With a love for her native Pitt County and a drive to give back to the area that means so much to her, Mary Plybon's dedication to eastern North Carolina and her alma mater, East Carolina University, is contagious. After spending part of her childhood and graduating from high school in Raleigh, Plybon, '71 had no doubt that she would return to her Greenville roots to attend East Carolina University. She attributes her family's love of eastern North Carolina to the strong bonds they have with the people in the area and the legacy of Pirates in her family—both of Plybon's parents attended ECU.
"My dad attended [ECU] when it was known as East Carolina Teachers College," said Plybon. "He grew up near Tarboro on a tobacco farm and was the first boy in his family to attend college.
"Plybon studied social work as an undergraduate and said she was attracted to this field of work because of her childhood during the 1960s.
"I grew up with John F. Kennedy and the mentality of, 'ask what you can do for your country,'" she said, "I'm drawn to people who need a hand up not a hand out, and when you've been given a lot, you should give back."
Plybon watched a monumental event in ECU's history play out during her freshman year. In 1967, ECU was still known as East Carolina College and was seeking university status, and there was a tense debate about whether East Carolina College would become East Carolina University. Plybon remembers the commotion surrounding the issue.
"I was one of the students at Chancellor Jenkins' house, just watching and waiting for the approval from the N.C. Legislature." she said.
Plybon witnessed that historic approval and has since marveled at ECU's impressive growth over her lifetime. She is excited about the new medical, dental and engineering schools that ECU boasts, but most of all, she admires ECU's commitment to provide opportunities to all.
"I like that ECU has continued to give people a chance. ECU offers access and honor scholarships, and I hope it always keeps that in balance," she said. "ECU wants the best of the best, but it also gives people the opportunity to reach that potential."
After graduating in 1971, Plybon's first job was a position with Carteret County Department of Social Services. Her job focused on helping older adults "keep afloat" so they did not have to be institutionalized.
"It was a hard job emotionally and I had to learn to leave it at work," Plybon said. "I had to try to find a balance in life, like anything else."
Plybon was also part of a group who pioneered an adult day-care program. It was a novel program for its time and it was a hard concept for many to accept, but her team pushed through.Plybon and her husband have become involved with many areas across ECU, from athletics to academics. She has served on the Board of Visitors and her husband, Bob, serves on the ECU Foundation board of directors. The Plybons are passionate about philanthropy and are grateful they have the opportunity to give back. Mary Plybon is now beginning her duties in her new position as the Women's Roundtable chair.
The Women's Roundtable was founded in 2003 and is a group of women dedicated to acknowledging the contributions of women to ECU's legacy. The organization encourages new levels of leadership, philanthropy and commitment by women to the university's future.
Since its inception, the Women's Roundtable has hosted several events that have raised thousands of dollars for prospective ECU students. Plybon has loved her experience as a member and said it has been a way for many of her friends to reconnect with the Pirate community. She is also grateful that she has been able to witness the evolution of the organization first-hand."
We didn't foresee what the Women's Roundtable was going to evolve into, but we recognized the talent and commitment of ECU women graduates; we knew they wanted and deserved to have an active role in the university. The Women's Roundtable was an excellent way to get the process started," Plybon said.
She is excited about her new role and is ready to continue the Women's Roundtable mission and wants to help "identify women in a variety of fields that are doing really good work." She wants to reconnect with more former ECU graduates in all walks of life, emphasizing young graduates that have recently entered the working world.
"We want them to know that there is a place for them at the table and in the Pirate community."
Plybon also strongly believes that taking the time to ask people is the key to creating authentic involvement.
"Everyone gets caught up in their day-to-day lives," she said. "Unless someone gives you a call you're not as likely to join something until there is personal involvement."
Plybon encourages former Pirates to never lose sight of what they learned at East Carolina and to always remember the sense of community they feel when they walk onto campus.
"Obviously, all ECU graduates do not stay in eastern North Carolina, or even in North Carolina," Plybon said, "but I guarantee you they take what they learned at ECU and make wherever they land a better place."
--Lauren Williams '11