Alumnus Profile: State Senator Neal Hunt '60
Posted 05/01/2009 01:00AM

Neal Hunt remembers well his days as a middle school student at Ravenscroft’s Tucker Street campus. Yes, he says, he and his classmates studied in a Quonset hut on the land behind Christ Church, but it was the people, the excellent teachers and the fun he had that he remembers best.

“I remember my classmates from sixth and seventh grade,” said Hunt, “especially Carolyn Jones  (Burton),” he said. “We went steady for two years but I never got to kiss her!”

Hunt, a man who loves to tell stories, says he still remembers the hurt he felt when Carolyn picked Mac  (John) Boxley as her square dance partner, not him. “We both liked her and she didn’t want to pick one over the other, but she had to. I was crushed.”

Today, Hunt is a successful businessman and North Carolina State Senator, but he has never lost his enjoyment for time spent with good friends and the telling of a good tale. “I still see these people around town and at events,” he said, “and we have our memories.”

He remembers playing in the yard and wrestling and basketball – and chapel in the main church. Hunt’s parents had been charter members at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, and he has continued to place religion as a priority in his life.

“Something that had a big impact on my life was Bible Study Fellowship. Back in the early ‘80s there were several groups of 500 or so men who would meet weekly in Raleigh, Cary and surrounding towns and study one book of the Bible each year. I continued with this study for 22 years,” he said.

As a politician, his standing is conservative and in line with his strong religious beliefs. “I’m a Republican and a social conservative, and probably more interested in protecting the environment than most politicians,” he said.

During his career as a developer of multi-family housing units in the South, he hated to see land leveled by developers. “I found a site in Savannah, Georgia, that I was considering for a spot to build 200 units, but the trees were spectacular old hardwoods and I didn’t want to cut them. I came up with a plan to build the units on pilings so the cars could park beneath the units and we wouldn’t have to cut down trees for parking lots.  Later in life when I served on the Raleigh Planning Commission, I advocated reasonable environmental protection,” he said.

After Ravenscroft, Hunt attended Daniels Middle School and Virginia Episcopal High School in Lynchburg, Va.  He received his undergraduate degree from Hampden-Sydney College and his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“My father was an orthopedic surgeon and I thought I’d go into medicine, too --- until I had to take organic chemistry!” he said.

Hunt left college for a year when he was 19 and traveled in Europe, spending most of his time in Spain. When he re-enrolled at Hampton-Sydney he was nearly fluent in Spanish and ready to get back to his studies, he said.

“A year after college I was working for Universal Leaf Tobacco Company as a plant foreman. I remember my boss telling me that in 10 years I could make VP with a $30,000 a year salary! What he neglected to tell me was that in the meantime I’d be starving on $325 a month!” said Hunt with a good laugh.

The company moved Neal to a tobacco processing plant in Henderson and then to a shipping and receiving facility in Owensburg, Ky. “I was only 22 years old in an charge of the facility, but it was cold and in the middle of nowhere. I applied to business school and when I was accepted at Wharton I asked my boss, Mr. Crenshaw, if he thought I should go. ‘I believe I would’ he said.

“I had married my wife, Duden, by then and when I finished at Wharton I started looking for jobs in the Philadelphia area. I was offered a job in New York with Goldman Sachs but we both really wanted to get back to the South.  So, I took a job in Raleigh with Wachovia.”

In 1972, Hunt was Wachovia’s regional manager for commercial real estate lending for the Raleigh Region and had learned a lot about development and business. He started his own development company which grew to more than 300 employees over the years building about 4,000 condominiums, apartments and townhomes in North Carolina and neighboring states. He enjoyed having both his children, Eleanor and Kemp, work with him for many years, and his wife Duden also joined him in the early ‘90s.

“In 1990 the Savings and Loans were failing and commercial real estate was in a meltdown. My company survived but we had to sell all our properties outside of North Carolina. I had a lot of debt and had to work hard for three years to get out of debt. Then 15 years later between 2005 and 2007 we sold the rest of the 1500 units we owned because the prices were good. The timing turned out to be perfect,” he said.

In 1993, Hunt decided he had the time and the interest to give back to the community and was appointed to the Raleigh Planning Commission.  After serving seven years, in 2001 he was elected to the Raleigh City Council, and re- elected in 2003. Then in 2004 Neal was elected as a state senator representing the 15th District which is Northern Wake County. He currently serves as Deputy Minority Leader and sits on six committees mostly having to do with finance or transportation issues.

“I’ve worked hard to encourage fiscal responsibility in government,” he said. “I am the sponsor or co-sponsor of many bills to control spending, but historically the legislature has spent all available funds and consequently we are in a serious shortfall right now. I’m glad I’m in the Senate so I can keep voting for fiscal responsibility.”