‘My way of paying back’

Jan. 04, 2014 @ 01:23 PM

Raymond Stone’s family history is intertwined with the history of Vance and Franklin counties.

More recently, his professional history is intertwined with the creation and development of the North Carolina Community College System.

“My people came to Franklin County and Granville County in the 1750s,” Stone said. “That was the Stone side of my family.”

But the other side of his family became involved in 1780, when “my triple-great-grandfather on the Hayes side bought land from my triple-great-grandfather on the Stone side,” he said.

Intermarriages of those two sides of his family over the years allow Stone to claim kinship with a dozen or more family names in the area.

“I’m related to every Stainback in Vance County,” he said, as an example of those relationships.

Stone grew up in Rocky Ford and Epsom, so he counts both Vance County and Franklin County as home. When he was 14, the family moved south of Louisburg.

Stone graduated from Louisburg High School in 1943 at age 16, but college was out of the question.

“We had no money, so I worked on the farm for a year,” he said.

He saw the G.I. Bill as an avenue to higher education, so he convinced his father to sign for him to enlist in the Navy even though he was just 17. After he was discharged 2½ years later, he attended Wake Forest College and received a bachelor’s degree.

“I intended to go to law school, but my money ran out,” Stone said.

He took a teaching job at Wallace High School. It was there that he met Rachel Darden Hall, who became his wife. After they were married, he earned a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina and took a job as principal of Wilson Elementary School. He soon returned to Chapel Hill to work on his doctorate, which he received in 1962.

This is where Stone’s personal history becomes intertwined with historic changes in the state’s education system.

The State Board of Education authorized a study of the high school curriculum and Stone was appointed to serve as assistant director of the project.

“My doctoral dissertation was on 10 measures of a strong public school system,” Stone said.

Many of his findings became recommendations in the report of the curriculum study. The study committee traveled the state to share results with citizens, superintendents and school boards.

“We had the governor of North Carolina as our principal speaker,” Stone said.

At a statewide meeting of citizens’ committees in Chapel Hill, the main speaker was James B. Conant, former president of Harvard University, who had received wide recognition for his influential book, “The American High School Today.” He was preceded by Gov. Terry Sanford, who delivered a speech that Stone had helped write.

Recalling the event, Stone said that when Conant spoke, he told the audience that Sanford’s speech was “a landmark in education.”

The result was a substantial change in elementary and secondary education in North Carolina.

But a new issue was coming into focus: education beyond the high school.

“During the 1961 session, Sanford asked Bill Friday and Dallas Herring to the governor’s mansion,” Stone said.

Friday was president of the University of North Carolina. Herring was chairman of the state board of education.

An outcome of that meeting was the Commission to Study Education Beyond the High School. After a year of research, it recommended the creation of a statewide system of community colleges.

As Sanford’s education assistant, Stone helped draft legislation to create the community college system. The first institution created under the new act was Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst.

“I was going to run for state superintendent,” Stone said.

However, those plans changed when he was offered the presidency of Sandhills, a post he held for 25 years until his retirement in 1989.

“Sandhills became a model, not only for North Carolina but all over,” Stone said. “It’s my source of great pride.”

While he was president of Sandhills, he was called on to consult with other community college boards.

“One of those was here in Vance County,” Stone said.

When he met with the Vance-Granville Community College Board of Trustees, he told them, “Find a person with local ties, tell him what you want, and hold him responsible. They went out and got Ben Currin.”

VGCC’s star began rising at that point.

Since he retired, Stone has served interim appointments at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, Cape Fear Academy and Vance Charter School. He served one term as a Franklin County commissioner. He is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Henderson, where he has done “everything but preaching and janitor.” He has served on the state Energy Commission, the Five County Mental Health Authority board of trustees and the Consumer Advisory Council.

“I have 52 years of service to the state and nation, beginning with 2½ years in the Navy,” he said. “These things are my way of paying back some of what was afforded to me.”

Stone recently completed a term as president of North Carolina Senior Democrats.

“My mom and dad were tenant farmers,” Stone said. “They borrowed money from the Land Bank that was created under Franklin Roosevelt, and purchased a farm in Franklin County.”

That experience, plus obtaining his education through the G.I. Bill, convinced him of the value of public investment in people.

The Stones have a grown daughter and son and three grandchildren.

They are planning to move this spring to a retirement community near Asheville, where they will be nearer their children and grandchildren.


Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.