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Thursday, February 22, 2007

NCCU names dorm for Ben Ruffin

The renaming of an N.C. Central University residence hall for Ben Ruffin, a former chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, is a good first step, Vernon Jordan, the presidential adviser and corporate attorney, said Tuesday.

But to truly honor Ruffin's long legacy as a civil rights activist and supporter of higher education, the community needs to push forward with his vision for public service, said Jordan, a friend of Ruffin's and the featured speaker at an afternoon tribute to the NCCU alumnus who died of a heart attack in December.

"There is a leadership void to be filled," Jordan said. "The question is, who will answer? Who will answer: Here am I. Send me!"

After the 50-minute tribute, more than 200 attendees marched across Fayetteville Street to see the New Baynes Residence Hall renamed for Ruffin, a Durham native who, friends and colleagues said, never forgot his roots.

His widow, Avon Ruffin, echoed Jordan's sentiments.

"I hope that Ben's name on this building will be a constant reminder of his work in this community," she said. "And I hope it will be a reminder of the work still to be done."

The Ruffin family lives near Winston-Salem now. Ruffin was 64 when he died Dec. 7, and his death was surprising. A health nut, he had just finished jogging when his heart gave way. He was known as someone who ate well -- picking at salads during business lunches -- and looked for places to work out while on the road.

His life's work cut a wide swath. He was, at various times, a civil rights activist, an adviser to Gov. Jim Hunt, an executive with R.J. Reynolds, and a member of the UNC system's Board of Governors.

In 1998 he became that board's first black chairman, winning a close and contentious vote and then spending four years insisting that all views -- including those of students -- were heard during board discussions.

It is perhaps fitting that the residence hall now bearing his name was built with funds secured through the 2000 higher education bond campaign, a massive university system effort that secured $2.5 billion for the 16-campus system. As chairman, Ruffin was a key and active player in that campaign and put particular emphasis on the needs of his alma mater and the state's other historically black institutions.

"This dormitory will stand as a reminder to many, especially the students, of the contributions he made to this university," said Bill Bell, Durham's mayor.

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