Larry Huffman Class of 1975
Section Chief, Office of the Controller, Department of Health and Human Services,
State of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC Retired

I grew up and lived in an educational environment my whole life, explains Larry Huffman. The conversations at home every day were about the organizational structures of schools and what was going on at school. My dad was a coach, first at Oak Hill, then at Hildebran, and finally at East Burke. People would stop by our house, including other teachers and coaches, and they would replay games on Saturday mornings.

As a member of the first graduating class at East Burke High, I found it interesting to hear all the observations and points of view about how the opening of the new school was going administratively and organizationally.

It was an exciting time. I was fortunate in many ways. I had visited Freedom High with my dad to see how things were developing there. Living so close to East Burke, we were able to watch its construction up close as the excitement grew.

I was also fortunate that I already knew many students from other schools. For example, there was no wrestling team at Hildebran, so I went with the Valdese team to events. I wasnt able to enter or complete, but I knew all of the team members and had already built strong bonds. I also spent a lot of time swimming at the Valdese Rec, and I knew many young people from the area. It was a real advantage.

A number of parties for high school juniors and seniors had also been enjoyed at my dads farm in the South Mountains. This activity started at Hildebran and continued at East Burke. It was a great way for young people to interact in a safe social setting, and we have many great memories of those times.

So when school opened, I thought of myself as a young ambassador. It was important that we seniors help the new student body to interact with each other and build new friendships. I made it a point to try to do as much of that as I could.

For example, when Kelly McCray decided to run for senior class president, he asked me to introduce and nominate him, and I was happy to do so. I not only enjoyed trying to help the students come together as one but felt that in many ways it was a duty.

Organizational operations and practices have always been fascinating to me, so watching how the school was organized and administered was something I especially took note of.

When East Burke opened, to me as a student, it seemed very much like a work in progress. Rules and policies were evolving, and to me at least it seemed a bit chaotic. Bringing the student bodies of four high schools together was a big challenge. Each school had a long history, traditions, and a unique way of doing things, so there was naturally some adjustment. There will always be difficult people, challenging personalities, different ways of thinking, but I worked to unite those people as much as I could.

In my efforts to understand my new school, I enjoyed many interesting conversations with Principal Jimmy Draughn and with Danny Williams, Enoch Johnson, and MacArthur Jackson. These men were the right choices to undertake and complete this major task of consolidation.

There were so many new opportunities at East Burke. I truly wish that I could have taken advantage of these choices at my other schools, but Im glad I had the chance to experience them my senior year. As I look back, I realize that the new environment with a new curriculum, new sports, and new extracurricular activities, as well as what I saw as a bit of chaos at the beginning, helped me when I went to college.

Even the open space classes seemed to help. I learned more than I realized and did well in classes like English Literature when I arrived at Elon. I believe that my experiences that year provided me with a good foundation for interacting with people in later years. In retrospect, it seemed to me almost like a prep school.

When I look back, I see we built a really strong community. Being on the football team was important to me, not only because my dad was a coach, but also because we were the people who, early in the year, served as an example of what a united student body could look like. As members of the football team, many of us felt that we had a responsibility to show leadership, and our coaches encouraged us to do so. I believe we played a major part in creating the bonds that still live today.

Early during that first season, one of our assistant coaches cheered us on as we boarded the bus for an away game by calling out, Go, Wild Bunch! We adopted that name, and fifty seasons later, those words are still connected to everything the Cavaliers do. Being a part of that initial bonding is very gratifying.

So many of my teachers and coaches were influential in my life and in my career. Melvin Ruggles was an institution. He not only taught and coached my dad, but he was also a neighbor, and I knew him well. I also knew Ed Watson well, and Bob and Barbara Bliss were good friends. People we attended church with like Jack and Betty Hodges were also great influences. Danny Williams, head football coach and assistant principal at the time, was a man I found to be a class act. He was a true scholar, both a disciplinarian and a great conversationalist, a man with whom one could discuss real issues.

At one time, my dad suggested I do some substitute teaching at East Burke to see how I liked it. Although I enjoyed it and found the experience to be interesting, I was mostly impressed by the dedication and sacrifice it required to be a teacher. Examples of fine, dedicated teachers were all around me. I could see that teaching was a true calling for these people. I did not possess that calling, but I have great admiration and respect for those who helped me and so many others along the way.

Other than my coaches, I found inspiration in other teachers. Jerry Goodnight had been a great influence at Hildebran. I remember a hike that he directed from Table Rock to Mt. Mitchell for more than 20 people. We left on Tuesday at lunch and returned on Friday afternoon. It was a memorable experience.

Sam Wilkinson and Lana Smith were two teachers whose classes I enjoyed. Virginia Stamey Hayes was an outstanding math teacher. Eleanor Lindsey and Hilda McNeely were also great science teachers and made a lasting impression. Jerry Murray was not only one of my coaches but also my chemistry teacher. I told him I doubted I would learn anything in his class, but apparently I did because I made an A in chemistry at Elon! Thank you, Coach Murray.

