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Jim Hunt as editor of the student journal, the Agriculturalist, from the 1958 edition of Agromeck, NC State's yearbook.
“My NC State friends and classmates and professors have been my inner core in all that I have done in politics.”
—Jim Hunt, Interview with NC State alumni magazine, 2000

NC State Steps Forward

Teachers and classmates, as well as the school’s emphasis on multidisciplinary, “whole” education, shaped Jim Hunt’s college years. He entered North Carolina State College in 1955 to study dairy husbandry, but switched to a major in agricultural education and trained as a vocational teacher. When Hunt added a master’s degree in agricultural economics, the American Farm Economic Association rated his thesis as one of the three best in the country.

At NC State, political science professor Abraham Holtzman expanded Hunt’s sense of the connection between legislative processes and policy and people’s lives, in addition to the importance of the humanities in a total education. Holtzman had a formative impact on Hunt’s political philosophy.

During Hunt’s first two years at NC State, he’d hitchhike thirty-six hours to visit Carolyn Joyce Leonard at her family’s farm in Iowa. They’d met at a national Grange Youth Conference in Ohio when they were both in high school. In 1958 the couple married at a church in Mingo, Iowa.

North Carolina State penant
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Service Mixed With Study

While a graduate student in Raleigh, Hunt led the successful 1960 “Terry Sanford for Governor” election efforts on campuses across North Carolina. As the sixty-fifth governor of North Carolina (1961–1965), Sanford’s progressive support of public education and civil rights provided an inspiring example for the young Jim Hunt. With the Young Democrats Clubs of North Carolina, Hunt worked on John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, making many political contacts throughout the state.

A Kennedy administration appointment as national college director of the Democratic National Committee moved Hunt to Washington in 1962. His law school studies, begun at UNC–Chapel Hill, became night classes at George Washington University for that year.

Terry Sanford campaing pin Students for Kennedy campaign pin
Don Sturkey © 1960, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill
Don Sturkey © 1960, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Senator John F. Kennedy, Congressman Herbert C. Bonner, and gubernatorial candidate Terry Sanford campaigning at East Carolina College, now East Carolina University, 1960.

After Hunt earned his law degree at Carolina, Quentin Lindsay, a former professor working with the Ford Foundation, recruited him to Nepal from 1964–1966 to help guide the nation through the development of a strategic plan for the implementation of modern agricultural methods.

Hunt returned to his roots in Wilson County in 1967 to practice law. He traveled the state for the Young Democrats Clubs, leading to his election as YDC state president. He spoke at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. In 1970, Governor Bob Scott (Kerr Scott’s son) appointed him to chair a state Democratic Party reform commission. The commission made the party more open to minorities, women, and young people, including lowering the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.

Governor Hunt's personal collection
Hunt worked with Nepalese farmers to modernize their agricultural methods. During their two years in Nepal, the Hunts’ third child, Rachel, was born in a missionary hospital in the capital city of Kathmandu.
Governor Hunt's personal collection
Hunt speaks at a Young Democrats Clubs event. Elected president of the Wilson County chapter in 1967, Hunt became president of the state YDC the following year.
“I knew that, to win, you had to reach across lines, build bridges, get people to work together, so that we could have a broad-based majority.”
—Jim Hunt, speaking about his experience with the Young Democrats Clubs of North Carolina, from Jim Hunt: A Biography, 2010