State Archives of North Carolina
“I regard a comprehensive educational program, properly implemented with road, health, and utilities programs, as the soundest insurance policy the state of North Carolina can underwrite for the protection of its future.”
—Kerr Scott, Inaugural Address, 1949

How Do You Build a State?

The rural North Carolina that Jim Hunt was born into in 1937 lacked access to quality health care, public education, and basic infrastructure. Only 3 percent of the farms in the state had electricity.

The Hunt family believed in progressive reform, organizing farm families to improve community outreach and education. Hunt’s father—who graduated with a degree in wildlife management from the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering, as NC State was then known—worked for the Soil Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His mother, a teacher, earned a degree in education from the North Carolina College for Women, now UNC–Greensboro.

The family worked on populist Kerr Scott’s 1948 gubernatorial campaign. In Scott’s “Go Forward” electoral platform, he advocated for rural electrification. Scott’s push to pave farm-to-market roads was to have a profound influence on the young Jim Hunt. Later, Scott made Hunt’s mother the first woman appointed to the North Carolina State Board of Health.

Go Forward with Scott for Governor campaign pin Graham for U.S. Senate campaign pin

With the belief that smart, hardworking people can use the political system to work together, Jim Hunt’s career and agenda—championing education, technology, economic growth, and entrepreneurial partnerships—sprouted from these roots and helped seed a fairer, more prosperous state.

“North Carolina is known as ‘The Good Roads State.’ That is more than a reputation. It is a tradition. Fifty years ago Governor O. Max Gardner took over the old country roads. Thirty years ago Governor Kerr Scott got the farmers out of the mud.”
—Jim Hunt, speaking at the Pitt County Chamber of Commerce, 1981

In the 1940s Jim Hunt’s father, James Baxter Hunt, and mother, Elsie Brame Hunt, helped organize local Grange groups, which were service organizations promoting the economic and social well-being of small agricultural communities. Demonstrating leadership potential from an early age, Hunt followed in his parents’ footsteps as a member of the Grange Youth, which provided opportunities to develop life skills and leadership through various educational programs.

In 1955 Hunt was elected as the state president of the Future Farmers of America. Through the FFA, he learned parliamentary procedure and public speaking.

Governor Hunt's personal collection
Hunt (left), age thirteen, and Junior Grangers from Rock Ridge, with Governor and Mrs. Kerr Scott at the Executive Mansion in October 1952.


“He had a missionary zeal, like his circuit-riding great-grandfathers. His father had it about improving the land. His mother, tutoring the farm boys everybody else had given up on. He believed that everybody can improve, and your job is to help them.”
—Stephanie Bass, Hunt’s deputy press secretary, 1977–1981, from Jim Hunt: A Biography, 2010