To honor his father, Robert Eaves Jr.
’58, CEO of The Right Stuff Food Stores, and his wife, N.C.
Lt. Gov., Beverly Eaves Perdue, established the Robert Wendell
Eaves Sr. Professorship in Educational Leadership in the School
“My father was my hero. It is a way to
honor his profession and honor him for what he did for
elementary school leadership,” Bob Eaves said.
The one-room schoolhouse Eaves attended
was open only four months each year. Because of the short terms,
flu epidemics and other difficulties, by the time Eaves finished
eighth grade he was 17 years old. For the next two years, he
either walked or rode a mule to attend high school five miles
away from his home.
Eaves came to Chapel Hill and worked his
way through, alternating between teaching and attending the
University. He received his bachelor’s degree in education in
1928 at the age of 24.
Eaves began his career as a teaching
principal in an elementary school in Spindale. In 1932 he became
a principal in Alexandria, Va., then went to work in Washington,
D.C. During the Washington years he earned a master’s and a
doctorate degree in education from George Washington University.
“Although the (Washington) Central
Office considered the elementary school principalship a
‘woman’s job,’ I was appointed in 1935,” said Eaves
about his first job there.
In 1944, he joined the staff of the
National Education Association, becoming executive secretary of
its Department of Elementary School Principals (DESP) in 1950.
He held his position until his retirement. Under his leadership,
the organization grew from 10,000 to 25,000 members, a success
that earned him his nickname, “Mr. DESP.” Some 6,500
elementary school teachers and principals gathered at a
retirement celebration in his honor at Las Vegas, Nev. in 1969.
“Every summer he would go teach at
some university. He did that for about 20 years. It helped build
membership for his department. He knew people all over,” said
In fact, Fenwick English — the first
Eaves professor — studied under Eaves at the University of
Southern California in 1962.
According to Madeleine Grumet, dean of
the school of education, English – an expert in the areas of
curriculum theory and design, organizational theory and
leadership development – “is the kind of person to realize
the goals for schools that Robert Wendell Eaves Sr. had.”
“Everybody called him Bob. I remember
him as a graceful and professional man, and as a very effective
teacher,” English said. “ We had very strong and passionate
discussions with him in class. He made a very strong impression
on me when I was getting my education to further my career in
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