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Pieces of Eight

U.S. Air Force Major John Newman, right, presents ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard with a U.S. flag that flew over the American Embassy in Baghdad. The presentation was made during pre-game ceremonies at the Sept. 8 ECU Pirates football game against the UNC Tar Heels. (Photo by Rob Goldberg - ECU Athletic Media Relations)


Serendipitous Encounter Links Chancellor, Alumnus

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

A chance encounter and conversation at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean led to a pre-game honor for an Air Force officer with East Carolina University ties.

Major John Newton, U.S. Air Force, along with his wife, Lorraine, and son, Jacob, were guests of Chancellor Steve Ballard for the Sept. 8 East Carolina University football game with UNC-Chapel Hill.

During the pre-game activities, Newton presented to the chancellor a United States flag that flew over the American Embassy in Baghdad.

“We plan for the flag to be displayed in a prominent location in Mendenhall Student Center so we can share it with the student body,” said Steve Duncan, ECU director of military programs.

Newton recently returned to North Carolina from a year-long deployment in Iraq as part of Army Gen. David Petraeus’ security staff.

Newton earned his master’s degree from ECU in 2004 in criminal justice.

How Newton came to stand on the football field beside the chancellor is an example of how small the world can be.

Last year, Chancellor Ballard and his wife Nancy were on a flight home from England. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, the flight attendant came by and noticed Ballard’s ECU shirt. She asked him if he worked for the university or if he was a fan.

“Both. I’m the chancellor,” Lorraine Newton recalled him saying.

Later in the flight, she asked Ballard if he would mind sending a note to her deployed Air Force husband and gave him the information.

The chancellor sent the note and later, an invitation to a football game.

Duncan and his wife hosted the Newtons for tailgating before the game.

He chuckled when he related that Lorraine Newton got into the spirit of the game so much that she had painted her toe nails purple with a gold “ECU.”

“They are really a wonderful family,” Duncan said. “I always stand in awe of these people who go over and serve.

“While we were talking, Lorraine looked up at him and said, ‘He’s my hero.’And he said, ‘She’s my hero,’ adding how she has kept the home fires burning while he’s been deployed.”

Newton, a 20-year Air Force veteran, and his family are packing now for a move to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

This page originally appeared in the September 21, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at