Rudolph “Rudy” Pate grew up on a tobacco farm in Robeson County, where he learned about the plowing, curing and harvesting of tobacco. He was active in the 4-H, serving as president of the Robeson County Council of 4-H Clubs and winning the county corn championship one year.
But as the valedictorian at Barker Ten Mile High School (so named because it sat halfway between the Barker Methodist Church and the Ten Mile Baptist Church), Pate wanted to write. He had covered the local beat for The Robesonian, the local newspaper in Lumberton, in addition to his farm duties and a part-time job at the Robeson County Cold Storage Company. Pate also knew he wanted to go to NC State, even though it didn’t have a journalism school to help him become a writer.
In the end, it didn’t matter. After graduating from NC State in 1943 with a degree in agricultural education, Pate was was able to combine his knack for storytelling with his love for NC State to become the man in charge of telling the university’s story. As the longtime head of the university’s Office of Information Services and then the university’s vice chancellor for foundations and university relations, Pate was known throughout North Carolina as the man who always had a good tale to tell about NC State and its people.
Pate, who served NC State for a total of 35 years, died Tuesday. He was 93.
“The biggest thrill in my work has been to see NCSU, in my lifetime, grow from a small land grant college to one of America’s 25 top public research universities — an amazing accomplishment,” Pate wrote after he retired from NC State in 1985.
A story in the Alumni Association’s magazine following his retirement described Pate as a “grinning Robeson County farm boy” who knew how to promote his beloved university with homespun stories. The story quoted an unnamed university benefactor talking about his experience with Pate: “I had some money in my pocket once. Got to missing it and thought someone had stolen it. Come to find out, Rudy had talked me out of it.”
But no matter how Pate was described, the story said, most people considered Pate a friend and treasured “the good humor that radiates from him like warmth from a cozy stove. And if, in the glow of a shared laugh, he begins to talk about the important contributions of North Carolina State University, most people find themselves persuaded.”
During his years as a student at NC State, Pate worked in the College News Bureau and wrote for the Technician and The Wataugan, a campus humor and literary magazine. During his senior year, Pate was editor of The Agriculturist, a magazine published by students in the School of Agriculture. He was a member of the YMCA Cabinet, the Student Government Council and Golden Chain, the university’s top honor society.
Upon graduation, Pate went to work as an agriculture teacher at his old high school. It wasn’t long, though, before he felt the pull back to NC State. Within a few months, Pate returned to work at the College News Bureau. A few years later, Pate returned home to Lumberton when The Robesonian offered him a job as city editor. Five months later, Chancellor John Harrelson traveled to Lumberton to convince Pate to come back to NC State, according to a 1952 story in The News & Observer naming Pate “Tar Heel of the Week.”
Pate would go on to serve 19 years as director of the State College News Bureau and 16 years as head of the university’s development and public relations efforts. Between those two periods, he served as associate director of the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta and as assistant to UNC President William Friday, a friend from their days as students at NC State.
Pate was well respected by reporters and editors throughout North Carolina, in part because of his willingness to deal with them on unfavorable stories about the university as well as those that told of the university’s accomplishments.
The “Tar Heel of the Week” story about Pate summarized his philosophy on negative stories: “The quicker you get them over with, the better. Get out all the truth as quickly as possible. That means fewer stories, and the story will die and be forgotten more quickly.”
But Pate loved to tell of the university’s many achievements, even if it required extra reading at home to make sure he understood the work being done in areas such as nuclear physics engineering. He would then write stories about NC State on his Royal typewriter (he employed the hunt-and-peck method with his two pointer fingers.).
Pate’s wife, Paige, also did her part to promote the university — even if it meant resorting to a bit of superstition. In 1967, The Raleigh Times told the story of a red-and-white herringbone skirt that she wore when NC State played Duke in football. The team won three straight years against Duke when Pate wore the lucky skirt. “I’m real happy State won Saturday, but I’m more inclined to think it was because of Earle Edwards and the boys and not my skirt,” she told the newspaper.
During his years at NC State, Pate chaired the committee that created the Watauga Medal and was a member of the committee that created the plans for creating the University of North Carolina Television Network. Private donations to the university and its foundations increased from $1.3 million a year to $6.8 million a year in 1984, according to an account at the time of his retirement.
Even in retirement, Pate continued to serve the university. He was a consultant in the construction of the Park Alumni Center, home of the Alumni Association, on Centennial Campus. His daughter, Mary Paige, and her husband, Bill Murray, are both graduates of NC State.
“NCSU provided ‘a window to the world’ for me, as a student, and opened up the doors for me,” Pate wrote upon his retirement. “With the help of many fine people (and especially Paige), I was able to walk through those doors and proceed to this point in my life. I will, therefore, always be indebted to the University for its guidance and inspiration and hope, in some minor manner, to be able to continue to assist it.”
Pate, who lived in Georgetown, S.C., is survived by his daughter, Mary Paige Murray, son-in-law, Bill Murray, of Georgetown, S.C., his granddaughter, Cameron Kelly, her husband, Chad Kelly, of Raleigh, and brother and sister-in-law, Eugene and Phyllis Pate of Lumberton, N.C.
The family will receive visitors at 1 p.m. Friday at Mitchell Funeral home, 7209 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh. Funeral services will follow at 2 p.m. Interment will be at Raleigh Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Rudolph Pate Endowment, N.C. State Alumni Association, attn: Becky Bumgardner, Office of University Development, Campus Box 7501, Raleigh, N.C., 27695-7501 or Tidelands Hospice, 2591 N. Fraser St., Georgetown, S.C., 29440.