Allen Cobb Jr. ’74 – My Carolina Story

For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings, and we are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.

“My true passion now, however, has been my involvement with the University.”

Oct. 4, 2008

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Allen Cobb Jr. '74

Allen Cobb Jr. ’74

Thanks Randy. Randy, when I got the agenda, it showed I would be speaking before the chancellor — not right after!

If Lloyd Bentsen were here, I’m sure he’d say, “Son, you’re no Holden Thorp.”

My name is W. Allen Cobb Jr. By definition that means my father was W. Allen Cobb Sr. My son’s name is W. Allen Cobb III. There’s not much creativity in my family, so please don’t expect much today.

I was born June 26, 1952. The temperature on that day was a record 103 degrees. It still stands. Some would say the only thing hotter since that day has been the air from my mouth.

I was born and raised in Wrightsville Beach, and except for the years I attended Carolina and then law school, I have lived there all my life. For the last 18 years, I have been a Superior Court judge for the state of North Carolina. I have held court in over 50 counties, mostly in eastern North Carolina. Believe me, I have heard all the excuses and whining.

Every eight years, I have to run in an election, and that can be scary at times. My next election is in 2010.

I have a wonderful wife named Debbie, who many of you have met. She recently retired from Progress Energy. My son got married a year ago. He met his wife right here on campus. They both graduated in 2002 and currently live in Raleigh, where they are working and pursuing their postgraduate education.

Now, my Carolina story. It begins in the mid-’60s. My father graduated from The Citadel in 1938 and from the UNC law school in 1941. As many of you know, The Citadel is the military college of South Carolina. My dad had season tickets to all The Citadel’s home football games. At least three or four times a year, he would take me to Charleston to show me all the advantages of going to a military college and to expose me to the beauty of the city. He really wanted me to go to school down there. He thought what I needed was a military discipline and not the free-wheeling, wild-eyed liberal arts education I might receive from another school.

But we would also go to some Carolina football and basketball games when he could scrounge up some tickets. What a big mistake and huge backfire on his part. I, like the rest of you, fell in love with Carolina instead.

Look, when I was deciding where to go to college, it was during the Vietnam War, and The Citadel was really not that attractive to me — you know, here I was, this cocky blond-haired kid from the beach. I finally told him I thought it was all so beautiful, but that I really didn’t want to go there. Sorry about that, Papa. The whole time he knew, as I knew, that if I could get in, I was going to Carolina. And he was very proud of me when I finally did.

While he was alive, we had some of our best times together right here on campus. I have experienced the same thing with my own son. I have effectively passed the Carolina love affair on to the next generation.

I ended up applying to Wake Forest and Carolina, and I got accepted to Wake Forest first. So, I felt like I’d probably get in here. I waited and waited on Carolina — but still no word. Back then, Wake required you to let them know by a certain date if you were going to attend; if you didn’t, they’d give your spot to someone else. Well, it was down to the wire, and I still hadn’t heard anything.

My father was a state government employee. He was the district attorney for many years. He had a good job but never made a lot of money. My mother did not work. He was a wonderful father, a great guy — and very resourceful. If I had to go to Wake, it was going to cost him some serious money. You know, that public/private thing.

So, the day before the deadline, he took a vacation day and drove up here to the admissions office. He met a nice young lady and said to her, “I really need your help. You people up here are getting ready to cost me a lot of damn money unless you can give me some information. Does my son have a chance to get in up here?” The polite lady excused herself and after a few minutes came back and said, “Sir, his letter is sitting right there in the next batch to be mailed out.” He then said, “Well, can you please tell me what the hell the letter says?” She said, “Oh, I’m sorry, it says he’s been admitted.” He reached over the counter, gave her a big hug and said, “You can sign him up.” So, I was in.

I was here from 1970 to 1974. I was not the most serious or studious guy on campus — I was very social and, at times, somewhat frivolous. I made good grades but had no real direction or serious purpose. I’m confident that if a poll were taken of the people who knew me here as an undergraduate, they would vote me the person least likely to become a senior resident Superior Court judge. Heck, when I run into old classmates now they say, “You do what — ? You must be kidding.”

The early ’70s were interesting. Of course, there were no electronics or wireless devices to speak of. Few students had a car. If they did, they dealt with a gas shortage and long lines.

It was the Vietnam era. Civil disobedience was the order of the day, with protests everywhere, about everything. Nixon won his second term. Watergate occurred, and he resigned. President Ford later pardoned him.

George Wallace got shot, and Patty Hearst got abducted. The DKE house caught on fire. Streaking was the campus fad. The Big Mac was born at McDonald’s.

The hangouts were The Shack, Clarence’s and The Scoreboard. The campus was 80 percent male, not 65 percent female. Drinking beer was legal at age 18. Lite beer had just hit the market.

Bell bottoms were in, and coeds in halter-tops were fun to look at. Jubilee and Apple Chill were going strong. Hectors had just opened. Jeff’s was a favorite spot. The guys still wore coats and ties to football games.

William Friday became president of the newly Consolidated Greater University. Ferebee Taylor replaced Carlyle Sitterson as chancellor. Jesse Helms was first elected to the U.S. Senate.

William F. Buckley, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Sam Ervin, David Brinkley, George McGovern and Gloria Steinham all spoke on campus. The Black Student Movement began.

Chicago, Smokie Robinson, Tina Turner, James Taylor, The Beach Boys, Judy Collins, Earth Wind and Fire and the Pointer Sisters performed here. Olivia Newton-John, Carole King, Janis Joplin, Roberta Flack, The Allman Brothers and Three Dog Night could be heard from record players all over campus.

