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In Memoriam: Bob Jordan

Alumnus Bob Jordan, who served North Carolina as a public official and business leader, died at his home Sunday, surrounded by family. Jordan is remembered for his unwavering support of NC State for more than 60 years.

Bob Jordan shakes hand of another trustee with Chancellor Woodson looking on.
Bob Jordan, right, at Board of Trustees meeting in 2011.

Former North Carolina Lt. Gov. Robert Byrd Jordan III, an NC State alumnus who supported the university for more than six decades, died Sunday at his home in Mount Gilead, North Carolina. He was 87.

Jordan’s service to NC State began as an undergraduate in 1953, when he was elected Student Government vice president. He went on to serve as a member and chair of the university’s Board of Trustees and as chair of the 2004 and 2009 chancellor search committees. His support for the university earned him two of its top honors: the Watauga Medal, NC State’s highest award for service, and the Menscer Cup, NC State’s highest award for philanthropy.

“Bob Jordan was a great friend to NC State,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said. “His unwavering dedication to this university has had transformational effects on the lives of our students, faculty and staff. Bob was chair of the search committee that brought me to NC State nearly 10 years ago, and I was moved by his love for the university and the people of North Carolina. It was a privilege to work alongside him.”

Jordan and his three siblings — all of whom graduated from NC State’s College of Natural Resources — donated $1.5 million in 2005 to benefit the college’s faculty and students by establishing the Jordan Family Graduate Fellowship in Natural Resource Innovation, the Jordan Family Undergraduate Honors Program and an endowed professorship in natural resource innovation. Jordan Hall on NC State’s main campus is named in honor of the family.

“Bob Jordan was a supporter, advocate and loyal alumnus of the College of Natural Resources,” Interim Dean Myron Floyd said. “He encouraged and supported the college’s desire to explore new opportunities and innovations to benefit the forest products industry. He knew and shared the college’s economic and environmental importance to North Carolina with stakeholders, legislators and industry partners. His passing is a great loss to our college, the NC State community and the state of North Carolina.”

Bob Jordan at table with Bill Clinton.
Jordan with then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton at the Emerging Issues Forum in 1988 at the McKimmon Center.

Jordan graduated with honors in 1954 with a Bachelor of Science in lumber products merchandising and manufacturing, then joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. After serving a tour of duty in Europe, Jordan left the Army in 1955 with the rank of captain.

He served as CEO and president of Jordan Lumber & Supply Inc. and its affiliates from 1955 until his retirement this year. Under his leadership, Jordan Lumber won national awards for innovation and for protecting natural resources. The company is one of the largest privately owned lumber companies in the nation.

Jordan’s record of public service began a month after he returned home from the Army, when he secured a seat on the Mount Gilead town council. He subsequently served as a state senator from 1976 to 1984 and as lieutenant governor from 1985 to 1988.

As a public official, he led efforts to improve economic and educational opportunities for citizens. He established the North Carolina Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth, which made far-reaching recommendations for the state. Jordan was instrumental in the establishment of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, which provides leadership in renewing and expanding rural North Carolina, and offers job development and leadership training for the residents of rural communities. He also participated in the creation of the UNC Board of Governors and served on the Board of Trustees at UNC Charlotte.

Jordan and interim chancellor Woodward talking together.
Jordan, left, with NC State Interim Chancellor Jim Woodward in 2009.

Jordan provided leadership for the establishment of the Basic Education Program, a comprehensive plan to provide equal access to high-quality education for all North Carolina children. He championed the nationally recognized Teaching Fellows program, an aggressive teacher recruitment program that provides scholarships for high-performing high school students who are interested in becoming teachers.

Jordan designed and successfully led the passage of a $3.2 billion school facilities act to expand school construction across the state.

As a proponent of programs for children, he established the first Senate Committee on Children and Youth. He pushed for stronger laws governing day-care centers and the creation of the North Carolina Center for Missing Children. He worked for passage of the Housing Trust Fund, a first-time fund to help provide adequate housing for thousands of families, and he worked for fair worker compensation laws.

Jordan promoted and led the passage of the Recreational National Heritage Trust Fund, which provides millions of dollars annually to purchase land for preservation.

He also was the leader of the effort to establish the Technological Development Authority and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Among his many honors, Jordan received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest award for state service granted by the governor of North Carolina. He also received an honorary Doctor of Sciences from NC State, an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Methodist College and an honorary Doctor of Laws from UNC Charlotte. NC State’s College of Natural Resources honored Jordan as distinguished alumnus of the year in 1979.

Jordan is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sarah Cole Jordan; children Betsy Lynn Jordan, Robert B. Jordan IV and Janie Cole Jordan; and a large extended family.

The family will receive visitors 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 106 N. Main Street, Mount Gilead. A celebration of life is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19, at the West Montgomery High School Auditorium, 147 Warrior Drive, Mount Gilead. The public is invited to a reception immediately following the service at the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to any of the following:

  • North Carolina Biotechnology Center, 15 TW Alexander Drive, Durham, NC 27709
  • NC Rural Economic Development Center, 4021 Carya Drive, Raleigh, NC 27610
  • UNCG Teaching Fellows, Office of Student Services and Advising, School of Education Building, Room 142, 1300 Spring Garden St., Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
  • Methodist Home for Children, 1041 Washington St., Raleigh, NC 27605