John W. Harrelson

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John William Harrelson
Colonel John W. Harrelson, Chancellor of North Carolina State University, 1953.jpg
First Chancellor of North Carolina State University
Preceded by Eugene C. Brooks
Succeeded by Carey Hoyt Bostian
Personal details
Born (1885-06-28)June 28, 1885
Double Shoals, North Carolina
Died March 12, 1955(1955-03-12) (aged 69)
Raleigh, North Carolina

John William Harrelson (June 28, 1885 – March 12, 1955) was born in Double Shoals, Cleveland County, North Carolina, United States, on 28 June 1885. He was educated at North Carolina State University, where he earned a B.A. in engineering in 1909 and an M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1915. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in 1954.

Harrelson became an instructor of mathematics at N.C. State in 1909, and later became a professor. During 1909 he also became a member of Freemasonry. He took a leave of absence from NCSU to serve as a Colonel during World War I. This led to his nickname of "Colonel." In 1929 he was appointed by Governor O. Max Gardner to head the State Department of Conservation and Development. He left the office in 1933 to head the Department of Mathematics at N.C. State.

Harrelson was a member of the local engineering fraternity Alpha Sigma Epsilon which became a chapter of Theta Tau in 1924. He was initiated as the second charter member of the new chapter. In 2003, Harrelson was posthumously inducted into the Theta Tau Alumni Hall of Fame.

In 1934 Harrelson was appointed as the first "Dean of Administration" at N.C. State; the school's sixth chief executive and the first alumnus to lead the school. His title was changed to "Chancellor" in 1945. Harrelson was at the helm of the university during World War II and oversaw the establishment of the School of Design and the School of Forestry.[1]

Harrelson retired from office in 1953 and became the college archivist. He left a $100,000 endowment to NC State for art purchases and a lecture series.

On the evening of Saturday, 12 March 1955, Harrelson was scheduled to give the main address, "Recollections of D.H. Hill," at the dedication of the new D.H. Hill Library building. Shortly after 8 p.m., he rose from his seat and stepped up to a microphone and podium in front of the circulation desk. Harrelson then began speaking, but before he could finish his first sentence, he suddenly collapsed to the floor, knocking over the microphone as he fell. He was rushed to Rex Hospital and placed under an oxygen tent, but was pronounced dead from a cerebral haemorrhage at 10:10 p.m.[2]

Harrelson died two months before his 70th birthday. In his will, he left bequests to purchase outstanding mathematics works for the library, for a distinguished lecture series and for purchasing artworks for campus buildings including the library and student union.[3]

NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center currently houses John William Harrelson's manuscript papers and university archives.[4][5]


  1. ^ Historical State: History in Red and White. "John William Harrelson: Sixth Chief Executive, 1934-1953". Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Littleton, I.T. "The D.H. Hill Library: An Informal History 1887-1987". Friends of the Library. 1993. 34-35. Print
  3. ^ Littleton, I.T. "The D.H. Hill Library: An Informal History 1887-1987". Friends of the Library. 1993. 34-35. Print
  4. ^ Historical State: History in Red and White. "John William Harrelson Papers, 1908-1955 MC 00001". Retrieved 21 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Historical State: History in Red and White. "Office of the Chancellor, John William Harrelson Records, 1933-1953 UA 002.001.002". Retrieved 21 December 2011. 

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