MOREHEAD CITY — County historian and local legend Rodney Kemp finally achieved the dream of a lifetime: receiving a letter from the governor of North Carolina.
“It was a surprise,” Mr. Kemp said shortly after receiving the letter. “The History Place (now known as the History Museum of Carteret County) orchestrated it and gave it to me before my lecture last Friday (Jan. 10).”
The letter was signed by Gov. Roy Cooper and thanked Mr. Kemp for his contributions to history in eastern North Carolina.
On Nov. 1, Mr. Kemp presented one of the many talks he gives at the History Museum of Carteret County.
This particular talk was about a man named Mel West, a Morehead City resident who sailed solo to Bermuda in an open boat with an outboard motor in 1957 but was lost at sea in his second attempt.
Mr. Kemp showed a copy of a letter the then-governor of North Carolina had written to Mr. West’s father during the time Mr. West was missing, expressing both his concern for Mr. West’s safety and his hope for a positive outcome.
In jest, Mr. Kemp told the audience he had never received a letter from the governor, but the volunteers at the museum thought it was no joking matter.
“My wheels immediately began to turn, and I thought to myself, ‘I bet I can make that happen’,” museum volunteer Barbara McCreary said. “I visited Gov. Cooper’s website and found that there is a special section dedicated to requests for letters from the governor.”
According to the website, letters can be requested to commemorate special occasions, such as milestone birthdays or anniversaries or congratulations for special accomplishments.
Mr. Kemp has achieved many accomplishments while providing the history of the county to current residents.
He is an educator, historian and storyteller.
“Mr. Kemp has instilled a love of Eastern North Carolina’s local history and culture in literally generation after generation of citizens,” Ms. McCreary said in her letter to the governor’s office.
Mr. Kemp gives more than 150 talks throughout the year, including the program, “Fridays with Rodney” at the history museum. He also speaks regularly at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, local libraries and churches.
Mr. Kemp founded the Promise Land Society in 2012 and has published several books, contributing to the preservation of the Promise Landers’ heritage and way of life.
In 2003, Mr. Kemp received the N.C. Historian of the Year award.
According to Ms. McCreary’s letter to the governor, Mr. Kemp is the perfect candidate for a letter from the governor because, “He immediately puts his audience at ease and develops an amicable rapport with all ages. People who attend his events know they will learn something and have fun at the same time. He presents history in an entertaining, folksy, humorous way, but most importantly, he respects the subjects of his talks. Whether it be the Shackleford Banks ponies, the people who once lived on Portsmouth Island, or Mel West, the man who first attempted to sail to Bermuda in a 15-foot sailboat, Rodney does his research and presents his findings in a way that clearly honors the subjects.”
Ms. McCreary said Susan Moore, the executive assistant to Gov. Cooper ensured Mr. Kemp received his letter, and Mr. Kemp is proud of the accomplishment.
“I’m proud because my grandchildren are proud of it,” he said. “If they think of me as halfway decent, that will work.”