Born in South Carolina on October 17, 1891, Robert Gregg Cherry went to live with his uncle in Gastonia, North Carolina at the age of seven, when both his parents died. Cherry attended Trinity College (now Duke University) for his undergraduate degree and law school.
Cherry returned to Gastonia to practice law but in 1917, he formed the Company A 115th Machine Gun Battalion and organized men from Gastonia to go overseas and fight in World War 1. The outfit fought in France and Belgium and was part of the force that cracked the Hindenberg Line. Cherry became known as the “Iron Major,” and continued his service by joining the National Guard at the conclusion of the war. Cherry married Mildred Stafford in 1921.
Returning from the war Cherry was immediately elected as mayor of Gastonia, a position he held from 1919-1923. He was then elected by the people of Gastonia to serve for five consecutive terms in the N.C. State House of Representatives from 1931-1940; and was Speaker of the House in 1940. In 1941 Cherry was elected to the state Senate and served his tenure to 1943 when he decided to run as the Democratic candidate in the North Carolina gubernatorial election.
R. Gregg Cherry was elected as the Governor of North Carolina, an office he held from 1945-1949. The Gastonia native focused his administration on expanding mental health services and increasing hospital facilities and personnel. Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, North Carolina is named after the governor. Under Cherry’s direction, teacher salaries increased, the compulsory age for attendance in public schools was raised, and a four-year medical school at Chapel Hill was constructed.
Philosophically, Cherry was a fiscal conservative and advocated strongly that the state protect its monetary resources to help cushion the shock of postwar adjustment. Unlike most members of his state political party, Cherry, a Democrat, strongly supported President Harry Truman and even hosted him in Raleigh for an event honoring the three presidents that hailed from North Carolina. Cherry was also known for his crass and at times profane vocabulary, and he was also very fond of whiskey and chewing tobacco. In Gastonia, a longstanding joke had been that Cherry was the best lawyer in town when sober, and the second best lawyer in town when drunk.
After his time as the governor, Cherry went back to practicing law in Gastonia and became a trustee of both Duke University and the University of North Carolina. R. Gregg Cherry died in 1957, and is buried in Gaston Memorial Park in Gastonia, North Carolina.
Michael Hill, ed., The Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh, 2007); National Governors Association, Governor Bios, Robert Cherry,http://www.nga.org/, (last accessed January 25, 2011); NCpedia, Biography Governors, Robert Gregg Cherry, http://ncpedia.org/, (last accessed January 25, 2011); Richard Walser, Tar Heel Laughter (Chapel Hill 1983).