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.
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 TVParty.com. His most recent book is Punk, about the LA scene in the early 1980s, available at amazon.com.