Governor Jim Hunt
Four historic terms and many years ago, Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. changed the perception of the state. The longest-serving governor in the state’s history (1977-1985, 1993-2001), Hunt led the state through remarkable economic change, education reform and cultural growth.
During his time as governor, Hunt made equal opportunities and civil rights an imperative focus. According to Howard Lee in Jim Hunt: A Biography by Gary Pearce, Gov. Hunt was the “first governor to bring women and minorities, especially blacks, into central roles in government.”
While Hunt was in office, North Carolina installed its first African American cabinet secretary, first African American Court of Appeals judge, first African American Supreme Court Justice and first African American Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Hunt already had pushed for civil rights before becoming governor. As chair of the N.C. Democratic Party reform commission in 1970, Hunt expedited a rewrite of party rules to require more participation by African Americans, women and youth. He also pushed the party to reach out to minority voters.
“I’ve always seen the extension of equal rights to all North Carolinians as one of the most important things you should do as governor,” said Hunt, adding that all people have the capacity to serve in important ways.
Under Hunt’s leadership, the state became known for its knowledge-driven industries, including microelectronics, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and a strong business climate. Hunt’s many successes in state and national education reform include the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and Smart Start, an early childhood education program.
At 75, Hunt shows no signs of slowing down. He has been a partner in the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice since 2001. He is chairman of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy in Chapel Hill and the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University. He and his wife, Carolyn, live on a beef cattle farm in eastern North Carolina. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.