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About Oliver Max Gardner, Governor
Oliver Max Gardner (March 22, 1882 – February 6, 1947) was the 57th Governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from 1929 to 1933.
Early years and education
Born in Shelby, North Carolina, Gardner was orphaned at a young age. He attended North Carolina State University on a scholarship, where he majored in chemical engineering, was involved in ROTC, played on the football team, managed the baseball team, served as the senior class president, and maintained active membership in Sigma Nu Fraternity. He later taught organic chemistry on campus after graduating in 1903. He then enrolled at the University of North Carolina School of Law, where he also played football. Gardner distinguished himself off the football field as well, becoming one of the most respected members of The Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies at UNC. Gardner was the only person ever to captain the football teams of both the North Carolina Tar Heels and the NC State Wolfpack.
Gardner returned to Shelby to practice law and married Fay Webb, daughter of prominent politician James L. Webb and niece of Congressman E. Yates Webb.
Gardner was elected as a state senator from Cleveland County, North Carolina and served one term as President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate. He served a term as the 13th Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina (1917–1921). In 1920, he lost the Democratic nomination for Governor to Cameron Morrison. The election was likely stolen by the political machine of U.S. Sen. Furnifold Simmons, who, through his lieutenant, A. D. Watts, used racial demagoguery and electoral fraud to favor their candidate, Morrison. Gardner led in the initial vote count, but after several days of counting, more votes for Morrison were "found" in western North Carolina, and Morrison won the June primary by 87 votes. Gardner lost the runoff to Morrison by a wider margin.
Gardner made peace with Sen. Simmons. He agreed to support Simmons's favored candidate for Governor in 1924, Angus Wilton McLean, in exchange for Simmons supporting Gardner when he ran for Governor again in 1928. While Gardner was out of politics, he pursued business interests, including a textile mill.
Easily elected governor in 1928, Gardner assumed control over a state that was in debt and soon had to deal with the effects of the Great Depression. Gardner commissioned a report by the Brookings Institution on how to cut costs in government and cut local property taxes. Gardner pushed many of the Brookings recommendations through the legislature, including taking over financial responsibility for roads and schools from counties and the creation of what would become the consolidated University of North Carolina system. He reorganized and reformed the state government.
Meanwhile, Gardner took a pro-business, anti-union stance in a period of labor unrest, including the Loray Mill Strike. He did, however, push through the legislature a workman's compensation law and successfully mediated a massive 1932 strike of mill workers in the Greensboro-High Point area.
After leaving the governor's mansion (governors of the state were then barred from seeking re-election), Gardner practiced law and lobbied in Washington, D.C. He was an informal advisor and speech-writer for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed him chairman of the advisory board to the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, and later a member of the Joint Anglo-American Commission on Palestine.
President Harry S. Truman appointed him Under Secretary of the Treasury (1946–47). In 1947, Gardner was appointed by Truman to be ambassador to the United Kingdom, but he died before ever arriving in London.
Gardner founded the influential "Shelby Dynasty" or "Cleveland Dynasty" of politicians, which included Governor Clyde Hoey, his brother-in-law. The pro-business organization controlled the North Carolina Democratic Party, and therefore, state politics, until 1948.
Gardner-Webb University is named for Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner. The fine arts building at Gardner-Webb University is named for him as well. Gardner Hall, a dormitory at Appalachian State University, is also named for him, as is the economics building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as is one of the biology buildings at North Carolina State University. The O. Max Gardner Award was established in his will to recognize University of North Carolina system faculty who have "made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race." It is the only award for which all faculty members of the 16 UNC campuses are eligible and is considered the UNC system's highest faculty honor.