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Roster of Recipients

roster-scrollClick on the scroll (at right) for the most recent and only comprehensive listing of recipients of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, or what might otherwise be called the “membership roster” for “The Order”.  It was compiled by Phillip T. Fisher from a myriad of documents found in the Governor’s Records at the North Carolina Office of Archives & History and, beginning in 1983, from lists provided by Archives & History and the Office of the Governor. For their cooperation and valuable assistance in furnishing these lists, Mr. Fisher gratefully acknowledges the efforts of Archivist William H. Brown, Governor’s Records Archivist Mark Valsame and the Search Room staff at the Office of Archives & History.

The list contains the recipient’s name (typically as it appears on the award certificate) and the month and year of the certificate or presentation date. It covers the period June, 1963 (when, according to the records, the first certificate appears to have been issued) to the present. Recipients omitted from the list may, by mail or email, furnish The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society a copy of their certificate showing their name and award date, and their information will be added to the Roster. Given the condition of the early records placed in the custody of Archives & History, the names of some persons awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine undoubtedly have been omitted. Consequently, despite the best efforts to compile the most complete and accurate listing of recipients possible, the award certificate itself remains the best, and sometimes only, reliable evidence of membership in The Order of the Long Leaf Pine and should, therefore, be treated by the recipients with the care it properly deserves.

Recipients omitted from the list may, by mail or e-mail, furnish The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society a copy of their certificate clearly showing their name and award date, and their information will be added to the Roster.

Origin & History

Among the honors and awards the Governor of North Carolina can bestow, none is more valued than The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Since its creation in 1963, it has been presented to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina or some other special achievement, and to others as a gesture of friendship and good will. Upon being named to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the honoree receives a certificate by which the Governor confers upon the recipient “…the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary privileged to enjoy fully all rights granted to members of this exalted order among which is the special privilege to propose the following North Carolina Toast in select company anywhere in the free world:

‘Here’s to the land
of the long leaf pine,
The summer land
where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong
and the strong grow great,
Here’s to “down home”,
the Old North State!”

But despite its popularity and prestige, until the publication of this report, little was known of the origin of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine or its recipients.

Notwithstanding the considerable efforts of this author and others to determine the origin of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, its genesis still remains something of a mystery. It appears that the award probably originated in the spring of 1963 during the administration of Governor Terry Sanford (1961-1965), but neither a thorough review of the records of the North Carolina Office of Archives & History nor interviews with key Sanford administration officials disclosed who conceived the program, when it was created, or what may have inspired it.

An examination of records from the Sanford administration revealed the earliest references to “The Order” in June 18, 1963 letters from Governor Sanford to four Spanish dignitaries with whom Governor Sanford’s representative, businessman R. Walker Martin, met during a good will mission to their country. Based upon these records, they appear to have been the first recipients of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award which Governor Sanford and his Press Secretary described at the time as being given to “distinguished visitors to our State”, a “very select group of friends of North Carolina”, and “our highest honorary for special friends of North Carolina”.  The use of the terms “visitors” and “friends” together with the fact that only fourteen of seventy-six persons named by Governor Sanford to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine were North Carolina residents implies that the award was, at least in the beginning, primarily intended to promote North Carolina to persons outside the state.  In fact, among the first North Carolinians to receive the award was Governor Sanford’s good will representative to Spain, Mr. Martin, who was named in September, 1963.

In attempting to isolate the time frame in which the awards program was created, it is perhaps noteworthy that two months prior to Governor Sanford’s letters referring to “The Order”, the North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development conducted a Trade Fair in Charlotte featuring a gala “State of North Carolina Recognition Ceremony”. Television and motion picture personalities Andy Griffith and Anne Jeffreys and network news anchor David Brinkley were among the honorees present for this April 28 televised event hosted by Governor Sanford. While this would appear to have been an opportune occasion for the awarding of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, those honored were instead given silver cups (which Mr. Martin, on behalf of Governor Sanford, personally delivered to North Carolina native Ava Gardner during his good will mission to Spain). The fact that no mention was made of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine during these ceremonies nor any reference found in records preceding them, at least suggests that this awards program was first implemented sometime immediately prior to June 18, 1963, although no more specific information could be found. This lack of information is further documented in a January, 1975 letter from Governor James Holshouser, Jr. who, in responding to an inquiry regarding the origin of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, wrote “I regret that we do not have any information concerning the history, purposes, rights and duties of the members of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. It has been a tradition in our state to present these to our friends; however, we can find no information concerning the background.” However, a researcher at the Department of Cultural Resources was probably correct when he observed that “Since the law establishing the long-leaf pine as the state tree was passed in [March] 1963…it was believed that the significance of the order was in large part based on that fact.”

Interestingly, two other awards programs were created at or about this same time. In 1961, the “North Carolina Awards” were established by the North Carolina General Assembly recognizing the notable attainments of North Carolinians in the fields of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, and Public Service.  And the “Society of the Prodigal Son” was initiated during the summer of 1963 to honor prominent North Carolinians who, according to the certificates given them, had left the state for “professional and commercial and cultural pursuits”. The records from the Sanford administration also refer to two other awards and designations under the aegis of the governor during this time – the “Honorary Tar Heel” award which, according to Governor Sanford, was an organization formed in 1946 whose membership consisted “mainly of practitioners – male – in the communications media”; and the “Ambassador of Good Will” designation which probably originated during the administration of Governor Clyde R. Hoey (1937-1941), if not earlier. Despite their exclusive membership rosters at the time, today being named an “Honorary Tar Heel” is intended as a comical way to make a nonresident an “honorary citizen”, and the “Ambassador of Good Will” designation and “Prodigal Son” award soon ceased to exist. However, the “North Carolina Award” remains the highest honor the State of North Carolina can bestow.

