Robert Lee Madison

The first president of Western Carolina Teachers College, Professor Robert Lee Madison, congratulates Paul A. Reid (right) upon his inauguration as the institution’s fourth president. At left is A.C. Reynolds, president from 1912 to 1920. W.E. Bird, acting president from 1947 to 1949, is between Madison and Reid.

By Jim Buchanan


With the official installation of Kelli Brown as Western Carolina University’s 12th chancellor (see special section in today’s Herald) it’s worth taking a look back at another leadership change that occurred this week in 1949: The arrival of Paul Reid in Cullowhee.

From the Sylva Herald, Aug. 18, 1949:


State Board Of Education Official Will Begin His New Work September 15


“Paul A. Reid of Raleigh, controller of the State Board of Education, has been elected president of Western Carolina Teachers’ College, Cullowhee, it was announced by E. J. Whitmire of Franklin, chairman of the college board of trustees. Whitmire said Reid was elected at a meeting of trustees in Asheville Sunday, but that announcement was held up pending his acceptance of the post.

“Reid will begin his duties as president with the opening of the fall term of the college. He succeeds H.T. Hunter, who died in October, 1947. Dean William E. Bird has been acting president of the college since Hunter’s death. Reid tendered his resignation Saturday night to Lt. Gov. H.P. Taylor of Wadesboro, chairman of the State Board of Education. The resignation is effective on or about September 1. Reid, 46, a native of Pilot Mountain, Surry County, has served as controller for the past five and one-half years… Hunter, who served as president of the college for approximately 24 years from 1923 until his death, was largely responsible for the growth of that institution from $240,000 to a million and a half dollar educational plant. The college grew from four buildings, 22 college students and 150 high school students in 1923 to 11 college buildings and a number of auxiliary structures, including its own hydro-electric plant and water and sewer disposal system; high school students were eliminated in 1926. By 1928 the college had been accepted by the American Association of Teachers Colleges as a standard two-year normal. Since then the college has awarded the bachelor of science degree to approximately 2,000 graduates and is recognized today as one of the finest educational institutions in the state…”

It was abundantly clear that Reid had huge shoes to fill, following a transformational leader.

Not everyone was sure he was a safe bet. More to the point, some weren’t sure Western Carolina Teachers College was a safe bet.

NCPedia’s entry on Reid summed up the lay of the land rather starkly:

“When Reid accepted the presidency of Western Carolina Teachers College in 1949, it was against the advice of some Raleigh friends who believed that the Cullowhee institution had no future and that he would fade into oblivion in the remote mountains of Western North Carolina. Indeed, Western Carolina, founded in 1889 as Cullowhee High School, had long struggled for survival and was still relatively small and obscure.”

Reid filled Hunter’s big shoes, and left some mighty big shoes of his own. From 1949 to 1968, the student population rose from 600 to 4,000. Faculty numbers matched, rising from 50 to 240; buildings, 12 to 36. Capital investment rose from $1.6 million to $26 million.

NCPedia says “… Reid, mindful of the efforts of his predecessors, undertook his work with skill, diplomacy, and optimism. ... In 1967 Western Carolina became a regional university and was reorganized into several academic schools, and a faculty senate was established.”

Turns out some of those “Raleigh friends” were wrong.

Reid made sure they were.