Local News

Ken Royall, Legendary Legislator, Dies at 80

Posted June 5, 1999

— Former state legislator, businessman and civic leader Kenneth C. Royall Jr. died at his home Saturday of cancer. He was 80.

A powerful force in North Carolina politics for decades, a colleague once said of Royall that he not only knew which buttons to push, "he created most of the buttons."

Royall, a Democrat, initially had no desire to follow his father into politics. His father was this country's last Secretary of War, serving just prior to the department being renamed the Department of Defense.

But in 1957 the younger Royall ran for the Durham County School Board, serving as chairman for eight of the 10 years he was a member.

Royall then served in the state House from 1967 to 1972 and in the Senate from 1973 to his retirement in 1992. Other lawmakers nicknamed Royall ``Bear'' for his large size, swaying gait and gruff manner.

It was in the Senate that Royall held sway as one of the ``Gang of Eight'' that made most of the major decisions on state policy.

For most of those years, Royall held the state's purse strings as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and because of his intimate knowledge of state spending.

``He was a master of the legislative process and the workings of the state budget,'' Gov. Jim Hunt said Saturday in a release. ``For nearly three decades, he was the heart of North Carolina's progress from children's issues to education to economic development.''

He also was instrumental in advances in the state's mental health system and started the Prevent Blindness Program, which was recently named for him.

He was key to the formation of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, which was established in Durham, and to the Royall Center for the Arts, in downtown Durham.

Royall preferred to work behind the scenes, understanding the legislative process and able to use that understanding, as Durham Sen. and fellow Democrat Wib Gulley toldThe Herald-Sun, "to ensure that most things he liked succeeded and most things he disliked were stopped."

Durham Rep. Paul Luebke told the newspaper that Royall held one of the most powerful positions in state government with little fanfare.

Gulley said that Royall "was the single most influential man in (the N.C. Senate) for a number of years."

In addition, he was elected majority leader of the Senate in his freshman year in that body. This was an unheard of achievement, but his reputation from several terms on the House side preceded him. In 1980, he was voted one of the 10 most outstanding legislators in the country.

Royall was born in Warsaw in Duplin County, grew up in Goldsboro and spent most of his adult life in Durham, where he owned and ran Stylecraft Interiors, a furniture store, for 38 years.

Royall was predeceased by Julia Z. Royall, his wife of 50 years. He is survived by their three children and their spouses, and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 2 p.m. at St. Philip's Episcopal Church on East Main Street in Durham. Private burial will follow in Maplewood Cemetery.

The family will receive friends on Monday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Howerton and Bryan Funeral Home on West Main Street.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal Church, 725 N. Boylan Ave., Raleigh, NC 27605 or to St. Philip's Episcopal Church, PO Box 218, Durham, NC 27702.

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