John R. Jordan Jr.

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, March 15, 2016

RALEIGH – John Richard Jordan, Jr., age 95, lawyer, long time champion of both public and private higher education, and a widely recognized leader in public life in North Carolina, died March 9, 2016 following a long illness. He was born in Winton in Hertford County, North Carolina, January 16, 1921, the son of John Richard Jordan, Sr., and Ina Love Mitchell Jordan. At the time of his death he resided in Raleigh, North Carolina, and had practiced law in Raleigh for more than half a century.

John R. Jordan Jr.

John R. Jordan Jr.

He is survived by his devoted wife of 33 years, Brenda Moore Jordan of the home: one step-son, Edwin Scott Harlow, of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina: two children by his first wife, Patricia Weaver Jordan, div.: daughter, Ellen Meares Jordan McCarren and husband, Kenneth, of New York City, NY; and son, John Richard Jordan, III of Macon, Georgia; four grandchildren: John Richard Jordan IV, Jordan Patrick McCarren, Frances Marie Jordan Merchwart, and Katherine Buckley McCarren; and three immediate cousins: Mary Elizabeth Miller; William Mills Jordan III, and wife, Bonnie; and Dr. Patricia Jordan Rea and husband.

He was predeceased by his parents and by a sister, Elsie Winnifred Jordan, all of Winton, North Carolina.

After graduating from the public schools in his native Hertford County he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis but was unable to meet the physical and visual requirements. He attended his freshman year at Chowan College, transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from which he graduated in 1942 with a B.A. Degree in Political Science. At the end of World War II he returned to Chapel Hill and entered the School of Law. He was an outstanding student, graduating in 1948 in the top percentile of his class from Law School with a Doctor of Jurisprudence. As a law student he was named to the Board of Editors of the North Carolina Law Review, a position based on academic excellence. At graduation he received the Phi Delta Phi Award for scholarship and leadership in the School of Law. He was magister of the Phi Delta Phi (Legal) Society and represented that organization internationally. In 1955, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Upon graduation from Law School and after serving as law clerk to the Attorney General of North Carolina he declined an offer to join the state’s then largest law firm and opened his own law office in Raleigh where he practiced until his retirement 53 years later. That law office today is the Raleigh law firm is Jordan, Price, Wall, Gray, Jones and Carlton. His dedication to the practice of law is best illustrated by the fact that he twice declined appointments to judgeships in order to remain in the active practice. In 1995 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of North Carolina Lawyers.

His professional affiliations included the American and North Carolina Bar Associations, the International Bar Association and the World Jurist Conference. He was a permanent member of the Judicial Conference of the

United States Court of Appeals, a status conferred in recognition of his meritorious practice in the federal courts. He was a long time member of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society.

During his practice of the law he appeared in the state and federal courts at every level of each, including the United States Supreme Court. He was widely recognized for his expertise in the law of banking and financial institutions. His banking practice covered North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, other states and jurisdictions including practice before the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C. He not only represented individual banks and financial institutions, but also had the distinction to be called upon to serve as special counsel for the North Carolina State Banking commission as well as for the Banking Department of the Commonwealth of Virginia, arguing banking cases before the Supreme Courts of both of those states.

During the course of his long career, John Jordan was called upon by the banking industry to head a movement before the North Carolina Legislature to update the state’s antiquated banking laws and provide a better economic climate in which North Carolina banks could offer greater services to the people of the state. It was a long and arduous task but he was successful. As a result the state of North Carolina became one of the nation’s leading money centers ranking second only to New York in the size and utility of its financial institutions. During this long legislative struggle, the members of the General Assembly themselves voted John Jordan the most effective of all the individuals who appeared before them. At that time the Raleigh News and Observer commented on John’s legislative activities editorially: “He may not be up to what E.F. Hutton claims, but according to a recent survey, when lobbyist John Jordan speaks, about everyone in the Legislature listens.”

John Jordan’s career in politics and public service began in 1956 when he was elected State President of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. In that position he continued rebuilding the organization as initiated by his predecessor and law school classmate Terry Sanford. He published a history of the Young Democratic movement in North Carolina and also edited “Why the Democratic Party” being essays collected from Gerald W. Johnson, Jonathan Daniels, Dr. Frank Graham and others, on the philosophy and purpose of the Democratic Party. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1956. In the presidential campaign that year he served on Adlai Stevenson’s personal national campaign advisory committee and they remained close friends until Stevenson’s death. In 1963 John was permanent Chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party State Convention at which his friend U.S. Senator Sam Erwin was keynote speaker at John’s request.

