They don't come any better
June 6 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

They don't come any better | Friday, June 6, 2003

Friday, June 6, 2003

They don't come any better

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

Norman Adrian Wiggins' retirement as president of Campbell University closes a notable chapter in a remarkable story of success and progress in Christian higher education.

Wiggins, 79, led the school through 36 years of growth in both scope and excellence, despite having to confront an array of obstacles along the way. When he became president in 1967, Campbell College enrolled about 2,200 students. When he retired on May 29, Campbell claimed more than 4,000 students on campus and another 6,000 in off-campus sites stretching from Fort Bragg to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

When Wiggins began his tenure, the school was still getting used to the idea of being a four-year college. At the end of his presidency, Campbell could boast five graduate programs: the Norman A. Wiggins School of Law, the Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Education, and the School of Divinity.

Excellence has been a hallmark of the graduate programs: law school graduates perennially embarrass larger schools with 100 percent passage rates on their first attempt at the bar, and the other schools maintain sterling reputations of their own.

I have never known a person more suitable to his job, or more closely identified with it, than Norman Wiggins and Campbell University. And, in many ways, their success stories run in parallel.

Campbell began its life as Buies Creek Academy on a cold January morning in 1887. The building was not yet ready, so founder James Archibald Campbell assigned five students to work on completing the building while he and the remaining 16 students held classes in a local church.

The school faced bleak financial prospects year after year, but struggled through with the help of the Little River Baptist Association and various private donors. When the public school system began and the need for private academies was reduced, Campbell moved the school to become a junior college. In 1925, he sold it to the Baptist State Convention for a very modest price.

With the founder's death in 1934 - after 47 years at the helm of the tiny school - leadership passed to his son, Leslie Hartwell Campbell, who served as president for the next 33 years.

Beginning his work during the Great Depression, Leslie Campbell was determined that poverty should not be a detriment to those who were willing to work for an education.

That is where Norman Wiggins and Campbell University begin their story. When Wiggins returned home from his service as a Marine in World War II, he sought to begin his higher education. He spoke with "Professor Leslie" about his desire to attend Campbell, but remarked that he had "no visible means of support."

Wiggins recalls that Campbell smiled and said "Come on down; we will work it out some way." As an afterthought, he added, "You are going to feel at home down here; no one has any money."

After completing his course of study at Campbell, Wiggins went on to Wake Forest University, where he graduated from the law school. After working several years as a trust officer with Planters Bank in Rocky Mount, he was invited to return to Wake Forest and join the law school faculty. In preparation, he earned two additional degrees from Columbia University, including the doctor of science of juris prudence, with high honors.

Wiggins began teaching at Wake Forest in 1956 and remained until 1967, serving the last five years as the university's general counsel.

Then Campbell called, and the rest is history.

Through the intervening years, Wiggins has served Campbell - and N.C. Baptists - as a scholar, a statesman, and a died-in-the-wool, authentic Baptist churchman.

After a sabbatical, Wiggins is slated to assume the title of chancellor, and while the duties of that position are not yet defined, we trust that it will enable him to continue making positive contributions to the university, even as new president Jerry Wallace capably assumes Campbell's primary leadership role.

Campbell's motto has always appealed to me because of its combination of hope and realism: "Ad Astra per Aspera" - "To the stars, through difficulties."

No one has embodied that motto better than Norman Adrian Wiggins.

May his tribe increase.

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6/6/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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