Perspectives Online

Aycocks are a history-making team

Edmund and Elizabeth Aycock are the first couple to have each received the Watauga Medal.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

Elizabeth and Edmund Aycock have been married for 68 years. And they've each made lasting contributions to the state of North Carolina. Elizabeth was the first employee of the Research Triangle Park (founded 1959) and played an instrumental role in its development. Edmund founded the North Carolina Cattleman's Association and led the charge in the 1960s for N.C. State University to keep its name (and not become UNC-Raleigh).

In March, they made history again - this time, together.

Elizabeth received the Watauga Medal, the university's highest non-academic honor. She joins a long list of esteemed individuals, including her husband. They are the first couple to both have received the prestigious award.

"It was quite a surprise," she says. "I never dreamed that something like this would happen to me."

Elizabeth was honored with a Watauga Medal at the N.C. State Founders' Day Dinner in March (See Related Story).

The Aycocks met in the late 1930s at what is now known as 4-H Congress, the annual gathering of 4-H'ers from across the state for demonstrations and honor club inductions. Edmund, a 1936 CALS graduate, was in his first job with Cooperative Extension in Vance County, and Elizabeth, a native of Johnston County, had just been crowned 4-H Health Queen.

"She had on a green and white

4-H uniform, and I thought she was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen," Edmund says. "Still do."

After the couple married in 1939, they moved to Edenton. A job with Wachovia pulled Edmund to Raleigh in 1955, and after he commuted between the two cities for a year, the couple and their young daughter relocated in 1956. They purchased a home just inside the Raleigh city limits and continue to live there today. They have two children - a son and a daughter - six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

While she'd rather avoid the spotlight, Elizabeth's achievements continue to land her in the middle of it. An embodiment of the word "trailblazer," Elizabeth was one of few women of her time to attend college. She worked full-time while raising her family and maintaining her home, an unusual choice for a woman in the 1950s.

"She came along at a time in the work world when women were supposed to answer the phone, take dictation and look pretty," Edmund says. "Elizabeth never fit into that at all."

After a serendipitous meeting with George Simpson, who had just been named the first director of the Research Triangle Park, Elizabeth landed her first job in Raleigh as assistant director of the Research Triangle Foundation.

"At that time, the Research Triangle Park was a grand dream, a wild idea taking shape," she says. "That was one of the luckiest days of my life."

She helped guide the Research Triangle Foundation from a small office in an historic home in downtown Raleigh to its present location on a sprawling parcel of land now known as the Research Triangle Park.

Elizabeth did everything from ordering office supplies to helping recruit new businesses.

One such company was Chemstrand, which became the first tenant of Research Triangle Park in 1963. Just two years later, IBM brought its massive operation to the Park, which Elizabeth describes as "the icing on the cake."

"That's when we were able to pay off our mortgage on the land," she says. "Most of the RTP was developed with private funds from individual donors. I'll never forget, when the contributions were coming in, we received a check in the mail for four dollars and fifty cents! But every little bit counts.

"The Research Triangle Park is a wonderful success story for North Carolina," she adds. "It made jobs available not only for graduates of the schools in this area, but for others in the state. And it raised the state's economic level by bringing highly qualified people to work here, to conduct research for the betterment of mankind."

One of the most important things was all of the help from the leaders of the area's colleges and universities, she adds. "This was a tough effort that involved a lot of tugging and pulling, and they all came together. They were all very supportive of RTP, especially N.C. State."

The late Dr. John T. Caldwell, chancellor of N.C. State from 1959 to 1974, helped bring the National Humanities Center to RTP, Elizabeth says. And, the late Dr. Gertrude Cox, a brilliant statistician who taught at N.C. State, played a key role in establishing the Research Triangle Institute.

So, what are Elizabeth's impressions of the Research Triangle Park today?

"I never imagined it becoming this big so quickly," she says. "Success came far faster than we ever expected."

In addition to her work with the Research Triangle Foundation, Elizabeth served on a number of boards and commissions, including the N.C. State Education Foundation and the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund. She was a charter member of the advisory board of ENCORE, an N.C. State program for lifelong enrichment, and played an integral role as an advocate for the creation of the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State.

Elizabeth also served on the N.C. Employment Securities Commission Advisory Council, the regional board of Wachovia Bank, and the Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies Inc. as a trustee on the board and as corporate secretary and assistant treasurer.

"There is nobody who had a more interesting career than I did," she says.

For Elizabeth, the real joy in her life is not her profound record of career accomplishment, but her family, and especially her husband. They blazed this trail together, she says, and they're still as much in love today as they were when they married.

Edmund agrees. "I've always supported her, and she's supported me," he says. "We've shared each other's dreams and each other's working careers, and we understand each other."

Together they established a scholarship for N.C. State students of any major who have excelled in 4-H in any N.C. county. They've supported the College and the University for nearly 70 years, and they continue to be fixtures at special events, especially if it includes getting the chance to talk with their scholarship's recipients.

They were recently named lifetime honorary members of the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund for their tireless support of the program. After all, Edmund says, "If it hadn't been for 4-H, we'd never have met."

-Suzanne Stanard