When Joseph S. Ferrell came to Carolina as a first-year student from Pasquotank County in 1956, he decided he never wanted to leave.
Some 54 years later, not only is Ferrell still here, but he has also been an integral part of the academic culture of the University since he joined the faculty in 1964.
Ferrell, a professor of public law and government in the School of Government, earned both his bachelor’s degree in science teaching in 1960 and a law degree in 1963 from Carolina. He earned a master’s of law specialty from Yale University the following year.
Since 1996, he also has served as secretary of the faculty. Known for his institutional memory and dignity with which he carries out his parliamentary duties, Ferrell has been described as “the keeper of the spirit and the letter of the law of Carolina.”
Through the years, he has been a trusted adviser to many people, from county commissioners to chancellors. With expertise in property tax, county government and the N.C. General Assembly, Ferrell has been an instructor and consultant to several legislative study commissions, including work on the 1971 revision of the North Carolina Constitution.
In 2003, Ferrell’s peers honored him with the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award, and the University recognized his many contributions with a C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.
“He is a person of uncommon grace and wit whose love for this place has benefited virtually every member of this campus for many years,” the Massey citation said.
By nature, Ferrell is much more comfortable shining the light on others than on himself. His dry, gentle wit often takes center stage during Commencement and University Day celebrations as he deviates from the citations in recognizing honorary degree and distinguished alumni award recipients in his characteristic northeastern Carolina drawl.
In January 2011, the General Alumni Association recognized Ferrell with its Faculty Service Award. “I cannot think of a better recipient than Joe Ferrell, who has done so much for the University,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp.
Photo credit: Donn Young