I would have loved to have done some kind of internship when I was in high school. I think it would have helped guide me to a future career. Bee Black and Enoch Johnson were helpful in guidance, and I would love to have had the chance to explore a career more deeply.

Larry earned a degree in business administration from Elon College in 1979. Students who majored in business could choose to specialize in either accounting, economics, or business administration. I gravitated toward the management side because I always enjoyed seeing how business organizations operated. I wasnt really interested in accounting. I was more interested in how businesses, organizations, and even school systems work.

I learned a lot about the theoretical aspect of organizations, and I thought that after graduation I would work in an industry keeping everything organized and finding better and more efficient ways to get the job done. I knew I wanted to work on the big picture. Most people have a better work ethic when they can find their own place and evolve into the role that fits them best. But a bad economy at the time I graduated led me down another, although temporary, route.

For a few years after graduation, Larry worked as the property manager of an apartment complex in Greensboro and then moved on to another property in Hickory. It was during that time that he was introduced to the field of health care.

I had not thought about working in health care management, but I began learning about hospitals and soon went to work as the Controller and Business Manager at Ted Broeck Hospital in Hickory. A new opportunity arrived in 1991, when he accepted the job as Fiscal and Budget Officer at Broughton Hospital in Morganton.

I am especially indebted to Wade Carroll who helped me work one-on-one with many of the patients at Broughton. I had learned a lot at a smaller facility and was able to carry that knowledge with me to a larger place. The same basic principles apply, but there were more issues to deal with, and I was glad for the experience.

I had to learn every aspect of Medicare and Medicaid because I was responsible for all of the data. Details are extremely important, and I had to know everything from lab work to pharmacy to surgery. When I arrived at Broughton there was only one computer, and it was used strictly for Medicare and Medicaid. I was responsible for all cost reports, which depended on government funds, and I helped them automate so more aspects of the operation could be done by computer.

In 1996, he moved on to be Fiscal Officer of the Western Department of Health and Human Services Controllers Field Office, where he performed accounting functions and provided budgetary support for four institutions, including Broughton Hospital, Western Carolina Center (now J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center), Black Mountain Center, and Julian F. Keith ADATC. Aspects of the job included serving as an integral member of the managing teams and collaboration with executive managers for these four healthcare facilities.

In 2003, the section chief, who was my boss and who had been a huge help and inspiration, unfortunately passed away, and I was given the opportunity to move to the position. I agreed to only do the job for a few years. So I moved to Raleigh to serve as a Branch Head for the General Accounting / Financial Management Section of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Controllers Office.

This job involved even more responsibility, including providing supervision and technical support to three regional field offices comprised of 45+ employees who performed accounting functions and provided budgetary support to 12 institutions managed by the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services (DMH/DDS/SAS) It also involved the development and maintenance of regional field office organizational structures and implementation of cash management policies and procedures of all institutions. The job included maintaining funds for Medicare and Medicaid, child support, mental health, and anything else involving health and human services. Everything had to be meticulously accounted for.

I really enjoyed having the chance to work with so many great people on so many worthwhile projects. Helping to maintain operations was really gratifying to me as I have always enjoyed working with the big picture. Loyalty to the organization was important as was being pro-active in finding ways to make things work better. This type of work involved logic in determining the ways that systems could work better and supplying facts to show how. Reorganization should be necessary and not done just for the sake of change. Making things better for everyone involved was a priority.

In 2004, Larry was promoted to Accounts Receivable Section Chief. As one of four section chiefs, and with a budget of over $600 million, he was responsible for the supervision and management of 50+ employees responsible for all billing, collection, and cash receiving operations for all the divisions and institutions that comprise the North Carolina DHHS.

It was a big responsibility but also a rewarding one. As a person who has always, even as a young student, enjoyed seeing how institutions, companies, and even places of learning are organized and operated, being able to solve problems and find new and better ways to help people, particularly those on Medicare and Medicaid, has been really worthwhile. I believe I was able to contribute to the overall welfare of the community and organizations in a profound way.

Working with DHHS has been meaningful for me in many ways. It has not only fulfilled my desire to work in a business, but it has also provided me with the opportunity to benefit the most unfortunate citizens in North Carolina. Every one of us has had a family member or friend who has faced challenges. Offering them assistance with empathy and respect is important.

Click For Larger ImageI am fortunate to be in a position to know how to evaluate a situation and how to best proceed if I have a friend or family member who faces a catastrophic situation. I have helped calm people who have witnessed trauma, helping them to feel more at ease and guiding them toward healing. Through my years of experience examining the data, I can truly say that nothing surprises me, and I admit that I know more about mental health issues than I care to. Ill be the first to admit that I am not called to be a caregiver, but I am pleased that I have been able to work on the administrative side, which is also necessary.

In 2021, Larry was presented with the most prestigious award that can be given to any citizen of North Carolina, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. It is awarded by the governor to citizens who have demonstrated outstanding contributions to the state, in this case 30 years of service to North Carolina and its citizens.

I believe that finding ones niche, using ones special interests and skills to make an organization or a community a better place is important, and I have been fortunate to have found a way to use those interests that I practiced so long ago at East Burke High School.

Published October 2023


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