Jim Hunt's Ms. Fix-It
By Marion Blackburn
When she arrived at ECU, Janice Hardison Faulkner ’53 ’56 came armed with strong rural values and a tough skin from playing baseball with future pitching greats Jim and Gaylord Perry. Hard work came naturally after growing up on a Martin County farm, where sunrise brought countless chores and farm duties. Education, she knew, was her ticket off the farm.
The grit and determination she demonstrated then and later as a teacher and politician inspired others to reach higher. “You’ve got to connect to people who are engaged,” she says. “You seek access, you find out more, you pour your energy into inquiry.”
JANICE HARDISON FAULKNER '53 '56
ECU instructor and department chair 1957–1992
Director, Regional Development Institute
Director of alumni affairs
Associate vice chancellor for regional development
North Carolina state government
Secretary of Revenue
Secretary of State, the first woman to serve in that role
Commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles
Other honors and service
Outstanding Alumni Award
President , N.C. World Trade Association
Founding member and first chair of the university's Board of Visitors
Honorary doctorate from ECU
First chair of the ECU Women's Roundtable
100 Incredible ECU Women
Chair, Pitt County Memorial Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees and member of the PCMH Board of Trustees
Starting with her first job teaching English at East Carolina in 1957, Faulkner distinguished herself by encouraging students with her love for writers like John Steinbeck, Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty. In addition to teaching, she served as head of the Regional Development Institute, which promotes economic growth in the East. She supported the college in other roles, including serving as a charter member of the Board of Visitors.
She had spent 36 years in the classroom when she began a phased retirement in 1992. About that time she got a call from Gov. Jim Hunt, whom she had met years earlier during a student government trip. An energetic young lawyer and student organizer, Hunt had sought her help back then with an event featuring Leo Jenkins. A great friendship developed between them. After his election to a third term as governor in 1992, Hunt named her secretary of the N.C. Department of Revenue. She became Hunt’s go-to person when thorny problems arose, such as in 1996 when he turned to her to clean up a political mess in the Secretary of State’s office.
She had restored integrity to that office when Hunt called with another assignment, appointing her commissioner of the DMV in 1997. By that time she knew politics coddled no one, but she refused to let uncertainty limit her. “I wasn’t there to pursue any goal for myself,” she says. “I was there to serve a governor I trusted, and that made me a little more confident than I would have been under different circumstances.”
In an interview with East, Hunt called her “one of the best people I ever worked with. You can tell how much how much I think of her. I was always very careful about the people I picked out, not only knowledgeable and able, but people who were really passionate about making change. She knows how to reason carefully and persuasively, speak powerfully and convincingly. She was willing to take on any job.”
Although she often was the first woman to serve in statewide political positions, she could handle the tough personalities one encounters in the rough and tumble of politics. “There’s a steel fist under that velvet glove,” Hunt said.
A governor’s first choice
Faulkner says she felt like a visitor when she first joined DMV. Employees lacked direction and supervisors resented her. “There were people who behaved badly on presumed entitlement,” she recalls. “Because they knew people in powerful places, they didn’t believe they were accountable to the commissioner. So I just ignored them. I said to the workers, ‘We’ve got to make this the best agency in state government.’”
Within weeks, the DMV was clicking on all cylinders. She appealed to employees to do their best—and they responded to her down-to-earth appeal by moving thousands of backlogged titles. She relied on her mother’s advice—and her father’s temper—to get things done.
“You have to be polite, and kind and genteel,” she says her mother told her. “You have to behave yourself until that stops working. When it stops working, you go right on and behave just like your Daddy,” she says. “My Daddy would pound the table and cuss. So I learned to know when he had to kick in.”
“There are a certain number of bullies,” she says. “If they are in control of an agenda you’re committed to delivering, you have to confront them at some point. You have to kick them around the ankles.”
Her steel fist in a velvet glove worked miracles. Faulkner brought such efficiency to the DMV that the title turnaround time shrank to four days.
She left state government in 2001 and has continued to work for the community on campus and off. She currently serves as chair of the Pitt Memorial Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees, as well as a member of the ECU Women’s Roundtable. She was honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award in 1993 and in 2009 received the Jarvis Medal, which recognizes extraordinary service to the university. Earlier this year the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce presented her with its Legends Award.
Looking behind—and ahead
As she reflects on public life, she generously shares stories without dropping names, though she certainly could. She met John and Robert Kennedy in 1960 when, at 28, she was the youngest delegate to the National Democratic Convention. “Bobby was doing a lot of the heavy lifting for Jack’s campaign for the presidency,” she recalls. “He was very visible in the convention that year.” Later she met Ted Kennedy.
Among the framed photos in her Greenville home are pictures of Hunt, former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker and JFK’s official White House portrait. Nearby is a touching black-and-white image of Robert Kennedy beneath a painting of Christ. In another photo she’s seen with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
There are fewer volumes in her towering bookshelves these days, because in February she made an exceptional gift to Joyner Library of first-editions and rare books, many of which have been added to the Special Collections and North Carolina Collections.
“It’s always especially meaningful to have the support of a long-time faculty member, and of such an important public figure in the state,” says Maury York, assistant director for Special Collections. “The gift of books is important, and to know that someone of her standing and caliber supports the library means a great deal to us.”
Among the books she donated is a special first edition of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden in a box, signed by the author. Harry Golden’s biography of Carl Sandburg, signed by both of them, also figured among the collection. Cale, a novel by Sylvia Wilkinson, will go into the Roberts Collection of fiction set in North Carolina.
One she held onto is a book about North Carolina’s first ladies autographed by several of them.
With her reputation as the iron lady of public service, it’s easy to forget she made her name as a teacher. She always emphasized doing your best. “I wanted students to pay attention while they were in my keep,” she says.
One former student, Wanda Yuhas ’75, executive director of the Pitt County Economic Development Commission, remembers her considerable influence. “She was smart, she was funny. She made you want to learn more.”
“I was 19 years old and [having Faulkner as a teacher] changed my entire outlook on life,” Yuhas says. “We knew we could call on her for advice or for assistance. She changed who we are and changed who we are as a region and as a state. She raised the bar for all of us.”