On the Shoulders of Giants
Ken Peacock built a legacy by putting students firstBy Jacob Brooks
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” There is debate on who said it first. I’ve always heard it to be Maya Angelou. That’s more than fine by me.
And I feel these words-to-live-by sum up another big-spirited North Carolinian, former Appalachian State University Chancellor Dr. Kenneth “Ken” Peacock.
I’m not sure how I got so lucky; Ken took a liking to me. A first-generation college student himself from Rocky Mount, I think he appreciated my stories about a family who knew four-part harmonies and singing in churches, juxtaposed with stories about bootleggin’, lawn mower racin’, and, dear reader, my adolescent pyromania.
Ken delighted in the idiosyncrasies of life. Light mischief was a welcome element to time spent with him. He loved a well-timed one-liner. Sometimes one had to wonder if they’d entered an alternate dimension and were in a scene from the The Bob Newhart Show or Sanford & Son with some of his antics. Our shared appreciation for pranks kept us passing a grotesquely packaged chicken foot back and forth.
Ken delighted in the idiosyncrasies of life. Light mischief was a welcome element to time spent with him.
Beyond the hijinks and laughs I think he saw a kid who needed a little guidance. Ken showed me to how to properly wear a suit. Gave me pointers on tying a solid Windsor knot. Taught me how to conduct myself in a boardroom.
Ken and his wife, Rosanne, took me, my brother Josh, and another App State buddy, Tyler Hunsader, to a fine-dining restaurant in Boone. This was my first experience having a meal where the sides were individually priced from the entrée. I was either 21 or 22. While my eyes frantically danced around the menu seeking the cheapest options I could find, I’ll never forget the steady hand extended my way from Ken, tactfully done while Rosanne, Josh, and Tyler were engaged in conversation, and done so to say, “It’s okay. We’ve got you.” Again, something perhaps a young Rocky Mount boy who stood on the shoulders of giants before knew to do for a young Alleghany boy, knowing he’d eventually do the same.
We talked about our faith. We shared a special affection for the hymn, “Precious Memories.” Our regular phone calls covered, again, the important things: family. He always told me the latest tales of his grandkids: Jacob, Piper, Allie, Price and Reynolds. He enjoyed his view as a grandpa, telling me, “You know, I’m getting to watch Brian and Chris do things with their children that I did with them. And that’s special to me.”
And, in those moments when I felt like I was less than I hoped to be, Ken was there for me.
Ken passed away in October at the age of 75. He belongs to the ages now, but, as is the nature of Appalachian folklore, his legend lives on.
So, North Carolina, as we head into 2024, let us stand on the shoulders of some fellow giants of North Carolina history, who, in their own way, always served something a little bit bigger than themselves.
As for me, in July I left North Carolina for the U.S. Virgin Islands, and life on St. Croix is good. I decided to go back to teaching for a bit and have accepted a position with the Virgin Islands Dept of Education as a reading specialist for kids with autism. To be totally candid, I think I’m going through one of those personal and professional crossroads. We’ll see what happens. As always, thanks for reading, North Carolina.
About the AuthorJacob Brooks is missing the Blue Ridge Mountains. He’s watching a lot of Perkins Builder Brothers these days. He’s working on his first book.
Read more of Jacob through the years