UNCP gift honors former professor, renowned banker Joseph Sandlin

Joseph Sandlin

Most people in Robeson County remember the late Joseph Sandlin for his leadership in the banking industry and for his contributions to countless civic organizations.

Sandlin, the former president of Southern National Bank, gave his time generously to many causes, including the Robeson House, Duke Heart Center and Lumberton Chamber of Commerce. He helped establish the first Boys and Girls Club in the county. 

However, Joan Bowen says her father’s legacy extends beyond banking and community service. She said he also left an indelible mark on the students and faculty as a professor at UNC Pembroke. Sandlin served as Distinguished Executive in Residence in the School of Business from 1986 to 1999 teaching money, banking and investments.

To honor him, Bowen and her husband Woodberry, a longtime Lumberton attorney, gave a generous donation toward the new multi-million-dollar facility to house the School of Business. A room in the new facility will be named The Joseph E. Sandlin Accounting Seminar Room.

“My motivation for this gift was to highlight the close ties my father felt to the university and in appreciation for the gratitude he received from students, fellow faculty and administration,” said Bowen.

The university is planning a $36 million state-of-the-art School of Business facility near the main entrance of campus. UNCP received $23 million from the Connect NC Bond in 2016 and has received additional contributions from organizations and individuals bringing the campaign total to $31 million. The university has additionally received a $3 million endowment for building maintenance and program operations.

“Teaching was his first love,” said Bowen. “He taught Sunday School for as long as I can remember.” 

After graduating from the College of William and Mary with a degree in accounting, Sandlin worked for several years as a CPA for Arthur Andersen in New York City. He then accepted the position of chief financial officer for Robbins Mills in Virginia, then for Amerotron (division of Textron) in Southern Pines.

He and his wife Evelyn moved to Lumberton in 1963 when Sandlin was hired as vice president of Southern National Bank. The Virginia native would later serve as president and help turn the small town bank into a multimillion-dollar institution. He was instrumental in merging 21 other banks in the region into Southern National Bank.

Sandlin decided to leave the bank after suffering a heart attack in 1985. The next year, he joined the faculty at UNCP. Also that year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree during the university’s centennial convocation. Sandlin taught at UNCP for 13 years. During that time he led several annual giving campaigns, as well as the $1 million Centennial Giving Campaign. He later served as the university’s first director of the Economic Development Office.

“Mr. Sandlin played an important, early role in harnessing the resources of UNC Pembroke to support economic development across Robeson County and southeastern North Carolina,” said Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings.

“It is fitting he will be honored in the new School of Business, which will take our university’s level of regional engagement to new heights. We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Bowen for memorializing her father’s impact in such a meaningful way to benefit students for generations to come.”

Sandlin was well known throughout the region and was a mentor to many, including UNCP Trustee George Little and Barry O’Brien, dean of the School of Business, who served as Sandlin’s associate director of the Economic Development Office 

“Mr. Sandlin was truly a visionary,” O’Brien said. “I’ve never worked with anyone who had a better sense of potential opportunities for economic development in a rapidly changing world.

“What really excited Mr. Sandlin most was interacting with students and sharing his enthusiasm for accounting and investments. 

Sandlin was a member of the UNCP’s Foundation Board and Chancellor’s Club, and a recipient of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award. In his 1982 commencement address at UNCP, Sandlin described the university as “the No. 1 asset of Robeson County and Southeastern North Carolina, an asset that provides both economic and cultural benefits to the area.”

“My father thoroughly enjoyed his time at UNCP, interacting with students and becoming close friends first with Chancellor (Paul) Givens and then with Chancellor (Joseph) Oxendine,” Bowen said.

Bowen beams with pride as she flips through a voluminous collection of newspaper clippings chronicling his extraordinary career.

“He so appreciated all the efforts students put into their work for his classes,” she said. “He graduated from an 11-grade high school in a small Virginia town and really struggled his first years in college, so I think he identified with the experiences of some of his students at UNCP.”