Frank Emory (PPS’79) couldn’t believe it. Here he was, a small-town kid in his second year at Duke, sitting down with former North Carolina Governor (and then university president) Terry Sanford.
“I think back at how remarkable it was that he would meet with me one-on-one, as (Duke) president to (student body) president. He would sit down with me and talk about policy, and he would listen. It was probably only 20 minutes on his calendar, but it was huge for me. That says a lot about him as a leader. I try to emulate that now that I have some responsibility myself,” said Emory.
The thing that you knew talking to Terry Sanford was that if he told you something, you could rely on his word. When he talked about ‘standing for something,’ I thought of two things: integrity and rigorous thinking.
Lessons Learned From Duke Inspire a Career in Leadership
That responsibility is vast. Emory is executive vice president and chief legal officer for Novant Health, which includes a network of over 30,000 employees and serves over four million patients annually. In this role, he oversees legal and government relations, risk management, corporate audits, and compliance. As a leader, he is reminded daily of the example he saw in those Sanford meetings.
“The thing that you knew talking to Terry Sanford was that if he told you something, you could rely on his word. When he talked about ‘standing for something,’ I thought of two things: integrity and rigorous thinking. If you come out of Duke University, you ought to have those two things. Even today, I look for those two things for people I work with. That’s non-negotiable.”
First elected to Duke student body president in 1977, Emory has utilized the lessons he learned from his meetings with President Sanford and his public policy studies to build a career of leadership and service. After Duke, he received his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, although he adamantly proclaims that his loyalties are still to Duke. He is also an active member of the North Carolina Hospital Association Board, where he chairs the Equity Committee.
If you brought a problem to him (Terry Sanford) and asked for help, he would work on that problem with you. He was very encouraging to that type of honest approach.
A Legacy of Service to North Carolina
Growing up in Wilson, NC, Emory has carried on the family legacy of service to his home state. His father, Frank Emory, Sr., was an NC extension agent and former Wilson County Board of Commissioners chairman. His mother, Athalene Emory, was a public school teacher for over 40 years and received numerous awards, including NC Teacher of the Year in 1986 (awarded by Governor Jim Martin).
His accolades also display a life devoted to public service. He previously served as the chairman of the board of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, an appointment by Gov. Roy Cooper. He has served as president of the Mecklenburg County Bar, a member of the North Carolina Board of Transportation, and the first African American of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission. Emory is a permanent member of the Judicial Conference of the Fourth Circuit. Among his awards, Emory received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2001, the highest award for state service granted by the Governor.
Emory works with many stakeholders, and he credits Terry Sanford for his ability to collaborate.
“I would sit in his cabinet meetings at eight in the morning, which you can imagine is tough for a college student, but I remember distinctly he would go around the room and get reports from his cabinet. There were three types of folks. Some had the answer and would give it to him. Check. Then there were those he knew were shoveling BS, and he knew it. He was open about it, and there was no doubt about how he felt. He offered clarity. Then there was the third kind of person who was forthright and said, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t have it.’ I learned a lesson from that. If you brought a problem to him and asked for help, he would work on that problem with you. He was very encouraging to that type of honest approach.”
I think the public policy program at Duke brings that interdisciplinary spirit, that aggressive curiosity. That’s not just expected; it’s required. To be successful at Duke, you have to be aggressively curious, and you have to have courage.
The Special Dynamics of Duke
It wasn’t just Terry Sanford's legacy that made an indelible mark on his life. After all, President Sanford was carrying on the ideals expected of all Duke faculty, staff, and students. As a Duke graduate and the father of another Duke graduate (2015), Emory can reflect on how public policy at Duke shaped his career.
“I think the public policy program at Duke brings that interdisciplinary spirit, that aggressive curiosity. That’s not just expected; it’s required. To be successful at Duke, you have to be aggressively curious, and you have to have courage.”
His son’s years at Duke gave him a renewed understanding of the unique academic environment that Duke still embodies. Emory is Trustee Emeritus of Duke University and Duke University Health System. He sees his investment in Duke as a lifelong cause.
“As students at Duke, we spent a lot of time thinking not about who we were but who we wanted to be. I feel very fortunate to have been at Duke University as a student and then as a trustee. The spirit of Duke is that you are here not because of who you are but who we think you can be. So, I always felt a responsibility to make ‘who I might be’ a really impactful thing. Duke invests so much in selecting classes and faculty, so I feel obligated to make that investment matter. As I watched my son’s sojourn through Duke and saw the friends that he made, I was so proud of that. These are people who would otherwise have never met.”
Jump in. If you earn admission to Duke, you already have something to contribute. So jump in. Know where your interests are and jump in.
Advice for Current Students in a Contentious Time
As a scholar and veteran in public-facing leadership, Emory understands the confluence of factors that affect public policy today. When asked about any advice he would give to a student enrolled at Duke today, he shared this wisdom.
“We are at an inflection point. How do we get people with integrity and critical thinking skills into the public sphere? We need to encourage people to listen to views that are not their own. I don’t have to demonize you to disagree with you. If it’s not uncomfortable, you are not learning.”
Extending this advice, he offers a simple but meaningful phrase.
“Jump in. If you earn admission to Duke, you already have something to contribute. So jump in. Know where your interests are and jump in.”
His experience as student body president and a student in the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs (not yet a Duke school) was a formative time in Emory’s life. However, even after Duke, Emory was still inspired by an encounter with Terry Sanford. It was 1986, and candidate Sanford was running for the U.S. Senate.
“After Duke, I was already a lawyer working for an organization, and he came to speak during our annual awards event. It was a long event and started at 7 pm. We had all these different awards, and by the time he got up to speak, it was 10 pm. Everybody was exhausted. They introduced him for his 45-minute speech. He got up, walked to the mic, looked around the room, and said, ‘I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a fool. Goodnight, everyone.’ He brought the house down. I bet he had every vote in that place. Just with a simple ‘Goodnight’. As a leader, he taught me that you can’t move something forward unless you understand where the people are.”
Sign up for our monthly Alumni Newsletter
This article was posted in the Sanford Alumni Memo, to stay informed about Sanford alumni events, news and profiles email Alex Dodds firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.