In 1959 he was elected to the North Carolina Senate representing Wake, Chatham and Lee counties. He was re-elected in 1961 and 1963 after which time he chose not to run again, and returned to his law practice. As a Senator he gained a reputation as a meticulous and hard working legislator. He was a particular champion of higher education, both within the state’s University system and in the private sector. During each of his three terms as Senator, he refused to accept the daily subsistence paid to members of the General Assembly and returned the monthly checks to the State Treasurer. He also declined the special legislative license plates provided to members of the General Assembly and no such special recognition ever appeared on his automobile. These actions brought him wide spread commendation when they were reported in the national press.

In 1964 he ran unsuccessfully against Robert W. Scott in the Democratic Party Primary for Lt. Governor. Following the election he resumed his law practice. However, four years later upon Scott’s election as Governor, Scott called on him to accept the chairmanship of the North Carolina State Board of Social Services. At that time the social services program in North Carolina was in turmoil and litigation against eighty of the State’s one hundred counties appeared imminent. As Chairman of the Board, John Jordan revised the State welfare procedures to correct the condition which had resulted in such discord between the State and the counties. His efforts were successful with litigation being necessary against only one county. His public service did not end there. Throughout his long life he remained active in governmental affairs. He was called upon by four different governors of North Carolina and received gubernatorial appointments to numerous commissions and boards, including the Commission on Education Beyond High School which fashioned and designed the present system of governance for state supported colleges and universities; the Commission on Medical Aid for the Aged; the Commission for the Study of the Uniform Commercial Code; the North Carolina International Cooperation Commission; and the North Carolina Legislative Reappointment Commission of 1954.

In 1961 he was Chairman of the Inaugural Committee for Governor Terry Sanford. In addition, he served on the Boards of Directors of the North Carolina Aquarium Society, the North Carolina Community Foundation and the North Carolina Museum of History.

John Jordan’s life covered decades of service in the field of higher education. After leaving the State Senate he was appointed by Governor Terry Sanford to membership on the North Carolina Board of Higher Education then the coordinating board for most of the State’s tax supported colleges and universities. In 1969 he was elected a trustee of the Consolidated University of North Carolina by the General Assembly. By another gubernatorial appointment he was named to the North Carolina Commission on Higher Education Facilities which over a thirty-year period distributed millions of dollars in construction funds to both public and private institutions of higher education. In 1973 the General Assembly created the Board of Governors with jurisdiction over all sixteen of the tax supported institutions of higher education in the state. John Jordan was promptly named an initial member of the board and was repeatedly re-elected to that position by the General Assembly for the next twenty-four years. In 1981 he was elected Chairman of the Board of Governors for two terms. As Chairman he played an active role in settling litigation with the federal government concerning the ratio of racial enrollment in the University system. The North Carolina plan then became a model for the nation. He served until 1995 and was a staunch supporter of his long time close friend, University President William Friday throughout his tenure. John Jordan’s tenure on the Board of Governors remains the longest in its history. In 2003 he was the recipient of The University Award, the highest honor the University of North Carolina can bestow upon a citizen of the state.

Upon his retirement from the Board of Governors he was elected to the Board of Trustees of Chowan College and served as Chairman of that Board in 1996. In 1999 Chowan College conferred on him an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his 40 years of service to both public and private higher education in North Carolina. He was also a trustee of the Ravenscroft School Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina.

John Jordan was active in the field of historic preservation. He with his wife, Brenda, and sister, Elsie Jordan, established The Century Post Office Museum in Winton in a building constructed more than a century ago specifically as a rural post office. It has been presented to the people of the town as a gift. He also restored and opened to the public Gray Gables, a three story Queen Anne residence in Winton which was the family home of his grandparents. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. He and his wife, Brenda, also established the Colonial Kitchen Museum in the only standing building which survived the siege and burning of the town by Union troops in 1862.

He was, by gubernatorial appointment, a member of the Murfreesboro Historical Commission. In 1998, when he discovered that the home of General William R. Davie, founder of the University of North Carolina, was to be sold, he joined in initiating a public subscription for the acquisition of that historic residence to be held as a Davie memorial.

In Raleigh, he as Chairman and President of the Leonaidas Polk Foundation acquired the Raleigh home of this national agricultural leader and opened it to the public as a Polk memorial. He was also a member of the board of the Historic Hope Foundation in Bertie County. He was a founding member of the North Caroliniana Society and was for nearly a half century a member of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. He was an early president of the Wake County Historical Society.

John Jordan was requested by the Navy League of which he was a member to spearhead an effort to have the country’s newest nuclear submarine named The USS North Carolina. Previous efforts by others had failed. He was successful in having the matter reopened and the submarine commissioned and named for the state of North Carolina as requested. He brought the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, to Raleigh for a personal announcement of the honor at an impressive ceremony held in the Senate Chamber of the old Capitol Building attended by many state leaders, including Governor James B. Hunt and United States Senator Jessie Helms.

