Deepening Connections between Duke and Durham

Phail Wynn advocates for partnerships that further economic and educational development 

Phail Wynn with mascots from his two favorite places. Photo courtesy of Phail Wynn.
Phail Wynn with mascots from his two favorite places. Photo courtesy of Phail Wynn.

Name: Phail Wynn, Jr.

Position: Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs

Years at Duke: 6   

What I do at Duke: I oversee initiatives to help broaden and strengthen connections between Duke and Durham, and to sustain and improve economic, community and educational development in Durham. These initiatives include deeper collaboration and partnerships with local government officials, local universities and schools, businesses, neighborhoods, and economic development entities.  

How I got my job at Duke:  In 2006, President Brodhead invited me to the Hart House for a drink. I assumed it was in preparation for a meeting we would both be attending. Instead, he started exploring my plans for retirement, since I was nearing my 30th anniversary at Durham Tech. One thing led to another, and he offered me the newly created position of Vice President for Regional Affairs, which I accepted in April 2007.

To start a conversation with me, ask me about: The ongoing transformation and evolution of Durham and Duke. They've both changed a lot since I came to Durham in 1977. Back then, there were still 3,000 cigarette manufacturing jobs downtown.

If I had $5 million, I would: Establish a charitable foundation focused on education and youth.

My first paid job: Chopping cotton at age 12. I worked 10 hours a day at 75 cents an hour.

Where I learned about leadership: I served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and I learned that even though rank grants authority, you have to earn the privilege of leadership. I was a black commander of an all white unit, and at first, some men were reluctant to communicate with me or accept my leadership. That changed when I joined them around an 8 track tape player and sang along to Hank Williams Senior's "Your Cheating Heart" and "Half as Much." I had grown up in Oklahoma with Hank Williams songs, and they became the common cultural link that broke down other barriers. 

My dream job:  To be the head football coach at my Alma Mater, the University of Oklahoma.

What I love about Duke: I enjoy the excitement of move-in day, cheering for the sports teams, and the marvelous camaraderie at the University. But I also love the engagement of Duke in the wider world, whether it is making a difference in Durham or around the world.

When I'm not at work, I like to:  Play golf. But I don't do it as much as I'd like because I still serve on about 10 different boards. 

My favorite movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If I could have one superpower, it would be:  Clairvoyance. 

The book I am reading: "Empire of the Summer Moon" by S. C. Gwynne. It is about the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe in Oklahoma. 

Something unique in my office: I have a life-sized talking Yoda. When I was at Durham Tech, I used a lot of analogies and metaphors about Jedi masters, so my colleagues bought me one. It says things like "Save this for another time we will."