You Don't Know Jack Whatever happened to Leo Jenkins’ baby boy, the one
who grew up in Dail House and excelled in college here?
He went on to become Jim Hunt’s lawyer and now is a judge.
By Steve Tuttle
Photography by Forrest Croce
here aren’t as many portraits of his father on the walls of Jack Jenkins’ home as one might expect, a fact that the youngest of legendary Chancellor Leo Jenkins’ six children explains by saying, simply, “This is my life. My siblings have taken the same approach.” But the type of pictures hanging in his house on the waterfront in Morehead City is no barometer for the respect he has for his father, who served East Carolina for 31 years. Jack Jenkins ’78 speaks in reverential terms when he says that three things ECU is widely known for—as a medical center, as a home for the fine arts and as a major power in sports—are all because of Leo.
We want to hear more of the Leo Jenkins legends, but first there’s some catching up to do with the kid who literally grew up on campus. After college, Jack—who’s now 52 and is one of four Jenkins kids who graduated from East Carolina—got his JD at UNC Chapel Hill.
He returned to Greenville to work at a law firm, accompanied by Mary Charles Stevens Jenkins ’79, another Rose High School and East Carolina graduate whom he married during law school.
She is the daughter of Dr. Charles E. Stevens, who was dean of the School of Music here for many years. Jack and Mary Charles, who was a Chi Omega sister, moved to Morehead City in 1986 when Jack became a partner in a law firm there.
In 1993 he was named general counsel of the N.C. Department of Human Resources and the family moved to Raleigh; three years later he was appointed deputy general counsel to Gov. Jim Hunt. Jenkins was named general counsel to Gov. Hunt in 1997 and served in that role throughout Hunt’s fourth term.
Hunt appointed him a Special Superior Court judge in 2001. Gov. Mike Easley reappointed him to the bench in 2006. Jenkins moved back to Morehead City when he first went on the bench, and he mostly holds court in eastern North Carolina. As the name implies, Special Superior Court judges hear the gamut of cases and hold court across a broad area. He and Mary Charles have two children, a son at UCLA and a daughter in high school.
He was last prominently in the local news in 2003 when he was a finalist for the job as president of Pitt Community College.
Now, back to the Leo stories. Is it true that as a toddler you were caught hiding under a banquet table at the Dail House reception after your father’s inauguration squirting guests’ feet with a water pistol? Yes. Is it true you were something of a campus mascot and as a kid was cast in two college theater productions? Yes, L’il Abner and Oliver.
“Growing up in the Dail House was magical,” Jack recalls. “I moved there when I was 4 and lived there until I graduated from East Carolina in 1978. The house was really a meeting place. My friends knew where the key was hidden, and they would come and make themselves at home. We had a basketball court in the backyard. We had a ping-pong table in the garage. We played touch football games in the front yard. As I got older it became the place where we had parties. My parents were very happy to have us there and they opened their house and their hearts to all my friends.”
From his upstairs bedroom window, Jenkins saw many pivotal moments in ECU history unfold. During the tumultuous 1960s, he watched protestors gather on the front porch of Dail House to confront Leo Jenkins over campus integration. He remembers nights when security officers stood guard to protect the chancellor’s family. Looking across Fifth Street, he saw students arrested for protesting the rigid rules of the time. One moment stands out: “I’ll never forget my father’s reaction after getting the call about the Marshall plane crash.”
There were some quirky moments, too, like the numerous prank calls in the middle of the night or the morning the family woke up to find a live goat tied to a porch column.
Jack played about every sport at Rose High School and was the second baseman and leadoff hitter on the baseball team that won the 1975 state championship. When it was time for college he followed in the steps of his three older sisters and enrolled at East Carolina. Smart as a whip, he was a member of various honor societies, served as chairman of the Honor Council, and graduated magna cum laude in three years with a degree in business. Between classes he worked at the Student Store under Joe Clark. He didn’t join a fraternity but hung out a lot at the Sig Ep house with his lifelong friend and current ECU trustee, Robert Brinkley ’78.
