Past Times

NC’s 1977 Inaugural Ball was an extravaganza

Reynolds Coliseum was transformed for Gov. Jim Hunt’s first inaugural ball.
Reynolds Coliseum was transformed for Gov. Jim Hunt’s first inaugural ball. N&O File Photo

This weekend’s inaugural festivities might not have gone as planned, but here’s a look back 40 years to the first inauguration of Gov. Jim Hunt, as N&O writer Stephanie Stallings described all the excitement of going to the ball.

Eleven-year-old Rachel Hunt, daughter of Gov.-elect James B. Hunt Jr., licked her fingers while munching a tiny piece of fried chicken and proceeded to explain why her family was an hour late for the reception at the Hilton Inn which preceded the N.C. Inaugural Ball Friday night.

“My uncle had to go back and get some dresses,” explained Hunt’s most talkative child, who was more interested in discussing her ride in a Highway Patrol car to the reception for about 300 visiting dignitaries and guests.

“The people thought we were arrested,” Rachel said merrily, to the dismay of her hostess, Mrs. Ann Lassiter, a receptionist at the legislative building who was responsible for the four Hunt children Friday night.

Mrs. Lassiter explained that a relative had to make a return trip to Wilson to pick up a dress for one of the children’s cousins but that heavy traffic and the large number of people in the Hunt party also were reasons for the delay.

Apparently, even the state’s new first family is not immune from the frenzy involved in dressing parents and children for a formal event. Matters get even more complicated when 17 Hunt relatives are simultaneously trying to get ready.…

But when the family was presented just two hours later to a crowd of nearly 10,000 at Reynolds Coliseum, no one would have suspected that the day had been anything less than letter perfect.

A long, standing ovation greeted Rachel and eight-year-old Elizabeth, who held hands tightly as they walked down the long center aisle lined with characters from the state’s outdoor pageants, which served to recognize the state’s cultural resources.…

One of the coldest people at the ball had to be N.C. School of the Arts student Rodger Gibson, a scantily dressed Lumbee Indian representing Lumberton’s outdoor drama, “Strike at the Wind.”

Whether it was an Indian, a Quaker played by John Wilson of Snow Camp’s “Sword of Peace,” or Phil Quidley, who plays Gov. John White in “The Lost Colony,” the characters all said they appreciated the opportunity to participate in the ball.

An entertainment program representing the state’s arts and folk life replaced the traditional inaugural figure this year and starred Tar Heel native Andy Griffith, who emceed the program.

He responded to the audience’s applause with his well-known “I appreciate it.” Later he added, “Everything I am, I owe to this fine state.”

At one point in the program, it became evident that even Griffith’s charm could not placate the youngest Hunt daughter. Overwhelmed by the elaborate scale of events and hordes of photographers, she started sobbing and left the ball with a friend for a short time.

Affection for the Hunt family was evident everywhere from the $500 patron ticket-holders to the spectators who paid $3 to watch the show. The N&O Jan. 8, 1977

The ball went on past the Hunt children’s bedtime, but as N&O editor Marilyn Spencer described, it was quite a hit with the grownups.

Demand for tickets to the affair was so great that … sponsors decided to have a second simultaneous ball in the NCSU Student Center. The 600 persons purchasing student center ball tickets were allowed to see the entertainment and ceremony portion of the main ball, then were escorted to the second ball for dancing to the music of the Tommy Dorsey Band.

It was the first time that two balls have ever been held.…

All eyes were on the state’s future first family. The governor-elect escorted Mrs. Hunt, who wore a pale dust gold gown designed by Raleighite Jim Stronach. Their four children … shared the spotlight with them.

The audience stood to sing “The Old North State.” The N&O Jan. 8, 1977

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