All in the Family, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H and Sonny and Cher were the most popular TV shows.

Movies favorites were The French Connection, Dirty Harry, The Godfather, Deliverance, The Exorcist, American Graffiti and Jaws.

Muhammed Ali lost the heavyweight title and later won it back. The Carolina Cougars were the pro basketball team in Greensboro. The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland A’s won World Series. The Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers each won Super Bowls. The Bucks, Lakers, Knicks and Celtics were NBA champs.

Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s record. Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in the Olympics.

Woody Durham replaced “The Mouth of the South” Bill Currie as the voice of the Tar Heels. South Carolina pulled out of the ACC.

McCauley, Voight, Miller, Huff, Pratt and Rusnack were the football stars, and their teams went to the Peach and Sun Bowls.

The winner of the ACC basketball tournament was the only team in the conference eligible to go to the NCAA Tournament. Players named Wuycik, Karl, Dedmon, Previs, Chamberlin, McAdoo, Jones, Kupchak, LaGarde, Davis and Kuester were the studs. Under The Dean, their teams won the ACC regular season, the NIT, the ACC Tournament and went to the Final Four in 1972. In 1974, we came back from eight points down, with 17 seconds in regulation, to beat Duke in overtime.

In 1971, I joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and became one of those “frat guys.” My fraternity was rich with tradition, made up of mostly eastern North Carolina guys. I learned a lot there. I think it was probably the most valuable training ground of my life. Even though I lived very much in the moment and without much perspective, I realize now what a great experience it actually was. The interactions I had with the guys on road trips, playing intramurals, eating and just hanging out acting cool together, taught me a lot about friendship, trust and diversity.

I made some very good friends there, many who were from very different backgrounds.  A couple of them are here in this very room — Davy Davison and Jordy Whichard. I met Rusty Carter in 1970. He’s a current member of the Board of Trustees. Last year, we gave him the Distinguished Service Medal, and he and I remain very good friends. Bob Winston is another current trustee who was a Phi Gam. Mike Easley and I hung out a lot and later went to law school together. In 1976, I introduced him to his wife, Mary, who, at the time, was a young assistant district attorney working for my father. And my best friend in the whole world today, I met there in 1970. We remain very close.

I was also a member of the Gorgon’s Head lodge. It was a secret, all-male, intra-fraternity, social organization located on Franklin Street. This group really had no redeeming educational value. But we did have a bunch of fun.

So, despite my self-absorbed world, I somehow got out of school in 1974. My first year out I got a real job with Southern Bell Telephone Co. I also got married. I suddenly found myself in the middle of this thing called “life,” and I was trying to figure it all out. I knew I needed to figure out the best way to use the valuable diploma I had earned but had not yet framed.

Being a lawyer had never been a consideration for me during college, but in the working world I began to think about it more and more. I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else the rest of my life. So, very late in the game and after a lot of scrambling, I got into law school at N.C. Central University. I lived here in Chapel Hill all three years. In 1978, I graduated, passed the bar exam and moved to Wilmington. I started out in a private law practice. I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the state to be a lawyer. That’s when I started taking life seriously and began working very hard. In 1990, I was elected a judge — and here I am today.

Since leaving Chapel Hill, I’ve enjoyed being involved in my community. I’ve served as the president of our Boy Scout council, the N.C. Azalea Festival and the Wilmington Executives Club. I’m currently on the board of trustees of our local community college and on the UNC-Wilmington Board of Visitors. My wife and I are members of the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington.

Since graduation, I have returned to Chapel Hill many times and at the drop of a hat. My family has enjoyed many football, basketball and baseball games. When my son was in school here, I felt like I was reliving college all over. It was a very special time for both of us. He also joined a fraternity and the Gorgon’s Head Lodge as well.

My true passion now, however, has been my involvement with the University. For the last six years, I’ve served on my region’s Morehead-Cain Scholarship Selection Committee. I’ve had a chance to meet some very bright and industrious young students. I’m yet to understand how they fit all they do in to just one day. Each year, I come away from those interviews very excited and pumped up.

I just cycled off the UNC Board of Visitors. It was a great way to stay involved, and I found it to be very informative. And what an honor it is to serve on this great board. I’ve had a chance to learn so much about this great University, and it has all been so exciting.

My Carolina story continues. Debbie and I have really had some special fun here on campus the last couple of years. We fully endowed a scholarship in athletics — in women’s soccer, to be exact. Our scholarship was awarded to Nikki Washington, from Mesquite, Texas. She is a junior this year and plays forward. Nikki, please stand up and let me embarrass you a little. She is just about the sweetest young lady you will ever meet, and we’ve become the greatest of friends. And folks, let me tell you something — she is fast, she can juke, jive and fake — she is very, very good.  he was a freshman All-American and a starter on the 2006 national championship team; the Most Valuable Player of the 2007 ACC Tournament, and she is a current member of the U20 National Team that will play next month for the World Championships in Chile. Nikki, we need for you to bring the world championship medal back to Chapel Hill.

Oh, and by the way, Nikki brought one of her teammates with her. Young lady, would you please stand? This player is from Basking Ridge, N.J., and she is a junior. She also has a 2006 championship ring and is currently a first-team All-American. She was one of just three collegians chosen to play with the U.S. team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She just happened to win a gold medal there. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a gold medal winner or not, but please meet Tobin Heath.

Let’s show these two just how proud we are they are Tar Heels.

So, that’s my abbreviated Carolina story: The way it began; a little bit about what happened to me along the way; and the fun Debbie and I continue to have up here all the time.

Go Heels!  Hark the sound!