Ben Ruffin, a top adviser to former Gov. Jim Hunt and a past chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, died of an apparent heart attack.
Ruffin, of Winston-Salem, was reared in Durham and worked his way through N.C. Central University by sewing in a tailor shop. He was a special assistant to Hunt on minority affairs and was the first African-American to lead the UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the 16-campus university system.
He was known as a powerful orator, a snappy dresser and a leader with a quiet, dignified style. He spoke at two of our Martin Luther King Breakfasts.
He was an ardent supporter of the state's historically black institutions and often argued on behalf of students for low tuition in North Carolina.
"It would be impossible to tell how many people he touched, the contributions he made to North Carolina and the access he gave to black folk all across the state in terms of participation in government," said Carnell Robinson, head of the North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus. "It's just a tremendous loss."
Brad Wilson, a former chairman of the UNC board, said Ruffin was a passionate and eloquent spokesman for the issues he cared about, most notably civil rights and education. "We have lost a very good and dear friend," Wilson said.
— News and Observer