Retired Legislator Gene Arnold Awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Gene Arnold, who attended Wilmington College and served five terms in the N.C. House of Representatives, was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Roy Cooper in recognition of his contributions to public service. The award, presented to Arnold in August, is among the highest honors a North Carolina governor can confer.

Arnold was elected to the General Assembly in 1992 and became the first Republican to represent Nash County since Reconstruction, filling the seat vacated by Cooper when he became a state senator. His service included advocacy in education, the juvenile justice system and revised ethical standards for lobbyists.

The Rocky Mount resident attended Wilmington College from 1955-56 and served on the UNCW Board of Visitors from 1998-2003. Although he left after a year to pursue a business opportunity, Arnold fondly remembers William Randall, who was dean of Wilmington College at the time and president from 1958-68.

“The college was so small that everyone got to meet Dr. Randall,” Arnold said. “It was almost as if he knew every student’s background.”

As a lawmaker, he played an integral role in legislation that established the ABCs of Public Education, a system for evaluating public schools that was used as a role model in other states, and worked to tighten ethics rules governing lobbyists.

One of his most memorable experiences involved explaining how laws are made to a class of fourth-graders. When the class asked him to help them make the sweet potato the state vegetable, he ushered the bill through the House, and the students lobbied the Senate for passage. Not long after, fellow legislators had a load of sweet potatoes delivered to his desk.

When he declined to run for a sixth term, Arnold attracted regional and national media attention by refunding his remaining campaign funds to donors. “It wasn’t my money, it was their money,” he said.

His dedication to education continues today. He is a member and former chair of the NC Public Schools Forum board and served on the board of the James B. Hunt Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy for six years. Arnold also has served as an education panelist for NC SPIN, which airs a weekly TV discussion of state politics and issues.

Arnold left Wilmington College to become co-owner and later owner of a restaurant in Rocky Mount and then established a career with Hardee’s, retiring as a senior vice president. He met his wife, Lynne, while attending the college.

-- Tricia Vance 

 Gene Arnold leans on column outside the Fisher Student Center.

Former state Rep. Gene Arnold, who attended Wilmington College, was honored for his public service and dedication to public education.