Jack’s graduation marked the end of an 11-year span in which at least one—and some years as many as three—of the Jenkins kids were East Carolina students. Jack says he and his siblings weren’t treated any differently just because of who their dad was. “For me, I tried hard to be just a regular student and I think I was. I did not think that anybody should be treated differently.”
Jack, Jeff and Patty (back row), Suzanne and Jimmy (middle row), and Sallie (front)
Where are they today?
Jimmy Jenkins graduated from Duke University and the medical school at UNC Chapel Hill. An anesthesiologist, he’s now retired and lives with wife Diane in St. Louis, where he was a hospital chief of anesthesiology.
Jeff Jenkins received undergraduate and MBA degrees from UNC Chapel Hill. He’s a business consultant and developer who now lives in New Bern and Bath with his wife, Bedie H. Jenkins ’73, an educator.
Suzanne Jenkins Lodge ’71 majored in education and was a Chi Omega sister. She’s a preschool teacher in Raleigh, where she lives with her husband, Marc, an attorney with the N. C. Attorney General’s office.
Patty Jenkins Hogan ’75 majored in Driver and Traffic Safety Education and now provides technology support to the faculty of two school districts in Columbia, S. C., where she also owns a small business. Her husband, Mike Hogan ’75, was an all-conference outfielder for the baseball team and now is a pharmaceutical representative.
Sallie Jenkins ’76 ’78 went on to get a doctorate in education from UNC Greensboro and, after teaching overseas for several years, now is a retired educator living in Swansboro.
Jack Jenkins ’78 majored in marketing and then went to law school at UNC Chapel Hill. A Special Superior Court judge since 2001, he now lives in Morehead City with his wife, Mary Charles Stevens Jenkins ’79, who is a banker with Sound Bank.
Becoming Jim Hunt’s lawyer
That sense of fairness obviously helped in the legal career that unfolded for Jenkins. A big step came in 1993 when, after nine years of private practice, he got a job as the in-house lawyer at the N.C. Department of Human Resources. He liked state government work and knew his way around Raleigh from a year spent there before law school working as an auditor for the N.C. Cemetery Commission.
His work at Human Resources gained the notice of, among others, Brad Wilson, who then was Gov. Jim Hunt’s general counsel. In 1996 Wilson brought Jenkins into the governor’s office as his deputy, and when Wilson left the Hunt administration to become an executive with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C., Jenkins was named general counsel to the governor.
His duties with the governor “ran the gamut from the mundane to the extraordinary,” Jenkins says. “One day I might be writing an executive order allowing state employees to be paid before Christmas, the next day I might be dealing with tornado relief in Rockingham County. Judicial positions come open across the state almost on a weekly basis, and for five years I handled these for Governor Hunt. I also was the point person on clemency…in capital cases.”
From the years they worked together, Wilson says he knows Jenkins “has a unique blend of legal expertise, political understanding and life experience. A man of character and high ethical standards, the citizens of North Carolina are fortunate to have someone like Jack who has been willing to serve the public interest.”
“Serving as my legal counsel in the Office of the Governor, Jack Jenkins was a vital part of our efforts to reduce crime and push for opportunities for our young people,” Hunt says. “Jack is a man of highest integrity and strong character. He is an excellent Special Superior Court judge and I am proud of his service to our state. I am especially impressed with his ideas and commitment to the development of eastern North Carolina.”
Moving from the governor’s office to the bench was a bit of an adjustment. His prior experience mostly was in business law and public policy issues. One thing that eased the transition was his commitment to fairness and treating everyone equally. “My parents taught me that as long as you treat people properly they will treat you properly in return. I’ve learned as a judge that as long as you listen to people and give them respect and treat them fairly, you can’t ask for much more.
“I think of a judge like an umpire. The best umpires are the ones whose work isn’t discussed after the game. The same thing is true for a judge.”
‘This is home now’
Most everyone knows the stories of how Leo Jenkins wrung university status and the medical school out of the legislature’s hands, but lesser known, Jack Jenkins says, was his support for the arts. “People forget he did his postgraduate work in New York City,” Jack says. “He gravitated toward Broadway and really enjoyed seeing the summer theater-type shows like South Pacific and other musicals. Right after he became president of East Carolina College he sat down with Edgar Loessin and they started the summer theater program.” The ECU Summer Theater will celebrate its 47th season next year.
