Memorial by Michael Hill
Delivered at October 9, 2015 HSNC Meeting
As most of you know, I worked with Jerry Cashion for 17 years. He long was the person other professionals, at Archives and History and beyond, turned to first when their questions related to North Carolina history. One colleague commended his “passion for historical accuracy, meticulous documentation, and absolute integrity.” Another pointed to his “immense stature as a teacher” and the “firm and fair hand” with which he presided over meetings of the North Carolina Historical Commission, “always the gentleman.” He had an unwavering sense of allegiance to the Old North State.
Cashion credited his fascination with history and his dedication to all things Tar Heel to his upbringing in Iredell County. Of special interest from an early age was nearby Fort Dobbs, the lost fortification erected by frontier settlers as a defense from Cherokee attacks. He spent much time on the family farm, property he retained all his life, prompting co-workers to nickname him “The Squire.”
In 1958 Cashion enrolled at Chapel Hill- acquiring in time B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history. His dissertation dealt with the Cherokee during the period preceding the American Revolution. His mentors were Hugh T. Lefler, the legendary classroom teacher and William S. Powell. Cashion assisted Lefler with textbook revisions and classroom duties. He and Prof. Powell both lived in Statesville. As a graduate student Cashion taught popular courses on North Carolina and U.S. history. Among his students was the future governor, Michael Easley. In 1974 Cashion received recognition for outstanding teaching. After moving to Raleigh he taught undergraduates at North Carolina State University.
A mark of Cashion’s steadfastness was his dedication to his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, otherwise known as Fijis. Jerry once drove a convertible MG—big man, little car—and had a customized license place, “UNC-FIJI.” Cashion was an admirer of Governor Zebulon B. Vance and their portraits hang together at the UNC fraternity, a chapter which Vance helped established. Known as “Pop” Cashion to his brothers, Cashion long acted as adviser to the group and established a scholarship for members.
From 1974 to 2000 Cashion was Research Branch Supervisor of what is now the Office of Archives and History. His work for the agency began while he was at UNC and included reports on topics from Fort Butler in the west to Polk Birthplace in the Piedmont to Halifax in the east. He supervised work on scores of reports by researchers in his office. He long administered the State Highway Historical Marker Program.
Cashion served Archives and History and broader cultural interests in North Carolina by involvement with the Literary and Historical Association, America’s 400th Anniversary Committee, Friends of the Archives, National Register Advisory Committee, Kellenberger Historical Foundation, Carolina Charter Corporation, Southern Historical Association, North Caroliniana Society, and this society. He received the Christopher Crittenden Award for preservation of state history in 1999. In 2001 Governor Easley appointed him chairman of the North Carolina Historical Commission and reappointed him in 2007. Cashion’s wife Rita, who predeceased him, also worked at Archives and History. Jerry died at home of cancer in April.