Community College Presidency
In 1997, Martin Lancaster became president of the North Carolina Community College System, one of the largest and best systems in the country. His major initiatives were to increase funding and private support for upgrading the equipment and technology of the colleges; to improve salaries of faculty and staff so the system can continue to attract and retain the high quality of personnel for which it is known; and to make the system a major player in economic development in North Carolina through its major mission of work forced preparation. As President he served on numerous boards and commissions, most of which focus on education, economic development, and work force issues. In 2008, after he stepped down he was named president emeritus.
He is now of counsel to the largest law firm in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Born and raised on a tobacco farm in rural Eastern North Carolina, Lancaster spent his early years working in the fields, attending a small rural school (excelling in academics and student leadership positions, particularly the 4-H Club), and participating in local church youth activities.
In 1957, he served as a Page in the North Carolina House of Representatives and in 1959, as Chief Page.
In 1961, Lancaster began his university studies at the University of North Carolina, again holding numerous student leadership positions. He entered the law school at UNC after his junior year in college as a Law Alumni Scholar, graduating in 1967.
Graduating from law school at the height of Vietnam, Lancaster became a Judge Advocate in the Navy, serving on active duty for three years, eighteen months of which were spent on the USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) off the coast of Vietnam. He continued as an active reservist, retiring as a Navy Captain in 1993.
Lancaster returned to his hometown after military service and entered the private practice of law with a college and law school classmate. Between then and his leaving the firm upon his election to Congress in 1986, the firm grew to seven lawyers. Lancaster engaged in the general practice of law which included representing farmers, small businesses and small towns in every kind of case. Active in professional organizations, he was elected to the Board of Governors of the North Carolina Bar Association.
Civic leadership positions came early, with Lancaster serving as president or chairman of many community endeavors with emphasis on cultural organizations. In 1977 the Governor appointed him Chairman of the North Carolina Arts Council, a position he held for four years. This community involvement led naturally to elective office, first to the North Carolina House of Representatives and ultimately to the U. S. Congress.
Lancaster quickly established himself as an effective legislator, serving as a committee chairman in his second term. In his third and fourth terms, he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and was ranked both sessions as the fifth most effective member by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research.
Lancaster was noted especially for effective floor action and championed many issues in the fields of education, mental health, the arts and the legal system. Two of his most noteworthy initiatives were authoring and seeing to the enactment of North Carolina's crackdown on drunk drivers and establishing the guardian ad litem program to give children who find themselves in court a friend to see them through the experience.
In Congress, Lancaster served on the Armed Services, Small Business, Agriculture, and Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committees. His major committee was Armed Services where he became a real champion of the service members and their families. As Chairman of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation panel, he led efforts to improve commissary benefits by merging the three service systems into one of the largest grocery "companies" in the country, to expand and improve the quality of retail shopping in the exchange systems, to enhance child care services, and in general to improve the quality of life for all. In essence, he served as Chairman of the Board of a huge grocery chain and three large retail chains at a time of major upheaval.
The merger of the commissary systems required merging and harmonizing three personnel systems, three computer systems, three buying programs, three marketing strategies and three sets of policies of various kinds while keeping more than two million customers and thousands of suppliers happy. The exchange systems went from a practice of significant Congressional subsidy to self-sufficiency during Lancaster's tenure.
Readiness of the forces and acquisition reform were other interests. As an active Navy reservist and a representative of many constituents who were active duty, reservists or National Guardsmen, Lancaster played a leading role in issues important to those personnel.
Lancaster represented the House for six years at the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiations in Geneva. This required his presence in Geneva on a regular basis, as well as his active efforts in Washington to educate his colleagues, the administration and the public on the on going negotiations and ultimately to educate them on the provisions as finalized.
Active in the Congressional Study Group on Germany from the first days of his tenure in Congress, Lancaster became Chairman of the Group in 1994. In this capacity he worked closely with Members of Congress and the German Bundestag (that country's parliament) interested in the German-U.S. relationship, becoming friends with Members of the Bundestag and traveling frequently to Germany. As a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly (the parliamentary arm of NATO), Lancaster also worked with parliamentarians from other NATO countries on policy and political issues of the region. After 1990, parliamentarians from former Warsaw Pact countries began meeting with NAA delegates at their twice yearly meetings, giving Lancaster and other delegates insight into the problems of those countries and the expansion of NATO.
In 1995, Lancaster chaired the National Prayer Breakfast which brings people of all faiths and from more than 160 countries to Washington each year to join prayer for our country and theirs. As an outgrowth of that experience, for two years he hosted on an ad hoc basis a fellowship luncheon for Ambassadors from the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union).
As the son of a tobacco farmer and as the person representing more tobacco farmers than any other Member, Lancaster found himself in the position of defending those farmers and their way of life as tobacco came under increasing attacks. He became sensitized to environmental concerns on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and championed small business concerns from his position on the Small Business Committee.
Defeated in the Republican sweep of North Carolina and the country in 1994, Lancaster worked briefly for Governor Jim Hunt handling federal issues. However, with his family in the Washington area, when the President asked that he assist him with the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, he eagerly accepted. Anticipating ratification in the fall of 1995, the president nominated Lancaster to become Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, a position for which the Senate confirmed him in January of 1996. In this capacity, Lancaster was primarily responsible for policy development and advocacy for the Army Corps of Engineers before the Office of Management and Budget, the White House, and the Congress. As the civilian head of the Corps, he gave policy guidance and oversight to the operation of the Corps, an organization of 27,000 employees deployed across the globe in 38 district offices and 11 divisions. Their mission is to plan, design, build and maintain the nation's infrastructure for navigation (harbors, channels, inland waterways, locks, etc.), flood control (dams, levees, stream improvements, etc.), hydroelectric power generation (a by-product of the flood control structures), and environmental regulation and restoration.