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Pleasures of Life Dept.

A Community Treasure

The Ruth Pauley Lecture Series

By Bob Hughes and Larry Allen

Ruth Pauley was a tall, slender woman who walked with a cane. Her thick gray wavy hair sat atop a face that exuded confidence and commitment. She possessed a disarming smile, one with a hint of irony in it, and displayed it often.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pauley graduated from Elmira College in New York before receiving a master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University. She began her career with local social service agencies in Ohio before serving in Italy and Greece with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, followed by the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., as an international consultant, and then with the Boston regional office of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as consultant to the New England region before bringing her energy to the Sandhills in 1978.

The lecture series that bears her name is well known in our community, though Pauley herself passed away before the series truly began. It was established in 1988 in her honor, two years after she and her friends — a committee working with the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and Sandhills Community College — had persuaded Dr. Raymond Stone, then president of Sandhills Community College, to host six lectures on nuclear disarmament, a cause to which Pauley was deeply committed.

Dr. Stone was unsure if the venture would succeed, but Pauley and her friends were persuasive and formidable advocates. Among them, they knew many high level individuals in government and the private sector, and had already identified speakers to address the complexities of the issue. It turned out that Stone’s misgivings were misplaced. All six of the lectures were standing-room-only affairs held in Kennedy Hall, room 134, at the time the largest room on campus. Pauley sat on the front row each evening wearing a large peace sign necklace, which she wore at all times.

Her health was declining even as the nuclear disarmament lectures proceeded. After she passed away at the age of 77, her closest friend, Eunice Minton, spearheaded the effort to establish an ongoing lecture series in her honor. Bylaws were written and approved by a board of directors made up of rotating volunteers from the community at large and its four sponsoring organizations: the League of Women Voters; the American Association of University Women; the Moore County School System; and, Sandhills Community College.

Mindful of its mission to “achieve a steady increase in the participation of local schools, personnel and students” in the study of state, national and world issues, on the day of a Ruth Pauley lecture the board arranges a visit by the speaker to one of the area high schools to meet with and address the assembled students. In conjunction with Sandhills Community College the board created the Lyceum Scholar program, providing opportunities for students and teachers to interact personally with some of the most intriguing thinkers of our time. Two students from each of the five area high schools (the Ruth Pauley Lyceum Scholars) are chosen to meet the speaker, enjoy a complimentary pre-lecture dinner with the speaker, and be introduced to the audience at the lecture. Following graduation, the Lyceum Scholar is eligible for a $200 books-and-tuition scholarship through the college’s foundation.

Over the years the series has benefited from several endowments promoting discussion of environmental (Agnes O’Connell Buckley memorial lecture), mental health (Lee and Ellen Airs lecture) and journalism/media (Sam Ragan lecture) issues. These, along with other endowed lectures (the Carl B. Munro lecture and the Lottie Sue Williamson memorial lecture) have enabled the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series to offer a rich and varied tapestry of contemporary thought. In addition to the support of its sponsoring organizations and endowments, the series also relies on the generous support of community donors. With an all-volunteer board of directors and the help of Sandhills Community College, less than 3 percent of revenue is used for administrative expenses. The balance goes almost entirely for honoraria and speaker travel.

Stimulating and entertaining — from Maya Angelou, Sandra Day O’Connor, Newt Gingrich, Jane Goodall, Julian Bond and Jack Nicklaus to Diane Rehm, Leon Panetta, Patty Duke, Branford Marsalis, General Hugh Shelton, Len Elmore, Charles Grice “Lefty” Driesell and The People’s Pharmacy hosts, Joe and Terry Graedon — past speakers have encompassed the full spectrum of human experience.

Coming up this season:

September 21, 2023: “Discourse and Politics in Contemporary America” with Frank Bruni, noted New York Times op-ed columnist and Duke University professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy.

October 19, 2023: “Climate Change and the North Carolina Coast” with Dr. Reide Corbett, dean of Integrated Coastal Programs and professor in the Department of Coastal Studies at East Carolina University.

November 9, 2023: “The Mandela-DeKlerk “Miracle” — South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy” with William E. Lucas, retired senior Foreign Service officer, U.S. Department of State.

March 21, 2024: “America and the Right to Possess Firearms: The Past, Present and Future of the Second Amendment” with Joseph Blocher, Duke University professor of law and co-director of the Center for Firearms Law.

April 24, 2024: “The Solar System and Beyond: Artemis, Webb and Inspiring the Next Generation of NASA Explorers” with Anne E. Weiss, Ph.D., NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars Education specialist and team lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

All lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center in Owens Auditorium on the Sandhills Community College campus. Unless otherwise noted they begin at 7 p.m., are preceded by a cash bar in the auditorium lobby, and are followed by a question and answer session and reception.  PS

For more information and to see a more complete list of past speakers, visit

Originally from San Francisco, Bob Hughes and his family settled in Pinehurst in 1996 after a 20-year career in law in Aspen, Colorado. A faithful attendee at Ruth Pauley Lectures, he was appointed to the board as a community member at large in 2021. Larry Allen is a retired Sandhills Community College employee who served in both administrative and instructional positions from 1980-2014. He remains a lifetime member of the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series Board.