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. As our Carolina family seeks ways to stay connected during these challenging times, board members are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.
“The average student is very important to the University”
Jan. 14, 2017
Let me start by introducing my wife who has just arrived. She has slipped in, and for 35 years she has shown up to encourage me and to muffle my comments. I graduated in 1980. I was going to be premed and become a prominent physician. After a semester, I realized I was going to be a salesman forever. I did get a BS in business administration. I raised a son, Scott, who graduated from here [in 2010]. My youngest son, Daniel (we all have a youngest son), to whom I gave 16 choices in the UNC System of where he could go to school, and he chose the University of Alabama! He majored in social and did very well.
I am president of Gunn & Associates in Burlington, and I also develop urgent care centers in Virginia and just obtained rights to develop them in North Carolina. I have a passion for UNC athletics, and I also enjoy traveling. I have a pretty good golf game, and I like the beach. I love volunteering like so many of you, none more than my passion for the Young Men’s Christian Association, which I have served as president in Burlington for five years. In my free time, I thought it would be a good idea to serve as a North Carolina state senator part time, and I can tell you that is probably not true. But I do enjoy it.
The chairmanships of the committees just came out, and I will be serving on the Senate Commerce Committee, Agricultural, Natural and Economic Resources Committee, and I will be doing the budget and appropriations for them, which is a new venture for me. I also will be serving on the Transportation Committee. I have a new head scratcher. I will now be on the Judiciary Committee. I am not sure why, nothing against my judicial friends. But there is nothing more miserable than sitting in a committee with a bunch of attorneys that have an ego because they have been elected and listen to them debate wonderful legislation that I have no clue what it means. They are either doing that to punish me and hope that I will leave one day or raise my hand and have a voice of reason like normal people that don’t understand “legaleze.”
Doug Dibbert ’70 calls me and says will you share your story? I said, “Eeeew, this is a good distinguished group of medical, legal and philanthropic professionals with lots of letters out beside their names, and I look at these cards and see ‘Rick Gunn ’80’ and started to realize this could be very difficult because I wasn’t sure I had a PG version of my story. I actually started and wrote out a few stories and then threw them away.
I will tell you I am “Joe Student.” You all know “Joe Plumber”? Well, I’m “Joe Student.” You look back and see the 2.75 GPA, that was Rick Gunn. I’m the guy that wanted to play intramurals, wanted to be a frat guy, blue blazer, khakis, blue starched shirt, loafers, no socks. Some things never change. Right out of the handbook. The average student is very important to the University. It’s up to us to make sure everybody, whether they are at the upper or lower end of the spectrum as students, we have an obligation to give them every opportunity to advance and give something back to their community. So you are looking at the average guy.
I went into the Beta house, pledged and all that, and when I came back for my sophomore year and moved into the Beta house — literally, I never left. I stayed there until my senior year. Ran the house, rented it out, loved Carolina, just never left the school, literally. Now, I worked at the Carolina Coffee Shop, so for some of you who may be a little older than me, who saw that guy who looked like he had just gotten out of bed, maybe stayed up until 4 a.m. and was now serving you eggs, well — that was me. I was there every Sunday.
First of all, I met my lovely wife, Gayle. She was a Tri Delta, and I was a Beta — you know, Tri Deltas and Betas always get together. I got introduced to her on sort of a blind date and saw her one or two dates, then never saw her for another year. And almost one year to the day we are having our Tri Delta Beta bid night, so Tri Deltas are coming over. Here I come walking out of the Beta House and run straight into Gayle Gunn; at that time, she was Gayle Calder [class of ’81]. I kind of looked up with that “hey it’s me” look, and if you could have seen that look on her face. I gave her that sweet little smile and that “hey do you want to hang out” look, and she has hung around for 35 years. Bless your heart, and thank you so much, Gayle!
I did get involved in Greek relations because I was there all the time. I went to all the meetings and tried to make sure Greeks were doing what they were supposed to do. I became friends with Jim Phillips ’79, who is now heading up the transition team for Gov. Roy Cooper ’79 (’82 JD). And he came to me and said, “Rick, I know you are around, and I want you to craft a letter to send to incoming freshmen about student conduct, ethics and personal responsibility, and let’s mail it out from you.” I’m good at math and good at drinking beer but wasn’t good at crafting a letter, so I did take it back to my high school English teacher and let her correct it and sent that out.
