Fresh Eyes: Pat McCrory for president


by Billy Ingram

Catawba College was a conservative learning institution that, by the mid 1970s, was solidifying its reputation as a rowdy party school — drunken panty raids, Purple Jesus toga parties, brown-bag liquor night at the Midnight Sun to watch Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, $2.75 all-you-can-drink Thursdays at the Buckaneer Lounge. The school newspaper was crowded with ads for Old Milwaukee, Schlitz Malt Liquor and Wild Irish Rose fortified wine.

There were so many alcohol-fueled engagements on and off campus, the jocks and business majors failed to run for school office or show up to vote in the 1976-77 elections, resulting in the Student Government Association being overwhelmed by feminists and long-haired, peace-and-love types.

SGA President Frank Mianzo was a hippie right out of central casting. With stringy, below-the-shoulder black hair and a full beard, he could have easily passed for one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. He adopted a laissez-faire approach to enforcing the more archaic rules governing campus life. Students hauled before the Judicial Court for public intoxication or dorm-visitation violations were more likely let off with a warning as opposed to the overly harsh sentences common in years past.

Mianzo organized a campus beautification day that brought half the student body out to trim bushes and wash away the purple pools of puke flowering outside the residence halls. He struck out for more transparency in student government, advocated for women and minority issues, and booked concerts by Doc & Merle Watson, folk singer Tom Chapin and Pure Prairie League.

You can almost smell the patchouli from here.

Frank Mianzo was the SGA president who inspired McCrory and the college Republicans to run on a slate for SGA offices.
Frank Mianzo was the SGA president who inspired McCrory and the college Republicans to run on a slate for SGA offices.

Without a serious course correction, many feared Catawba College was on the verge of becoming a hippie enclave. The college Republicans — pretty much everyone who wasn’t in the drama or music departments — were especially alarmed.

Who better to turn back the liberal tide than third-year poli-sci major Pat McCrory, the only arch-conservative serving on the student senate in 1977? As leading member of the Grievance Committee his focus had been on trying to get the literary magazine defunded and synchronizing the clocks on campus.

I became acquainted with Pat three years earlier, when we were both freshmen. Looking for a ride home for the weekend, he scoured the student directory for anyone from Greensboro who had a car. I guess I was the first to say yes, despite never having met the guy. I can’t recall what was discussed during that or the two or three subsequent trips down Interstate 85; we had practically nothing in common. In high school he was class president; I was class clown. He played tennis in the afternoons; I drew comic strips for the paper.

I had to admire his brash confidence and dead certainty, a natural politician if ever there was one, with that unnerving, used-car-salesman smile, like someone with the summer sun in their eyes unable to see past the glare and compensating for it, and a Cheshire grin highlighted by eyes that, depending on his mood, could flash bright or go dim in an instant: Elvis has left the building.

McCrory mounted an aggressive campaign for 1977-78 SGA President as part of a concerted effort to return student government to the strident, old-boy’s-club it had traditionally been. A number of like-minded conservatives from Pat’s dorm Pine Knot (the closest thing Catawba had to a fraternity) filed for office, business and economics majors flooded the zone. Pat’s opponent for SGA President, James Shriver, was himself a Pine Knot business major with thick curly Bama Bangs and no previous political experience.

During “The Great Debate” (honest, that’s what they called it) McCrory positioned himself steadfastly against “wasteful spending,” expressing a desire to exert budgetary oversight across all student activities, especially the newspaper and arts magazines. As head of the Presidential Court he pledged stiffer penalties for those who violated the rules.

This stood in contrast to Shriver who didn’t share Pat’s zeal for budget cutting and supported a more lax enforcement of dorm visitation hours. He intended to continue programs enacted under Mianzo’s term, promising to work closely with all agencies and the outgoing president.

A get-out-the-vote campaign assured conservatives of a clean sweep, and that’s just what happened. But McCrory’s coup d’état went over the wall without Pat. In a surprise upset the mellower candidate prevailed.

The future North Carolina governor obviously learned from this experience, as evidenced by a substance-free but winning campaign in 2012 where he wisely never articulated his more controversial views or draconian intents — thereby coasting to victory on a Koch and a smile.

UPDATE: Alert reader Daniel points out that Frank Mianzo is alive and well and working as assistant to the VP/director of student affairs technology at the University of Louisville.

UPDATE II: Frank Mianzo speaks, via email.

“Thanx for the stroll down memory lane -—I never looked at the whole experience in that context.  So maybe if Pat  had won the SGA president he might have failed in NC politics?  Interesting thought for discussion.

Give Billy my best!”

Billy Ingram, a 1979 graduate of Catwaba College, writes about television, punk rock, history, pop culture and maintains the website His most recent book is Punk, about the LA scene in the early 1980s, available at

  • Tom Lassiter

    This needs a byline desperately.

  • Thanks for the heads up, Tom. We just fixed it! [Fresh Eyes is a guest column every week and the author rotates]

  • Great read, thanks!

  • Debbie Beasley

    But where is Frank Mianzo when you really need him!!!!?

  • Daniel

    Looks like he’s got the same smile and is still making a University campus a better place:

  • Kent

    He certainly travels across the state like he was a President, with his transition team, State Police closing roads and his sucking off the tit of a large corporate interest.

  • Jim Barco

    Shriver’s win was so basic: he sought out the vote, personally going door to door, speaking with residents. Pat thought he was preordained to win, and did little campaigning. At the election forum, Shriver was asked what he would do if he lost. He said he’d go down the hall and congratulate Pat, offering any assistance. When McCrory was asked the same question, he said “he did not intend to lose.” Lose he did, and the Shriver win may had been a difference in McCrory’s future political career. Shriver was a good SGA president, but Pat gained much more. A bit of humility.