It started there, in his
office." The young lady was just apologetic all up one side and
down the other. But anyway.
- JACK FLEER:
What about the restructuring of the higher education
- ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
The restructuring of the higher education system, yes, that, and we got a
school of medicine at East Carolina University—I
don't think it started in my administration,
but— it may have, I just don't
remember. But anyway, there were things. Yeah, we got some things done,
and we did bring a little but of order out of the
executive branch of government, through restructuring.
And the little things that give me personal satisfaction to this day. I
don't know whether you ever read the book The Longview.
There's a summary, admittedly put together by one of our
staff, of our administration. I'll give you a copy of
it— and it's basically a synopsis of
what we did in various departments, environmental law, roads, things
like that. And there's a chapter on little things. And
I'll give you a quick example. And to this day, every time I
go to Ocracoke, I take pride, I go by and see that little school there.
Well, I didn't build the school. Hyde County, of course, is
an economically poor county—rich in many ways,
but economically poor. And they don't have enough students
out on Ocracoke to have a valid school. So they finally got up some
money to build, somehow or another, through grants and all that, to
build a nice modern schoolhouse, grades one through twelve, I
think—at that time it might have been one through
seven, because they could take them by ferry to Hatteras. Anyway, nice
new modern house, but it didn't have any equipment. They
spent all the money they had to build the building, together with the
federal grants. And they pleaded with me to try to help them and Craig
Phillips, who was Secretary of Public Instruction at that time, told me
about the situation, and said, "You know, they've
got this nice modern school there, they've got some good
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- ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
…and I said, "Can't we find some money
somewhere to buy some equipment, some visual aids, projectors,
audiovisual stuff?" And he said,
"I've got my people looking, we just
don't have any." And I said, "I tell you
what we'll do." I said, "All these people,
these companies, have these big contracts with schools.
They're making a pile of money off the state. What
we're going to do, we're going to call them in
here and say, ‘Now, you can afford to give a projector or two
to this school, and you can afford to provide some blackboards, we
called them then, chalkboards.’ And on down the line. And
say, ‘If you don't, you better be careful about
where you think you're going to get your next contract. And
if you do, it doesn't mean you're going to get the
next contract, but you're going to get a lot of good
publicity out of it.’ " And that's why,
at that time, that became of the best-equipped schools in North
Carolina. Well, that gave me immense satisfaction.
Another was getting a water system for a little community way up in the
mountains, who had the mica mines up there, close down. And with it, the
water system. So the only way they could get water was walking up to the
springs in the mountains and bringing the water
down. They didn't qualify for a federal program, any
particular program. But we patched together—I put
one person full-time on that, and we patched together enough federal
programs to get them a water system up there. For ten, fifteen years
after I left the governor's office I would get a letter every
year, on the anniversary date of the opening of that water system,
thanking me for what we did. Well, most other parts of the state
didn't know and didn't care about all that, but it
gave me a big satisfaction, because to me, that exemplified what
government can do for people.
And I have a very strong feeling that that's the purpose of
government: to help those who, for whatever reason, cannot find the
resources to help themselves. People in this state, they will help
themselves if they can, but when they can't, seems to me the
government has a responsibility to step in. And all those in this day
and time who talk about getting government off their backs, less
government, that means they've already got theirs and they
don't give a damn about whether the others are going to get
theirs or not.
I know in the community college system, we had fifty-eight community
colleges. Fifty of them had small business centers; we
couldn't get enough money for a small business
center at each of these colleges. Now,
those—at first, everybody got behind it,
"We want this," and they supported it in the
legislature, all the colleges. And finally, fifty of them got theirs,
and the rest of them, they said, "Well, we got ours,"
and they wouldn't support it anymore. People get their road
paved, then, fine, and they don't care what the hell for a
road bond issue—they got theirs.
That's human nature. So what you have to do is be on constant
lookout, trying to protect the interests of those who don't
have a voice and—yeah, you're going to
help the others too, but you don't have to give them as much
attention, cause they're going to get theirs.