How did Leo bring big-time sports to Greenville? “He hired Stas,” is all Jenkins needs to say, referring to Coach Clarence Stasavich, who came to East Carolina and promptly compiled seven consecutive conference championships in football.
During the 1960s and ’70s when Leo Jenkins was pushing for university status for East Carolina, and throughout the struggle for the medical school, he often was belittled in the editorial pages of the newspapers in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro. How did his father feel about that? “He saw those comments in a positive way because it was generating interest in the issue. He had a big issue, he knew he was right, and it didn’t bother him one bit.”
Jack Jenkins served on the ECU Board of Visitors and holds firm views about the university’s future. He believes ECU could do more to boost economic development in the East. He thinks Dail House should forever remain the chancellor’s residence. “The university is doing much, but so much more is possible.”
He says his father dedicated his life to East Carolina simply because he considered the university and the region it serves his home. He relates a story that is an integral part of family lore, about his mother’s reaction upon seeing Greenville for the first time.
“Some 62 years ago a young couple from New Jersey with their infant son, Jimmy, approached Greenville (by car) from across the old Tar River Bridge. Many who grew up in Greenville will remember what that area looked like at that time. This was the first time my mother had ever laid eyes on Greenville. She pleaded with my father to turn around and go back home. But he said no, this is home now and if we don’t like it then by golly we need to make it better. That’s the legacy of Leo Jenkins: Make your home better. And home to him wasn’t just the campus but all of North Carolina, particularly those 41 counties east of I-95.”
A question pulls him back to the present. Have any of Leo and Lillian Jenkins’ grandchildren gone to East Carolina? Only one, Jimmy’s son Jason, who got a master’s degree here. “We encourage them to go to ECU but, like my parents, we encourage them to do what’s best for them. And they all have gone to many different colleges.” One went to Harvard, one played basketball at the University of Virginia and two played baseball for Clemson. His son Jacob is attending UCLA partly because he fell in love with the place on a trip there to visit a close family friend, the actress Beth Grant. Jack and Mary Charles have another chance with daughter Anna, who’s a sophomore at West Carteret High School.
Thinking about the next generation of Jenkinses, he repeats something his father used to say when people asked about his six kids. “There’s not a bum in the bunch.”
Lillian Jenkins (far left) made sure her six kids looked their best at their dad’s inauguration on May 13, 1960. From left are Jimmy, Jeff, Suzanne, Patty, Sallie and Jack.
Leo! I found one in the bathtub!
t least one—and in some years as many as three—of Leo and Lillian Jenkins’ six children were students at East Carolina, from 1967, when third oldest Suzanne enrolled, until 1978, when baby Jack graduated. In between, younger sisters Patty and Sallie earned degrees here. Three of those four married other ECU students. The Jenkins kids are remembered by thousands of alumni who had classes with, dated or were in clubs with one or more of them. They were the chancellor’s kids but they acted and were treated like ordinary students, and had been since the day, almost exactly 50 years ago, when the Jenkins family, with six little stair-step children, moved into Dail House.
Despite living in a fish bowl, Leo Jenkins insisted on maintaining as normal a family life as possible. At the reception after his inauguration on May 13, 1960, 4-year-old Jack was found hiding under a table, squirting guests’ pants legs with a water pistol. Older brothers Jimmy and Jeff left home for college at Duke and Carolina, respectively, but were home often in those days.
"My parents hosted a rush party for my Carolina fraternity, Sigma Nu, at the Big House," Jeff remembers. "Since most attending were from out of town, they slept on couches, the floor, or anywhere they could find a spot. In the morning, my mom came downstairs to fix breakfast, stepping over sleeping students, went into the downstairs bathroom and announced, ‘Leo, I found one in the bathtub!"
Suzanne was married at Dail House. "I remember coming through the front door because I was too nervous to try to walk down the staircase in my dress, past the many people in the main hall. It was a Saturday in mid-September, and very hot in the house with no air conditioning at the time. We had to have the wedding early in the day because it was a home football weekend, and we had to be off on our honeymoon in time for everyone to get to the game."
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