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Q+A with Sonia Murphy and Johnny Barnes

The NC Agricultural Foundation, Inc. (Ag Foundation) is comprised of over 100 leaders in North Carolina agriculture.  This interview is the first of a series highlighting members of boards, like the Ag Foundation, that support NC State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  The below are excerpts from a conversation between Sonia Murphy, president of the NC Agricultural Foundation, Inc. and assistant dean for CALS Advancement, and Johnny Barnes, chairman of the Ag Foundation.

SM:  Johnny, I appreciate your taking time to chat with me today and for your many years of service on the Ag Foundation board.  To get us started, can you tell me about your connection to NC State?

JB:  Both my wife, Lisa, and I are NC State graduates.  She studied Political Science and graduated in 1988. I received my degree from CALS in Ag Economics in 1987.  We are also NC State parents as all three of our children also graduated from NC State.

SM: You have many demands on your time.  When you are considering membership on a board, do you have personal criteria for joining an organization’s board?

JB: Number one, any board I join must be something related to what I like, what I do and aligns with my family’s values.  I’ve had to be more selective about the boards I serve on over the past few years because of so many demands on time.  I like to invest my time in organizations that support areas of interest for my family or the agricultural industry.  I prefer to serve on a board where I feel like I have some input to move the organization forward. 

SM:  You’ve been on the Ag Foundation board for a long time.  What motivated you to join the board initially?

JB:  I was at a big dinner a while back.  I can’t remember the function, but I was sitting at a table with Mr. Kendall Hill.  Ted Lord with the Golden LEAF Foundation came by.  Kendall and I both knew Ted and talked with him for a bit.  After Ted left, Kendall said, “We need to get you on the Ag Foundation Board”. I didn’t exactly know what the Ag Foundation board was at the time, but I knew if Kendall thought it was a good idea, I should give it strong consideration.  I learned what a great group of people served on that board once I started coming to meetings.  It’s been a great experience for me.

SM:  What do you think prospective members should know about serving on the Ag Foundation board?

JB:  For me, if I knew who was on the board, I think it would have been on my radar sooner.  When I walked into my first meeting, I knew many of the people in the room and learned how important the work the Ag Foundation board is after joining. 

SM:  What do you think potential members of the NC Agricultural Foundation board should know? How would you best describe it?  

JB:  For me, seeing a list of who was currently serving on the board when considering serving would have helped me understand the broad spectrum of North Carolina agriculture represented on the board.  I didn’t realize how large the board is and the important work the committees do to provide guidance and input on projects like “Nickels for Know-How”.  Since I’m a farmer, I knew about “Nickels for Know-How”, but I didn’t know how the funds were disbursed to benefit agriculture in North Carolina.

SM:  What is one of the most interesting experiences you’ve had while serving on this board?

JB:  The fact that I’m now the chair is quite an honor.  I did not see myself in this role when I first joined the board, but as I served in a couple of leadership positions I realized that it would be a great opportunity for me.  I know you and the staff prepare everyone well for the meetings and it’s something I genuinely enjoy. Being part of this board has helped me rekindle connections I’ve had over the years.