After that, he said, “I want you run the summer student activities program. We’ve never had one, and these folks who come to summer school need something to do. I’m going to fund it for you.” I asked him what he wanted me do with them. He said to just use your own discretion as to what would be good. I told him I could do that. I had about $8,000, and we had a nice function down at the Pit — ice cream social, DJ, literally hundreds of people. It cost a couple thousand dollars, and everyone was happy. I thought maybe we should turn it up a notch. So I thought there are no restrictions on what we can do so why don’t we just have a little function at the Beta house. I thought, we are all adults, and we are all 18 now, adults, have a keg. So, what’s an afternoon party without a band? So that turned into the infamous Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, with 26 kegs of beer, and we had the time of our life.
Now, Jim, who was not there, called and said, “I heard you had a little party down there.” I said, “Jim, we had a heck of party, there were thousands of people there.” He said, “Sure appreciate you taking care of all those people there. Did you have any rushees there by any chance?” I said, “Jim, you know I wouldn’t have any rushees to a party there at the Beta house before we start rush.” We had about 100 there. He just started laughing, and said, “That was a great idea, and you did a good job.”
We won’t talk about the Beat Duke parade, where we burned the float up in the front yard, or the Phi Delta beer chug, where the Betas finished second to the grad school attorneys. How do you lose a beer chug to grad school attorneys? Does anyone remember you could carry a cooler into Kenan Stadium? It was fine. We took one of the 64-gallon coolers and took that right in. I was devastated my senior year when they said you could only take a Playmate cooler in. But that was the right choice in the change of legislation. As we look at numbers, never underestimate what policy does in helping or hurting our institution.
Finally, let me say I did begin to do very well in my grades. The “UNC” name carries very well. I bleed Carolina blue. We are the flagship. We have responsibilities that come with that. When you graduate and become an alumnus, it is instilled in you for the rest of your life. The things I see us doing really set us apart from so many others.
I would be remiss if I didn’t stay something legislatively, since I’ve been there seven years. We are fortunate to have 11 senators with degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, close to that in the House — over 22 percent graduated from UNC. We need to take advantage of that, to understand that having that many friends who appreciate this institution and Carolina hit on it today. It is a unique opportunity for us to make a difference — 50 of the finest individuals I have ever had the pleasure to serve with.
And let me tell you something. Don’t pay attention to what the paper says. The papers are not necessarily our friends, and this is not political. Papers are editorials. They are not a newspaper anymore. They just have to be printed. You shouldn’t have an editorial on the front page. They have come after us, and they will continue to do that because it is one way they can sell papers. It has become an editorial piece. And we need to understand that. And there is another side to this. Because of the media and access to media, we have a bad habit today because we have so many opportunities to look at so much media. We can surround ourselves with only the news we want to hear. My wife laughs and says, “Turn on Rachel Maddow for a while, Rick, you need another perspective.” Then I listen to that for a while, and I turn it back to Fox. We are starting to create this divide and looking at media that just makes us feel good. Let’s understand that we need to look at media from all sides, because we will be better for that.
We are going to have a great year economically. We have an opportunity as a UNC System. You have the best people representing you from a lobbyist standpoint and an advocacy standpoint. They are doing a terrific job, and they all had to look in the mirror. I know I did in my business. I want to see us to move Chapel Hill ahead. We are the pacesetters and policy setters. A percentage point in revenues, a point up or down, while it may seem dramatic, it is nothing compared to policy. It is nothing. Tom, if I change the word “shall” to the word “may,” does that change legislation? Always remember, when we look at numbers, don’t forget what policy does to help our institution.
One of the best bills I ever got to run was the joint resolution in 2015, Senate 403 joint resolution, honoring the life of Dean Edwards Smith. What a day having his family in the General Assembly. We can learn a lot from him. Let me tell you what I did. In the statute I worded it like this: “The General Assembly honors Dean Edwards Smith, former head coach of the men’s basketball team at UNC-Chapel Hill, expresses the appreciation of this state for his many contributions to the game of basketball as well as education and social improvement.” That, to me, was a great day, and a great bit of legislation.
Finally, I extend an invitation to every single one of you. If you are on Stadium Drive on game day, and you say, “Who is that? Where is that music coming from? What is that inflatable tent?” That is the infamous “Gunn Woods.” You are all invited to come by. I’ll never forget Chancellor Thorp ’86. I’ll be set up out there from 8:30 to noon, listening to the bell ring and the wind, and here comes Chancellor Thorp, and I say, “Chancellor,” and he says, “Senator Gunn.” I say, “This is what I do — this is what you get from me.” He says, “Rick, it is really amazing. I have walked by this place for years — so many ball games, and I always said, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” And he says, “I am always afraid to ask!”
Come see me … I love being a part of this group. What you do is fantastic. We have something special at Chapel Hill. Let’s keep moving it forward.