The High Humor and Historic Times of Dr. N.Y. Gulley

Dr. Needham Yancey Gulley’s life was split almost evenly between the centuries.

As a boy during the Civil War, he saw Sherman’s troops march toward Raleigh. In 1894 he founded the Wake Forest College Department of Law. And at 86-years old, he came out of retirement to cover for professors serving in World War II.

Spending 54-years at the lectern, Dr. Gulley taught approximately 1,700 students– including future governors, senators, congressmen and state supreme court justices.

In his later years, Dr. Gulley was known for driving his car down Faculty Avenue each morning (from his home in what is now the office of the Utility Service Agency, owned by Dave and Pinky Cooke).

And shortly before his death at age 91, he told a reporter, “I’ve decided that it’s just too much trouble to live to be a hundred.”

It’s this dry, philosophical humor for which Dr. Gulley was most famous. And an article recently discovered in the digitized files of the Old Gold & Black is a typically delightful example.

Robbery Mystery Revealed On High Seas During War
By Dan Bryan (March 19, 1932)

An unexpected visitor called upon Dr. Gulley, Dean of the Law School, a few nights ago. In his discourse he told Dr. Gulley of an amazing coincidence.

He related that he left Wake Forest College in the year 1915 to enlist in the United States Navy. The following year the United States declared war. The battleship to which he had been assigned was approaching the war zone. The night was dark; the moon and stars were concealed by dark, weighty masses of clouds. The prow of the monster now mounted the crest of a wave then rushed to the trough, only to be caught, lifted and dropped in a similar manner. The monstrous demon cut the waves as if aware of impending danger and uncertain of her fate.

It was now advancing in treacherous waters. The dark Atlantic seemed to be leading the ship to its destruction so it could claim it. There seemed to be an agreement between the surging swells and the vicious submarines to seal the doom of this vessel, for enemy submarines haunted the unknown depths below. The ship moved forward as a barefoot boy would cross a marsh infested by venomous moccasins.

The uneasy captain was on the bridge and supervised the watch below with remarkable judgment. The watch kept a strict surveillance over the rolling wastes. The remainder of the crew was below deck and, it seemed, awaiting the hour of execution.

No light was emitted from this water craft that held many human beings imprisoned within her. The crew below expected any minute to be struck by that deadly mechanism, the torpedo, which some enemy submarines ejected.

A group of sailors are talking. One comes to realize the true value of living. Another remarks about his far-distant home and loved ones, while still another under the strain of the present conditions confessed a crime that he had committed. He had been on his way from the South to Norfolk to enlist in the Navy. ‘By chance,’ he continues, ‘I was forced to spend the night in the small town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. I had no money and was starving. Under those conditions I broke into a home there and secured something to eat.’

The former Wake Forest student in this group said, ‘I remember that robber. I was a student at the college there. Someone broke into Dr. Gulley’s home one night.’

Dr. Gulley turned to his visitor and remarked, ‘If you should ever meet the house-breaker again, offer him my apologies for not having anything better to eat.'”


  1. Dean Gulley teaching when Dad & Uncle Grimes Williams reading law in Raleigh. Sent while I’m thinking of classroom classics.

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