Like so many from eastern North Carolina, The Honorable Janice Hardison Faulkner ’53, ’56 grew up on a farm. In fact, the quaint community that she’s from in Martin County is called Farm Life, located just outside of Williamston and known for Major League Baseball players Jim and Gaylord Perry. But the quintessential life of a farm girl would not define this go-getter, who after years teaching at East Carolina found herself serving the state as North Carolina’s first female Secretary of State and later as Commissioner of North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles.
Born in 1932 to Ben Hardison and Martha Peele Hardison, Faulkner was the eldest of two children. While tending the family farm, her father played baseball in the Coastal Plain League with Herbert Bonner, who later became a North Carolina congressman, and Evan Perry, the father of the Perry boys. Baseball was an important part of life in Farm Life. “We lived during the years of the Great Depression and World War II. We had to be creative and inventive to entertain ourselves. During breaks working in the tobacco fields in the summer, my brother Ben Jr., me, Jim and Gaylord, and my dad would play impromptu baseball games. It didn’t matter that I was a girl, I always played,” said Faulkner. Her father believed that she should be involved in and exposed to as many experiences as her brother, and Ben Sr. provided many. “My dad was one of the first rural subscribers of the Raleigh News & Observer, so we were aware of things going on outside of our community. The first words I could read were ‘news’ and ‘observer.’ I was able to read when I went to first grade because he spent time reading the paper to my brother and me.”
Faulkner’s father and Herbert Bonner remained good friends throughout Faulkner’s childhood, and as a precinct chairman, her father presided over elections in Martin County. Events involving Bonner’s campaigns exposed Faulkner to politics, knowledge that would prove vital later in her career. “My awareness of career opportunities was non-existent at the time. Work that I had seen women do was clerking in the dime store, teaching, or being a nurse at the hospital. My high school civics teacher Milton Griffin had a profound influence on me and so I aspired to be a teacher.” The strength of the Farm Life community and support of her neighbors, educators, church family, and friends prepared Faulkner well for her life’s work to come.
During Faulkner’s youth, not many students went to college—mostly because families just couldn’t afford it. “There’s no mystery why I went to East Carolina; it was the only thing on the horizon that I knew anything about. I knew there were other places, but I didn’t know anyone else that was enrolled in those other schools. A few of my classmates’ older sisters attended ECTC, so that’s where I wanted to go. If East Carolina had not been here, I would have never gotten off of the farm. Within five or six days of graduating from high school I was taking summer school classes at East Carolina.” Despite the tight household budget, her parents found a way to send her to college, and Faulkner also worked in the cafeteria to help make ends meet. “I was paid in meal ticket coupon books. At first I rolled silverware and then I became a cashier. My brother attended the Forest Ranger school in Florida and became a certified forester. On occasion he would send me money for school in a letter, a $5.00 bill or so. My grandfather was very proud that I was attending college and made a provision in his will for me to get my master’s degree.”
Faulkner loved her East Carolina experience, especially living on campus. “I lived in both Cotten and Jarvis when I was there and the doors were locked at seven o’clock in the evenings. You could not go downtown without signing out and without wearing a hat and gloves. We had to dress up to go downtown. If I recall correctly, you had to be back on campus by four o’clock if you had left in a car—even if you were with your parents. We had our rooms inspected and had to take care of them. We would get demerits if the wastebasket wasn’t emptied or the bed wasn’t made. It was a bit militaristic, but it was with a purpose and was sound educational methodology in those years.” Faulkner was active in student organizations, including student affairs, activities at the Y-Hut, and Vespers.
After undergraduate graduation, Faulkner took a position teaching English at Enfield Graded School in Halifax County. She also taught at Sunset Park School in Wilmington and then for a year at the NC State Extension Service, which became UNC-Wilmington. During this time she took graduate courses at East Carolina on the weekends. After completing her master’s Faulkner enrolled at the prestigious Bread Loaf School in Vermont. “That was traumatizing. There were a lot of summer school students, mostly male, from the private schools in the northeast. There were two southerners in the whole class and I was one of them—of course we both had southern accents. That was the first time I was made aware of people being dismissed because of a judgment that was made about their level of intelligence or their background. I quickly realized that I was being listened to for not what I had to say, but for how I was saying it. Despite that, the quality of instruction and contact with new perspectives was marvelous.”
In 1957 Faulkner was ready to accept a position as an English instructor at East Carolina College when the call came from Dr. John Messick. “It all happened quite suddenly, but once I came back, I didn’t leave.” Faulkner stayed on at East Carolina for the next 38 years, serving as English professor, director of alumni affairs, chairman of the board of the ECU Credit Union, director of the Regional Development Institute, and associate vice chancellor for Regional Development. She published two English textbooks Transformational Grammar and Grammar and the Language Arts, was founding member and first chair of the ECU Board of Visitors, and was awarded an Outstanding Alumni Award in 1993 as well as an Honorary Doctorate in 1998.
“I had a leaning toward activism, probably because I have a propensity to meddle. I would get curious about some avenue or endeavor and I would throw myself into it with a passion and pursue it. East Carolina afforded me the opportunity to do that.” It was no surprise, then, when Faulkner retired early in 1993 to take a position as Revenue Secretary under Governor James B. Hunt, with whom she had been acquainted for a number of years. His trust in Faulkner and her abilities to oversee and improve government offices led to her 1996 appointment as North Carolina’s first female Secretary of State, which also made her the first female in North Carolina history to serve on the 11-member Council of State. Along with this “female first,” Faulkner was the first female executive director of the Democratic Party in North Carolina and she chaired both the North Carolina World Trade Association and the NC Institute for Political Leadership. But Faulkner’s service to North Carolina was not to end at her first retirement from North Carolina government in 1997—within two weeks she was called back to duty as Commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.
Finally, in April 2001 after 48 years in education and government, Faulkner retired and returned home to eastern North Carolina. But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to serve. She is involved at East Carolina as a founding member of the Women’s Roundtable. In the Greenville community, Faulkner is a member of the Pitt County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, the University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina Board of Trustees, and the Pitt County Memorial Hospital Foundation Board of Trustees. Faulkner is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Renewal of Eastern North Carolina and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
In recent years Faulkner has been recognized as Greenville Citizen of the Year in 2003, as a Woman of Distinction by The Girl Scout Council of Coastal Carolina in 2007, as one of ECU’s 100 Incredible Women in 2007, and as recipient of ECU’s prestigious Jarvis Medal in 2009. As she did in church for 50 years, Faulkner continues to play piano; she also enjoys reading, walking, and working crossword puzzles.
Faulkner’s great-nephew, a boy of only 11, shared with her a thought that sums up her life, “What we do counts for more than we think it does.” From a country farm girl who loved playing baseball with the boys to a pioneer for women who broke barriers in a male-concentrated government, Janice Faulkner has certainly blazed trails and opened doors for other eastern North Carolina women.