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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sanford's successors prove disappointing allies of the North Carolina Fund

Politics came into play in the selection of Terry Sanford's successor as chairman of the board of the North Carolina Fund, Esser remembers. The choice was J. C. Brown, who Fund members hoped would use his influence with Governor Robert W. (Bob) Scott. Scott did not prove an imaginative governor, Esser believes, at least in part because he installed his campaign staff in government positions. Both Scott and his successor, Dan K. Moore, proved disappointing allies of the Fund.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. 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

FRANCES WEAVER:
How about J.C. Brown?
GEORGE ESSER:
When we got to the point where Terry was going to retire as chairman, the question is who would succeed Terry as chairman. And I remember the meeting where we discussed [unclear] at the Grove Park Inn. And Ierry suggested J.C. J.C. was then executive of the Iarheel Elective Membership Corporation; the Coops, which were then much more liberal force in this state because of J.C. I would add. They were perceived as a more liberal board, and actually, they provided the first dollars that Bob Scott had to run for governor. And I guess that Ierry proposed J.C. because it would ensure that we would have support from Bob Scott. And that was true. I mean, now, by the time Scott was elected, we were through. But some things that we regarded as important were still on the…. J.C. and I became very good friends and I used to see…. J.C. then moved to washington and for a while his office was close to mine and we used to meet at a little bar for lunch. Sometimes, accidentally. But we have seen J.C. several times since we've been back. But he was greatly disappointed by Bob Scott as governor. And he was also disappointed that the elective coops were going much more conservative than he, which is why he left and went to washington. I think that now the Bergman administration in washington of the coops is much more to his liking. But…
FRANCES WEAVER:
What do you suppose he expected from Bob Scott that Bob didn't do?
GEORGE ESSER:
Well, you see, I'll tell you another story. J.C. called me in the fall of 1968. It was after the election; after Nixon won and Scott had won. And he said, "George, would you go with me to see Bob Scott?" He said, "Ben Rooney and all of those people are fine, but Bob needs the equivalent of a Tom Lambeth and a Joel Fleishman and a John Healy in the office if he's going to be a great governor." So we went over and Bob had been given a little office in what was then the new Department of Administration building. And we sat down and spent an hour and a half, I guess and Bob was very…. And J.C. said, "You're going to be a great governor, but you're going to have to first find employment for your election staff that permits you then to step out and find the smartest young people that you can to run your office." And Bob said, "I think you're absolutely right." And then turned right around and maybe with one exception, put the election staff right in the office. And while there were some things that Bob did like the University and reorganization of state government generally, he didn't have the imaginative new ideas that the Sanford administration had. And J.C. was very, very disappointed. very, very disappointed.
FRANCES WEAVER:
That's interesting. George, we talked about Paul Novasocker the other day.
GEORGE ESSER:
Oh, one other…. I left one other member out. When Dan Moore was elected, it was a great shock, you know, to Rich and to Terry to lose, but when Dan was elected Terry went to Dan and said, "Now look, we've got the North Carolina here. It's reaching out to the problems of poor North Carolinians, black and white, and if you don't want to be on the board, how about let's making a spot for Mrs. Moore. And Dan agreed. So Janelle came on the board. And there was one member of the board who knew wheeler very well. Gerald Cowan who is a retired banker from Asheville; a very nice guy. Not a strong man, but very nice. So she came on the board and she came to the meeting in the spring and then for a variety of reasons, we didn't have any meetings until the fall. And that fall, you know, really began with both state and national activism efforts and she resigned in…. I forget; November or December. And so I called Gerald and Gerald called Janelle and so finally, she wrote me a letter and said that it was not because of the program or anything. She just felt that there were other things that demanded her time. But that she thought we were doing a good job and so forth. And then, dipping down briefly to Dan; Dan was never very supportive of the Fund—and he was certainly a traditionalist—but he was very conscious of the fact that we were a non-profit corporation. And people would call him and say, "You've got to do something about the North Carolina Fund." And he would say, "You've got to go see the board of the North Carolina Fund." He said, "There's nothing I can do."
FRANCES WEAVER:
It's not part of state government.
GEORGE ESSER:
It's not part of state government. So I respected that and I had a chance to tell that to Dan before he died. He and Janelle were at…. Soon after we came back, the North Caroliniana Society gave a dinner and honored John [unclear] And Dan and Janelle were there and I told Dan that I very much remembered affectionately, his not trying to bring a heavy hand to state government. But you know, he was not the worst governor we've ever had.