Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Meet North Carolina's Thomas Jefferson

Remarks by NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin
at NC Center for Voter Education/Spectrum of Democracy Dinner:
Presentation of Robert Morgan Service Award to John L. Sanders
Raleigh, NC
21 February 2013

President John F. Kennedy once invited all of the Nobel Prize laureates to meet with him in Washington, DC. He most famously said to the assembly:

“I think that this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

By no means am I comparing any of us to Nobel prize winners this evening!

And this is not the White House, though we are not far from the Governor’s Mansion.

That anecdote is appropos tonight because, in my personal opinion, John Sanders is the closest we will get to Thomas Jefferson in our lifetimes. If you know him, then you know what I mean.

Like Jefferson, John Sanders has mastered and has a cultivated an interest in so many things – from architecture, art, books, and groundskeeping, to history, politics, and oratory, as well as music, historic preservation, writing, and the law. He has written extensively on the subject of North Carolina law and is known as a preeminent scholar of the Constitution, especially of North Carolina’s governing document, the 1971 version of which he crafted for ultimate approval by our legislators and voters.

John has walked with Presidents, Governors, legislators, Chancellors, and royalty, but has treated them in the same manner as he has treated over six decades of college students at the University of North Carolina: with respect, interest, and friendship, and with his hope that they will take every day to learn more about the human condition, how to make our corner of the world a better place, and never to forget the least among us or those that came before us.

John, like Jefferson, has promoted public education. As you will note from his biography, he has spent virtually all of his adult life with the our University system, serving in various administrative and other positions, roles where he helped integrate our campuses, and grow them in many respects for this new century that we’re in. At the Institute of Government, now known as the School of Government, he helped educate public officials as to their duties and answered questions from lawmakers and the public at large. With his correlation of the University’s mission and the duty of every able-bodied citizen to be civicly engaged, John Sanders lives by the tenet of Jefferson: A nation which seeks to be both uneducated and free, wants something that never was and never will be.

And like many folks gathered here, he is a strong proponent of keeping the cost of public education – especially at our state’s institutions of higher learning – at the lowest cost practicable. Why? Because keeping the cost of higher education low translates into more and better educated citizens, and ultimately more productive and more civic-minded citizens, and ensures all have a better opportunity of economic and personal success in life, whether one hails from rural Four Oaks or Hamlet or the urbane Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

John, again like Jefferson, is an ardent believer in public service. Besides his own tenure in the U.S. Navy Reserves and with the Institute of Government at Chapel Hill, every year he would encourage college students to consider how and why they might do their part for their generation. He asked them their opinions and their plans, prodded them to think about things differently, and to consider varying viewpoints, and to hone the best ways to articulate those philosophies.

The NC Association of Student Governments even created the JOHN L. SANDERS STUDENT ADVOCATE AWARD years ago. Also known simply as the Sanders Award, it was established in the 30th Session of the Association in honor of John Sanders, Director Emeritus of the UNC Institute of Government. That Award is to be bestowed annually on one or more public figures for service to the students of the University of North Carolina, to recognize those who advocate for the best interests of North Carolina’s students and thereby contribute to the quality of their lives. The Sanders Award shall be the highest honor bestowed by the Association upon a member of the University of North Carolina community.

Through his friendship and attention, John has fostered decades of North Carolinians to serve at every level of government, starting with student government.

A testament to his impact is found amidst the pages of a book that Patrick Wooten, Ted Teague and I coordinated and co-edited over 20 years ago. In that book, titled “North Carolina’s ‘Invisible Hand’, a phrase associated with 18th century economist Adam Smith, friends of John Sanders wrote about what he meant to them in their respective generations. I encourage you to check it out at the State Library, or over at UNC. (By the way, because it is a now considered a reference book, you can’t actually check it out of the library but you are encouraged to review it and learn even more about John.)

More present proof of his impact than that two decades-old book is found by looking at the gathering of students joining us tonight from the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC. At least ten current students and at least ten more alumni members of the University who interacted with John over the years are here tonight to show their respect, admiration and love for our friend.

For many of us, John is not just a friend but a surrogate father and mentor.

Personally I can never thank him enough for taking time to teach me more about North Carolina, the University and its traditions; helping me – inspiring me – to do what I believe to be right, and to know that there is always more to learn, more books to read, and more friends to make and more to do for our great State.

He has been there, like a father, when I graduated from college and law school; became engaged and married; bought my first house and began a family; started businesses and ran for public office; and even when my own grandfather and father passed away, he took the time to be with my family. In times of loss and love and learning, John has been there.

And he’s been there for many others. And he has always been there for North Carolina.

On par with his belief in public education and public service, John has been passionate about civic engagement and voter education, and promoting a stronger, more vibrant, more participatory democratic republic. (Note I didn’t say “democracy”. He would most certainly counsel me to say, “Wayne, we are a republic, not a direct democracy.”

Bill Friday, the late President Emeritus of the University of North Carolina, reflecting upon John’s many career milestones, said:

“Many North Carolinians serve the State with great devotion; none has served more effectively or with greater distinction than you. The General Assembly, the State Capitol, art and artifacts, the performing arts, the University, the history and records of the State, the Institute, public schools and at least seven Governors have all benefited from your wisdom.”

For these reasons and more, it is my honor to recognize this year’s recipient of the Robert Morgan Service Award: John Lassiter Sanders.

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John Sanders coordinated a visit by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the UNC campus over 65 years ago. Here he is with Roosevelt. With him is his wife, Ann.

To view a special video honoring John Sanders, go to this link here.

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