PEMBROKE – Former UNCP trustee and alumnus Gervais Oxendine worked selflessly to support the county and the growth of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Although he was a successful businessman, Oxendine shunned the limelight.
"He worked behind the scenes," said long-time friend, Ron Sutton. "Gervais wanted to remain in the background."
Fittingly, Oxendine was presented the state’s highest award – The Order of the Long Leaf Pine – before a small group of family and friends at his Lumberton home last week.
Oxendine passed away on May 1.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Olivia Holmes Oxendine, a professor in the School of Education at UNCP; two sons, Capt. Eric Oxendine and Brock Oxendine; and three grandsons.
Gov. McCroy issued a statement expressing his condolences.
"Gervais Oxendine was a loyal friend whose service to our nation’s military, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the Lumbee Tribe made our state and country a better place. He always had a smile on his face and a personality that could fill a room. Ann and I join his community and our state is mourning his loss and praying for his family."
"Gervais was a dear friend to me and to UNC Pembroke," said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings. "Despite being taken too soon, he made a lasting impact on the university through his service on our Board of Trustees and continued advocacy for our institution. On behalf of UNCP, I extend our heartfelt condolences to Olivia and the entire family."
Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby made the trip to Oxendine’s home to present him with the Order of the Long Leaf on April 27. Jarrod Lowery, community liaison with the Governor’s Office, presented Oxendine with a letter of accommodation on behalf of state Senate leader Phil Berger proclaiming Oxendine’s lifetime achievements.
Oxendine, a Pembroke native, served two, four-year terms on the UNCP Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2005. He served as chair from 2002 to 2004. A 1964 graduate, he is a former member of UNCP’s Foundation Board and lifetime member of the Chancellor’s Club.
Oxendine served on the "First and Ten Campaign" committee which successfully revived the football program after a 57-year absence.
During Oxendine’s tenure, the university underwent an enormous transformation after receiving $56.6 million from the Higher Education Bond in 2000. The money was used to renovate and upgrade several buildings and infrastructure and construct a new science building and new residence hall.
Oxendine was a fixture at university events and fundraisers. He and his wife recently attended a private ceremony for UNC System President Margaret Spellings at the Entrepreneurship Incubator.
"He always loved the university," said Sutton, a former state representative. "He gave the university credit for starting his careers in the military and industry. He was very outspoken about the university."
Oxendine enjoyed an illustrious 32-year career with Abbott Laboratories, holding key management positions at facilities in Laurinburg, Chicago and Spartanburg.
A veteran member of the local Republican Party Executive Committee, he served as a mentor to many county leaders like Lowery and UNCP Trustee Jarette Sampson, ’00.
"Gervais took me under his wing," Sampson said. "He not only helped me professionally, but he was there to talk to me about life decisions. I learned a lot from him about business and politics. He was a methodical thinker. He was good at analyzing how decisions that were made today would affect future generations."
Born in 1943, Oxendine was the son of the late Vernon and Nancy Chavis Oxendine. His father retired as police chief in Pembroke. After college, he earned his commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy stationed aboard USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War.
Before joining Abbott Laboratories, he worked as in industrial engineer with Johns Manville, Inc. in New Jersey. He retired in 2002 and later served as consultant with Porter Scientific in Pembroke.
He also served on the North Carolina Railroad Company Board of Directors.
Faline Dial, a local businesswoman and Pembroke Chamber of Commerce president, also sought advice from Oxendine.
"He was very astute and knowledgeable," Dial said. "Whenever I was faced with any business or political challenges, I would look to him for guidance. He was always very supportive and respectful.
Dial admired his calming demeanor.
"He never got excited, no matter the situation," she said.
Oxendine left a lasting impression on countless individuals through his work in the private sector and politics, according to Jarrod Lowery.
"He put the community first," Lowery said. "He used his decades of relationship-building and partnerships to push the community forward on the state and federal level."
"He helped jumpstart my career," he said. "And I thankful to him. He never did anything to bring attention to himself, he was about building up everyone around him."
Paul Jolicoeur served with Oxendine on the Republican Party Executive Committee. He considered Oxendine family.
"He was like an uncle to me," Joliceur said. "I got to know him in 2004 and we became close friends. I could depend on him for guidance."
"When Gervais had his mind set on something he was real forceful, but he went about it in a very tactful manner," Jolicoeur said. "He was reasonable with his requests. And he was a firm believer in qualifications. When he would ask for help with a particular position, he made sure they were well qualified."
Jolicoeur became emotional as he spoke about Oxendine being honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
"It was a great honor," he said. "Gervais deserved it. He worked so hard for the county and for other people and didn’t ask for a lot in return. He was just trying to promote the county and promote the betterment of his people. That was the most important thing to him. He will certainly be missed."
Sutton, who had been friends with Oxendine since their college days, said he is going to miss their weekly conversations.
"He was a true professional," Sutton said. "He was kind of a jokester when it came to his personal life, but when he was dealing with a project or something for the university, he was an absolute professional."
The funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday (May 5) at Berea Baptist Church in Pembroke. The family will receive friends from 1 to 3 p.m. prior to the service. Interment will follow at Bell Family Cemetery at Bethel Hill Baptist Church.
UNC Pembroke is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system. For more information, contact Jodi Phelps, executive director of University Communications and Marketing via email, (email@example.com) or by phone (910.521.6863). Connect with UNC Pembroke on social media or online at uncp.edu to learn how the university is changing lives through education.