Editor Clifton B. Metcalf was 53 when he left The mountaineer in 1990 to pursue a second career in the state university system, an age when many people are beginning to consider planning for retirement.
But retirement was never an ambition for the man who had already spent 29 years at the newspaper. In the 23 years since leaving as editor, Metcalf has built a career that has seen him work with top leaders in the North Carolina university system and the General Assembly before taking his retirement from Western Carolina University as Vice Chancellor for Advancement and External Affairs at age. 76.
While the first career put Metcalf in unpredictable situations in and around Haywood County as a reporter and editor, the second took him to the Chancellor’s Offices in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina , then to work with the president of the entire state university system. , and to the offices of the State House Speaker and Acting Senate Speaker when making the case for funding the state’s higher education system.
Before completing his second career, he would successfully lead a $51 million fundraiser for West Carolina.
Last month, Metcalf was honored for his service in that second career and for the volunteer work he had done for nearly 60 years, receiving the first-ever Lifetime Public Service Award presented by the North Carolina Retired Governmental Employees. Association.
It’s the most recent in a string of honors, as Metcalf also received the Order of the Longleaf Pine, the highest honor given to civilian residents of that state; the Outstanding Service Award, presented by the President and Board of Governors of the State University System, and an Exemplary Service Award, presented by the Western Carolina University Board of Trustees – this is just the ninth time the award has been presented in WCU’s 124-year history.
When a door closes
The career change that gave the opportunity for these accomplishments was born out of a failed dream. Metcalf’s second career could arguably be traced to a decision to sell in 1979 The mountaineer, the one produced by the other owners and partners of the newspaper. Metcalf, from Brevard, had wanted to be a newspaper editor and publisher since he was 16, he said, and had come close to fulfilling that dream at The mountaineerwhere he started as a journalist, became editor and bought shares in the company.
When the other owners decided to sell to News & Observer from Raleigh, Metcalf lacked on the one hand to block the move. It was a blow to his dream, but the publisher decided to stay at The mountaineer. Although divorced at this time, Metcalf did not want to disrupt the lives of his three children by moving elsewhere. He therefore signed a 10-year contract with the News & Observer and remained editor.
In 1990, however, with his contract expired, his children grown, and the newspaper reverting to other local owners, Metcalf received an unexpected offer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A Chapel Hill graduate and Morehead Scholar, Metcalf had maintained close ties to the university, frequently visiting its journalism school and lecturing in community newspapers there. However, the call that informed him that the school needed a new director of media services – and that he was the search committee’s unanimous choice for the position – took him by surprise. He hadn’t even interviewed for the job.
Metcalf then met the university’s chancellor, Paul Hardin, and remembers telling him, “I never thought I would quit journalism and go into public relations.” The only way I know to do this work is to tell stories, facts. The Chancellor replied: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Metcalf said Hardin lived up to that statement.
Other doors open
Within weeks, Metcalf married his best friend, Marie Barrett Grasty, and left a 29-year career to The mountaineer to start a new job across the state.
Metcalf, a former Marine, started in Chapel Hill, where he began revamping plans for a new structure to house the university’s radio station, WUNC. The proposal stalled due to cost, but Metcalf negotiated a new budget and the station house was built.
He also scheduled regular meetings between the university’s chancellor and the editorial boards of newspapers in the region so that those relationships would be healthy in times of crisis. He was proud of the day the New York Times and USA today both published front-page stories promoting UNC-Chapel Hill.
He was soon promoted to Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations, and in 1996 joined the general administration of the university, where he was appointed Associate Vice President for State Government Affairs. In this role, he was the liaison for the state university system and the state legislature.
Juggling two roles
After six years at Chapel Hill, Metcalf agreed to take a position at Appalachian State University as associate vice chancellor for public affairs. While Clifton enjoyed his job in Chapel Hill, he said, he had to return to the mountains to care for his aging parents.
The career change did not go as planned. Dick Spangler, president of the University of North Carolina system, stepped in to keep Metcalf in his work with the General Assembly. At the same time, Metcalf felt compelled to work with ASU. So, for two years, Metcalf worked two jobs.
“I kept two cell phones, two boxes of files in the trunk of the car, and when the legislature went home on Thursday, I went back to the office, I informed the president (of the university) where we were (with the Legislature), and the next day I was in my office in Boone,” he said.
Wife Marie became his driver, allowing him to work during the weekly trips. Some people thrive under pressure. Metcalf seemed to.
“I never had a job that I was fully prepared for when I went there,” he said. “Maybe that’s how I felt (about my qualifying), but that’s how I thought.”
Back to the mountain
After nearly two years of dual service, Metcalf gave up work at ASU but continued his work for the university system in government affairs until 2002, when the opportunity arose to return to the mountains full time. West Carolina University Chancellor John Bardo needed to reinvigorate a major fundraising effort for his campus and asked if Metcalf would be interested. To his surprise, Metcalf replied, “Try me.”
So Metcalf returned to the mountains, serving as vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs at Western Carolina University from 2002 to 2013. His new challenge was to raise money for a university whose biggest fundraiser brought in $360,000 for its steeple. Under Metcalf, WCU has raised over $51 million.
Metcalf worked with Bardo to increase the number of staffed faculty at WCU, positions for which the General Assembly would match funding. When he arrived, the university had one. When Metcalf retired in 2013, the university had more than 30.
His work at Western Carolina included a multitude of assignments, including serving as Executive Secretary of the University Foundation; member of the executive council throughout his tenure and executive director of the Catamount Club. He also serves on the WCU’s advisory board with the Eastern Cherokee Band.
From Libraries to Ball Pits
When the Retired Government Employees Association decided to create a lifetime achievement award, Zeta Smith knew who she would nominate. Smith had worked as an advertising executive during Metcalf’s time at The mountaineer. And when he came back to Western, he hired her as the director of special events.
In the nomination, Smith pointed out that Metcalf’s public service did not begin with his college career. In Haywood County, he was founding chairman of the Haywood County Schools Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants; Founding Vice President of Folkmoot and Chairman of the Haywood County Public Library Board, where he led the construction of the main Waynesville Library and the existing Canton branch on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“For nearly 15 years he has coached teams in a multi-county league, including boys’ ages 8-10 and girls’ teams in college,” Smith wrote. “For most of his players, he was their first coach…getting a notable reputation for fairness and inclusion in the mid-1970s. A 9-year-old black boy, who was asked by an assistant coach why he wanted to be on the team, simply replied, “Because everyone in my neighborhood knows Mr. Metcalf doesn’t care what color you are.”
Metcalf did not leave the public service when he retired. He served for several years on the board of directors of the North Carolina Retired Government Employees Association and as treasurer and chair of its finance committee.
He was also a member of the board of directors of the Mountain Area Health Education Center and of the board of directors of Givens Estates and the School of Nursing Development Council at WCU. He continues to serve at Waynesville First United Methodist Church.
He also worked with local and state leaders to address serious erosion issues along Paint Creek and California Creek, both along and above his family farm in Madison County. The community club there recently honored him for this work.
Now 86, Metcalf grows dahlias around his Junaluska Lake home, works them on the Madison farm and continues to serve his church, children and grandchildren, all while wishing he could return to full-time work. .
“I hate retirement,” he says simply.
“Clifton Metcalf lived a life defined by service – to his country, his community and others,” Smith wrote in his nomination. “His community service was not limited to his professional positions. Particularly in Haywood County, his volunteer/community involvement and leadership has left an astonishingly broad positive impact in areas as diverse as K-12 public education, the performing arts, and the public library. .