Governor Sanford and his staff may have also taken note of several awards programs in place in other states at the time – most notably, the honorary title of “Kentucky Colonel” awarded by the Governor of Kentucky entitling those commissioned by him to become members of the “Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels” (to which Governor Sanford himself was named in 1961). [Note: In 1971, the State of South Carolina established the Order of the Palmetto (its state tree) no doubt patterned after North Carolina’s The Order of the Long Leaf Pine awards program.]

Left to speculate on the true origin of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one can only imagine that with the elimination of the “Ambassador of Good Will” and short-lived “Prodigal Son” designations and the diminution of the “Honorary Tar Heel” status, the popularity in other states of awards programs like the “Honorary Order of Kentucky Colonels”, and the recent adoption of the (longleaf) pine as the state tree, some creative official or staff member in the Sanford administration (probably from the Department of Conservation and Development) conceived The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award primarily to promote the state to its “visitors” and “friends”. Under successive governors, the award then evolved into one reserved especially to honor and recognize North Carolinians. What is clear that, since its inception probably in 1963 by Governor Sanford, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award program has enjoyed the support and participation of every subsequent North Carolina governor which, at the time of this publication, included Governor Dan K. Moore (1965-1969), Governor Robert W. Scott (1969-1973), Governor James E. Holshouser, Jr. (1973-1977), Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. (1977-1985), Governor James G. Martin (1985-1993), Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. (1993-2001), Governor Michael F. Easley (2001-2009), Governor Beverly E. Perdue (2009-2013), and Governor Pat McCrory (2013 – present).

Not only could little be gleaned from state records concerning the origin of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, so too was there a lack of organized records regarding its early recipients. In fact, it appears from the records that the first listing of persons (and entities) named to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine did not occur until 1983 – twenty years after the program was established. Instead, the identities of recipients during the 1963-1983 period were discovered in miscellaneous correspondence, memoranda, even on napkins and the backs of envelopes. Consequently, especially for the early years of the program, it is difficult to assert with any degree of certainty that the list of recipients is complete and accurate – only that considerable effort was made and care taken to identify them using the best information available.

Although the absence of any listing or directory of persons receiving the award before 1983 made identifying recipients more difficult, the notes and correspondence naming them did provide some useful insight into why they were awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine – information not available later from the mere listing of names and dates. A review of this supplemental information suggests, as previously surmised, that The Order of the Long Leaf Pine may have been originally designed and intended to promote and generate interest in North Carolina with persons visiting the state, often in connection with meetings, conferences, conventions, public appearances or similar functions. They, and later recipients for which information is available, included executives of national and foreign corporations, elected government officials and agency heads, military officers, trade association representatives, religious leaders, educators, athletes, television and motion picture stars, and other persons of status and celebrity.

Among the recipients, you will find the familiar names of the following North Carolinians: Maya Angelou, Shirley Caesar, Charlie Daniels, Dale Earnhardt, John Hope Franklin, William “Bill” Friday, Roman Gabriel, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Junior Johnson, Michael Jordan, Alexander Julian, Fred Kirby, Ronnie Milsap, Hugh Morton, Gaylord Perry, Richard Petty, Earl Scruggs, General Henry Hugh Shelton, Enos Slaughter, Arthur Smith, Dean Smith, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Bob Timberlake, Randy Travis, and Arthel L. “Doc” Watson. They are joined by such other notables as Harry Belafonte, Rod Carew, Shirley Chisolm, Joan Crawford, Phil Donahue, Gerald R Ford, John Glenn, Tipper Gore, Mia Hamm, Engelbert Humperdink, Jesse Jackson, George Jessel, George Jones, Jean Claude Killey, Coretta Scott King, Bess Myerson, Hal Needham, Leslie Neilson, Itzak Perlman, Gary Player, Sidney Poitier, Colin Powell, William H. Rehnquist, Kenny Rogers, Curtis Strange, The Blue Angels, Lanny Wadkins, Ted Williams, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Tammy Wynette and Andrew Young.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine has not, however, been the exclusive domain of the  famous and influential. The pre-1983 records contain examples of the award being presented to businesses (fast food restaurants, grocery stores, pet stores, shopping malls, etc.), elementary school classes, and no doubt countless individuals with only a passing interest in North Carolina. In its early history, it also began to be conferred upon state employees (esp. law enforcement officers) presumably in recognition of their service or special accomplishment, and those state employees who, at the time of their retirement, had completed a certain minimum number of years of service to the State. The qualifications criteria for membership in The Order of the Long Leaf Pine are within the sole discretion of the sitting Governor and were not set forth in any of the records examined. However, it is clear that over time, the process for nominating and evaluating candidates became increasingly stringent, further solidifying its reputation as among the most prestigious awards presented by the Governor of North Carolina.

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