Jan. 19, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

T. Eston Marchant — who's known to everyone as "Bud" — has been president of Central Carolina Community College since 2008. Developments at CCCC under his tenure, especially recent ones, have earned him The Herald's Citizen of the Year recognition.

Like just about everyone who wins such an award, he claims he doesn't deserve it.

"I've had the luxury, really, of following in the footsteps of great presidents here," Marchant said.

Be that as it may, at least one of his predecessors said Marchant has exceeded expectations by a long shot. Matt Garrett, whom Marchant replaced, said he spent about two weeks with Marchant when he came to Lee County from South Carolina, showing him the ropes. And in hindsight, he said, even two weeks might have been overkill.

"I can't recall if he's ever, since then, really ever needed to ask me anything," Garrett said. "He's just a very capable guy."

Marchant, friend of merchants

Marchant is many things. One thing he is not is stagnant. He started out as a public school teacher and became a principal by age 30. He followed that up with a number of administrative positions within various community colleges in hs home state of South Carolina and also worked with the Beaufort County, S.C. Chamber of Commerce, both as its executive director and as the founder of the tourism bureau for that county, where Hilton Head is located.

His job with the chamber of commerce got him cussed out by Barabara Streisand once about 25 years ago — long story short, it involved horse-drawn carriages he brought to town, an idea Marchant said is still probably the most controversial thing he's ever done — but it also gave him a close look into the lives and minds of business leaders.

Since coming to Central Carolina Community College, which has 11 sites in Lee, Harnett and Chatham counties, Marchant has been proactive in reaching out to businesses. Under his tenure, the college started an apprenticeship program with Lee County Schools and Caterpillar, the college's focus on workforce development and small business aid has expanded, and CCCC was named one of the 50 best community colleges in the country.

Marchant also teamed up with Kirk Bradley and others to raise funds for a new counseling program called Central Carolina Works. The program will steer students from every public school in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties toward free dual-enrollment college classes when it starts, which officials hope will be next school year.

Bradley, a Lee County investor and real estate developer, said the idea was Marchant's. He only helped with fundraising, he said, and he was glad to do so.

"I think we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things," Bradley said, pausing and adding, "I think he's the best community college president in the nation, and I'm glad we have him. I want to do anything we can to keep him here and help the college grow."

Leadership amid struggles

As for whether he plans to stay at CCCC in the long term, Marchant says he's honestly not sure. He explains that his life was turned upside-down last January when his wife of 26 years, Emilie, died of cancer.

Marchant has found support from a psuedo Godson in South Carolina — a student he met at a community college some years ago, taking the young man under his wing to guide him out of a bad family situation —but Marchant said he has also found support in Noth Carolina, from his wife's beloved rescue dogs, as well as the men and women who serve on the college's 16-member board of trustees.

Julian Philpott, the chairman of that board, said Marchant is both liked and respected.

"He's an outstanding leader," said Philpott, who served on the committee that selected Marchant as president half a decade ago. "I think he's done a marvelous job in helping to move the college forward. ... We've had a lot of very good presidents over 50 years, but Dr. Marchant is one of the presidents that stands at the top of the list."

Philpott pointed to Central Carolina Works as an example of Marchant's recent successes, as well as the construction of a new health sciences building in Lillington and the purchase of 90 acres in Pittsboro to help the campus there grow in the future.

Karen Allen, the school's Chatham County provost, said she was glad to hear Marchant had been named citizen of the year.

"Dr. Marchant has been instrumental in the support of education and economic development in Chatham County," she said. "His passion for workforce development has led to a strengthened relationship between business and industry, community agencies and our educational partners."

Developing the college and the workforce

Marchant also began what was the very first Confucius Classroom — an academic and cultural exchange headed by a visiting Chinese professor — in a community college anywhere in the U.S. He's now working with city of Sanford officials to establish a Sister City relationship in China to further develop ties between Lee County and the world's second-largest economy.

Marchant said one of the great things about a community college is its ability to add new courses or programs on the fly. It must be able to, he said, to fulfill its mission of preparing students for the workforce.

So whether it's the new course on social media or exploring potential classes to train students for the hiring boom that could come if natural gas drilling were legalized, Marchant said he's proud of CCCC and its ability to turn out graduates with up-to-date skills. The college has added six new degree programs since he came, including welding, health care management and sustainability technologies.

"Traditional ways of obtaining an education and marching into the middle class have changed from when people my age were starting out," Marchant said. "... We're doing a disservice if we don't teach our children, and our community, the skills they need to get a job now."

Marchant isn't resting. He wants new classrooms for the veterinary technology and allied health sciences programs, and he's hoping the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center gets some updates, too. He knows it will be a fight to get the money; he just wishes so much of his job wasn't conducted on the road or early in the morning and late at night.

But Marchant acknowledges it's part of the job, and Garrett, his predecessor, agreed.

"The job never ends. It stays with you 24/7," Garrett said, adding that when he was president, it was simultaneously the best and most difficult job he ever had.

"The only decisions that really reach you are the hardest decisions," he said. "If it's a decision that somebody else in the college was able to deal with, you probably never heard of it."