Ben Fountain, former NC community college system president, dies

Ben Fountain, who served as the second president of the N.C. Community College System, was remembered Tuesday at a memorial service in Raleigh.

Fountain, a longtime educator and proponent of accessible higher education, died Saturday at the age of 86.

He was president of the state’s community college system from 1971 to 1978, during a period of expansion and new facilities at a system that would grow to 58 colleges. He advocated for local control and an “open-door policy” for students through low tuition and easy accessibility to campuses close to home.

Born and raised in Rocky Mount, Fountain was educated at UNC-Chapel Hill before a career in public education. He was a high school teacher, an elementary school principal, a school superintendent and a university professor. He was president of Lenoir Community College in Kinston and Isothermal Community College in Spindale.

Scott Ralls, who would follow in Fountain’s path as community college system president, said Fountain heeded the advice of Gov. Terry Sanford, who told him to never forget about the poor.

“Dr. Fountain’s life had tremendous impact on the development of North Carolina higher education, and in the lives of thousands of students spanning across generations and geography,” Ralls, now president of Northern Virginia Community College, posted in an online tribute. “He was one of the most humble great men I ever met. He loved his family, his state, and he championed the idea of broadly available education and made that a reality for so many North Carolinians.”

Fountain is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Norma Fagan Fountain of Cary; four children; eight grandchildren; three great grandchildren; a sister and sister-in-law.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill