Doug Markham ’78 – 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.

“UNC gave me an understanding of a broader world, a foundation from which to deal with the ups and downs of life, and a network of supportive friends with whom I maintain contact today.”

April 13, 2019

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Douglas E. Markham ’78

My Carolina story can be summarized quite simply. First, Carolina has intersected my life at all stages and in a variety of angles. Second, Carolina has been a constant and positive support for me.

Carolina blue permeates all aspects of my life. Like many of you, I have a wardrobe full of Carolina clothing, I drink coffee from a Carolina mug, and I even repainted my house Carolina blue.

When I say all stages of my life, well, to start with I was born at the hospital here, while my dad was a graduate student.

I recall returning here as a child with my family for some visits and drinking from the Old Well.

In elementary school, we took a field trip to the Morehead Planetarium.

When I was a page in high school in the state Legislature, I became aware of the role of the Institute of Government in drafting legislation, and during college I worked at the state Supreme Court through the Institute of Government internship program.

As a junior in high school, I placed first in the statewide Latin contest, and the awards ceremony was here, so I think UNC sponsored those N.C. academic contests. When I enrolled here, I placed out of the foreign language requirement by showing proficiency in Latin. And that is one of my greatest regrets here at Chapel Hill. Back when tuition was $256 for a whole year, I could have studied foreign languages for practically free. Instead, I have spent a fortune trying to learn other languages since I left UNC.

I chose to come to UNC for several reasons. The Morehead Award was a major consideration, but staying in North Carolina near family, and continuing a family tradition of attending UNC, and the chance to be in the Honors Program were all also important. I do sometimes wonder how my life might be different if I had made other choices.

I have quite a few family contacts with this school. My father and younger sister, an uncle, an aunt, and two cousins are all graduates. A cousin works in medical records here today, another cousin worked at the dental school, and another supervises the election polling place on campus.

When I came to visit the campus for my college tour during high school, I stayed with a church friend at Granville Towers. That weekend there was a massive streaking event, with hundreds of students wearing only tennis shoes as they romped across campus. And streaking continued throughout my college years, in the cafeteria, and across a lecture hall, on bikes and roller skates. I never “struck,” but I can imagine how very thankful many of my classmates must be that the iPhone and internet had not yet been invented.

Gender balance changed rapidly during my years here. My sister is just four years older but was unwilling to attend Chapel Hill because the gender ratio was so skewed. I think my class was about 60-40, mostly male. My class was the last class of all-male Morehead Scholars.

I was president of Granville Towers during my years here and vice president of my class, but my primary extracurricular activity was as statewide president of the College Republicans. We advertised using a quote from Barry Goldwater, who for the millennials here was the Republican candidate for president back in 1964. Our posters said: “Politics is a lot like sex. You don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.”

It was not really a joyous time for Republicans on campus. We did have the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, Jim Holshouser, but President Nixon had resigned, then Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. There was only one Republican state senator of 50, and about six Republican state representatives out of 120. The Carolina Union would not even invite conservative speakers, but our student fees paid for Angela Davis and William Kunstler to come lecture.

I was fortunate enough to be in the first class of Morehead-Cain scholars to be funded to travel abroad for independent study, and I made a grand tour of Europe and met with political party leaders from Finland to Spain to discuss gerrymandering and redistricting in their parliaments. Many years later, I came back to North Carolina to join Robinson Everett to challenge gerrymandered congressional districts here.

Partly from that independent study experience in Europe, I believe fervently in the transformative power of travel. That trip and my development here at Carolina gave me the courage in my early 30s to leave a job in law and backpack around the world for a couple of years. I mostly stayed in youth hostels, and on my return, I volunteered and served on the national board for Hostelling International and later led the fundraising campaign for a new hostel in Houston.

That travel experience also inspired me this year to fund a travel grant at Perquimans County High School in Hertford, N.C., and the first recipient will travel next month to Korea and China to study architectural design.

The mid-1970s were a time of great social change. I registered for the draft, drew No. 24, which would have radically changed my life if it had been just a few years earlier, but no one was called up my year, as the Vietnam War was winding down. We could buy beer at age 18, so campus parties sometimes got out of hand. I remember bathtubs filled with cans of beer and ice. There was disco at Manhattan Transfer, platform shoes, Abba, eight-track tape players.

I don’t want to leave the impression that our college time was always blissful. I remember classmates struggling with anorexia, bullying, rape, abortion, depression, suicide and racial tensions. But I do believe the somewhat sheltered, less judgmental, supportive and even protective structure of the University community here at Carolina allowed us to work through these issues with more success than otherwise might have happened. UNC gave me an understanding of a broader world, a foundation from which to deal with the ups and downs of life, and a network of supportive friends with whom I maintain contact today, and who have sent support after hurricanes and in the storms of life.

Many years after we left college, one of my roommates died of AIDS, and my life has been touched by the similar deaths of maybe 100 others, cousins, co-workers, classmates, close friends. But there again, Carolina intersected my world and played a leading role as those in the UNC health professions led improvements in testing, education, treatment and the ongoing research for a cure. As I age, I am thankful that the hospital where I was born has grown into the Carolina research medical center which works to improve the health of our community, addressing not only HIV/AIDS but also diabetes, cancer, burns, memory loss and much more.

So from birth to a hopefully distant death, Carolina remains a constant and much appreciated positive presence in my life.