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HHS grad elected to chair UNC board

Peter Hans/Photo by Chuck Liddy, (Raleigh) News&Observer Peter Hans/Photo by Chuck Liddy, (Raleigh) News&Observer

Peter D. Hans, a graduate of Hendersonville High School, has become the first Republican chairman of the UNC Board of Governors in modern history.

After leaving Hendersonville High a year early in 1987, Hans earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina and went on to become a political adviser on Capitol Hill and campaign strategist for numerous statewide campaigns. The Board of Governors elected Hans over Paul Fulton of Winston-Salem 20 to 11. Hans had just completed his second term as the board's vice chairman.
Hans worked in Washington as a senior policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth and U.S. Rep. Richard Burr, who is now in the Senate, and advised Elizabeth Dole in her successful 2002 campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Although he moved from the mountains to Chapel Hill to Washington to Raleigh, "I still consider Hendersonville home," he said. "My grandmother is buried there." His father passed away and his mother moved to the Monroe area to live with a daughter, Hans said. By the time he completed his junior year at HHS, Hans had enough credits, with some summer school work, to enroll at UNC.
"I left a year early, which was unfortunate. Chapel Hill took me in early but I was ready thanks to my Bearcat upbringing," he said.
Hans said he hoped to raise awareness on the UNC board about the significance of the universities in the southern mountains.
"In particular UNCA and Western Carolina need board members who remember that (the state line) doesn't stop at Hickory," he said. "Both of those institutions are so good. UNCA is really one of the finest public liberal arts schools in the country and Western Carolina is really a success story."
The 32-member board, made up of members appointed by the state House and Senate, makes policy decisions for the 17-school UNC system.
"Red-headed guy," HHS principal Bobby Wilkins said when asked if he remembered Peter Hans. "He was a sharp fella when I taught him. He was a studious guy. He was one of those guys that was a concentrator, he concentrated on what was around him. I guess focused would be the right word for him."
Although Hans has influenced the careers of numerous prominent North Carolina leaders, he has not made his high school alumni association's Hall of Fame nor seemingly hit its radar. Dr. William Lampley, the founder of the organization, was not familiar with Hans. Wilkins, who taught him math, said "this is the first time I've heard his name since he graduated."
His achievements out of the limelight may make him one of the more significant figures no one's ever heard of. He was an early supporter of Tom Apodaca when the Hendersonville businessman came out of nowhere to win a state Senate seat in 2002. Recently, House Speaker Thom Tillis praised the work of Apodaca, now a high-ranking Senate leader, and Hans, in his role as UNC vice chairman, in helping to broker a settlement of the feud between UNC Hopsitals and WakeMed.

In 2010 Hans helped advise Jeff Miller, the Republican nominee for the 11th District congressional seat.
"He loves the UNC system," Miller said. "This (election as chairman) was one of those things you hear about and go, that really did work out like it should. That was just a very good decision for the UNC system. I promise you no one will be more committed to the good of the system and to the betterment of the students and the staff."
If budget cuts, opposition to tuition hikes and new revelations arising from the NCAA's sanctions against UNC for rules violations bring challenges, Hans won't flinch, Miller said.
"He can weather every storm," he said. "He'll never panic. He doesn't have a panic button."
Hans is currently a senior policy adviser (though not a lawyer) for the Raleigh law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.
He said he hoped to come back to Hendersonville this summer and visit Apodaca and his wife, Lisa. Told that Wilkins, his former math teacher and coach, remembered the bright kid with the red hair to match, Hans seemed to light up.
"He taught me how to play golf," he said.