In his later years John Jordan became interested in American genealogy. He served three terms as national President of the Henry Lee Society composed of the direct descendants of the first of the Lee family to migrate to America. He wrote a history of the Jordan family of eastern North Carolina beginning with his ancestor, Captain Samuel Jordan, who came to the Jamestown, Virginia, colony in 1609 and was a member of the Virginia Assembly, the first legislative body to be formed in the new world. John was an active member of the Jamestown Society composed exclusively of the direct descendants of the first English colonists of America.

Throughout his busy life he never forgot the place of his birth where his family had lived for more than four centuries. He established and funded there the Jordan Foundation to benefit historical and cultural events in Hertford County. The Jordan Foundation contributed generously to historical restoration, commemorative occasions, the erection of monuments, celebrations and other activities. He, with his sister, established the W.W. Mitchell Scholarship for students at Chowan College as a memorial to his great grandfather who was one of the institution’s founders. He also established the Ina Mitchell Jordan Endowment to fund annual concerts by the North Carolina Symphony for the citizens of Hertford County as a memorial to his mother, a widely recognized teacher of music.

John Jordan was an avid lover of books. It is legendary that even as a schoolboy and student he consistently led in reading the most books each year. As a young lawyer he wrote a Sunday book review column for The News and Observer in which he reviewed books on politics and history. On one occasion his review appeared as a lead editorial on the newspaper’s editorial page. He became a meticulous book collector, maintaining two libraries, one in his home in Raleigh and one at his boyhood home in Winton, totaling thousands of books. One of his collections, the Presidential Collection, contains books, pamphlets, pictures and documents relating to the live, the campaigns and administrations of each of the presidents of the United States. John Jordan shared his books with others and gave away hundreds of books each to friends, legislators, government officials, and teachers. His personal book collection will be passed on to schools and colleges to be named.

He served as President of the North Carolina Archives and made the Archives a gift of an extensive collection of family papers dating back to 1801. John Jordan was an active supporter of the D. H. Hill Library at North Carolina State University. As President of the Friends of the Library, he along with his wife, Brenda, established a personal foundation gift for the purchase of books for the library.

In addition to political writings and his book review column, John Jordan also wrote in the field of history. Newspapers in North Carolina and Virginia published feature articles written by him on such subjects as the development of the political convention in America, and a biography of Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling, a native of Hertford County who was the inventor of the world’s first machine gun. John’s expertise in the field of written history was recognized by his appointment to the Advisory Editorial Board of the N C Historical Review. He was also by request a contributing editor to Powell’s multi-volume Dictionary of N C Biography.

Characteristically, John Jordan gave of his time and talent to the health and well being of his fellow citizens. An advocate of preventive medicine, he was a strong backer of public health. In 1964 he received the Distinguished Service Award in Public Health in North Carolina. He served as a director, as president and as chairman of the North Carolina Cancer Society. He also served as a trustee of the North Carolina Cancer Institute and as a member of the Governor’s Cancer Commission. In 1965 he was awarded the American Cancer Society’s National Gold Medal, a distinction given national leaders in cancer research and research support.

In other health fields, John Jordan was Chairman of the North Carolina Arthritis Foundation and at another time chaired the North Carolina Chapter of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults. He likewise served as North Carolina Chairman of the American Red Cross. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Medical Foundation and President of the Co-Founders, the support organization for the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He served as an officer and director of the North Carolina Division of the National Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, an organization which seeks a cure for the crippling disease from which he himself suffered.

John Jordan was a member of the First Baptist Church in Raleigh. He came from a traditional Baptist background, which included the Baptist patriarch William W. Mitchell, a founder of Chowan College and its most generous benefactor. Another kinsman, Dr. John Mitchell, was a founder of the Baptist Orphanage in Thomasville, and also a benefactor of that institution including its first building which now bears his name. During his life in Raleigh, John served on the Diaconate of both Pullen Memorial Baptist Church and Ridge Road Baptist Church.

Among his social affiliations were the Carolina Country Club of Raleigh, the Assembly Cotillion of Raleigh, the Sphinx Club of Raleigh, the Coral Bay Club of Atlantic Beach, the Carolina Dining Club of Chapel Hill, the Capital City Club of Raleigh, and The Raleigh Host Lions Club of which he was a Melvin Jones Fellow. He was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.

Memorial gifts may be made to: The Winton N.C. Jordan Family Heritage Fund, c/o NC Community Foundation, 4601 Six Forks Rd, Raleigh 27609; First Baptist Church, 99 N. Salisbury St. Raleigh 27603; Dr. James F. Howard, Jr., Distinguished Professorship, c/o UNC Medical Foundation for Myasthenia Gravis, 880 MLK Jr Blvd, Chapel Hill 27514.

Private family burial services will be held in the historic Jordan Family Cemetery in Winton, North Carolina.

Arrangements are under the care of Brown-Wynne Funeral Home 300 Saint Mary’s St. Raleigh, NC 27605