The passing of Raleigh real estate executive J.K. Sherron Jr. last week reminds us that sometimes a group of people come together in a moment in time who later have an enormous influence on the state.
Sherron was part of a group of smart, ambitious country boys attending N.C. State University in the late 1950s who, 20 years later, would be running the state.
There are other such groupings as well.
There was also Bill Friday’s law school study group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the late 1940s. And there was Jesse Helms’ high school band in Monroe in the 1930s.
At the core of the Wolfpack group was Jim Hunt, who grew up on a Rock Ridge farm in Wilson County and who would become a four-term governor and the leader of the Democratic Party.
Hunt was elected student body president in 1957-58. Among his student allies were Phil Carlton of Pinetops, a future N.C. Supreme Court justice and Crime Control Secretary; Eddie Knox of rural Mecklenburg County, a future state senator, gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the powerful Advisory Budget Commission; Tom Gilmore of Julian, a future state House member and future gubernatorial candidate; and Sherron, of Fuquay-Varina, a future state senator.
Sherron was the jock in the group, attending NCSU on a football scholarship. He ran an insurance and real estate development firm in Wake County. But he also remained heavily involved in politics, a Hunt intimate, serving as deputy secretary of administration, director of the State Property Office and director of Purchase and Contract.
“You knew they were going to be leaders of the state,’’ Bill Friday later remarked of the young NCSU men.
You may have also been able to figure out that Friday’s UNC law school study group were future leaders as well. They were older students, mainly veterans of World War II who studied together when out of the classroom, forming life-long friendships.
They included Friday, the future president of the University of North Carolina; J. Dickson Phillips, a future federal judge; Bill Aycock, a future chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill; and Bill Dees and John Jordan, two future chairmen of the UNC Board of Governors. Jordan was also a future state senator. A friend of that group was Terry Sanford, a future governor, senator, and Duke University president. Friday graduated from law school in 1948.
It is not just at colleges that such groups appears.
There was the band at Walter Bickett High School in Monroe. Monroe was a regular cotton town near Charlotte and nearly all the kids were of modest means.
Helms, a future five-term U.S. senator, was the tuba player. He graduated in 1938. Other members of the band included Henry Hall Wilson, who would become White House congressional liaison in the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles, a future businessman and future gubernatorial candidate; and Bud Nance, a future rear admiral and acting national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan.
As with the other groups, such youthful ties would become important in later years.
Nance, who grew up two doors away from Helms, would become Helms’s chief of staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
It helped Erskine Bowles, when he was President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, that his Daddy and Helms were boyhood friends.
Those groups came together by chance. Perhaps young, ambitious people were drawn to one another. In some instances, they helped each other along. But perhaps there was something else as well.
Ray House, the principal and band leader who recruited the young men to join the band, preached to the Depression-era group that while it may have been hard to see right then, they could succeed through discipline and hard work. It worked.