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Henry's Highlights
Friday, March 26, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

'No fear' leadership the right style for ECU


It is Founders Week at East Carolina University, a time to reflect on the past and honor those who had the forethought to make this school what it is today. With a new chancellor coming on board it is also a great time to review lessons learned.

The kickoff event on Monday morning for Founders Week included a series of videotape interviews with Dr. Leo Jenkins. The interviews were taped at various times and various stages of the ECU School of Medicine’s development.

There was one chat between Dr. Jenkins with Dr. William Laupus, dean of the school. In the background was the steel frame of the construction of the Brody Building which would house the first medical school in the east.

My favorite interview with Dr. Jenkins was done a few years after the med school had become reality. It was Leo pontificating about how the med school was fought for and won in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Classic Leo. He spoke of those across the state who had helped and those who had worked against his efforts to bring a medical school to ECU. There he was, naming names, including governors and other UNC system administrators. No fear. Calling it like he saw it.

He talked about those who thought he was nuts to try and bring a med school to Greenville. He told the story of meeting someone on the beach in Carteret County one day. This high ranking state official was complaining that a med school in Greenville made no sense.

Dr. Jenkins’ response? “If you have a heart attack right here, right now, you’ll have to be flown to Chapel Hill and you might not make it. If we had medical care of equal quality in the east we could save your life.”

You have to love that spirit. It is what made ECU what it is today.

There is no question that Leo Jenkins’ tenacity in fighting for the School of Medicine was his finest hour. Building an athletic tradition at ECU was a very close second. In the 'sixties and early 'seventies, he often said that Pirate football would one day be the best in the state.

The point is that this man would never accept no for an answer against insurmountable odds. The entire university and eastern part of the state were willing to rally around him because of it.

We’ve lost that.

The last few years have been riddled with in fighting among our own, unsteady leadership and unclear goals.

It is time to learn from Leo and make ECU what it can be.

A new chancellor takes the reigns on June 1. If first impressions mean anything, Dr. Steven Ballard is a winner.

Interim Chancellor William Shelton has performed a great service for our school, but the search committee, Board of Trustees and University President Molly Broad made the right move.

Dr. Ballard comes to ECU at a time when our constituency needs to turn the page and look toward a new day. As a large university benefactor was recently overheard saying, “Dr. Ballard comes here with no friends and no enemies.”

That, in itself, is a step in the right direction, considering how things have gone the last 18 months. It is up to all of us to work together and assure that Dr. Ballard will be successful for our university and our region. It is up to him to lead.

It would be unfair to compare Dr. Ballard or anyone else to Leo Jenkins. He must be given the opportunity to make his own mark and chart the course for ECU.

However, it would be wise for our all of us, including our new chancellor, to review and remember how Leo galvanized the region, took on the obstructionists and turned the concept of an East Carolina University medical school into a thriving, life-saving success.

When looking back at those historic times in the evolution of ECU, it is also important to recall Leo's calculated decision to boost the school's commitment to big-time intercollegiate sports and the subsequent emergence of Pirate athletics — as Leo correctly envisioned — as a lightning rod for exposure and a rallying point around which all university interests would rally.

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02/23/2007 10:13:19 AM

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