Tarheel fan. Former congressman. Lifelong learner.
William Wilfred Cobey Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in the suburb of University Park, Md. He attended Maryland public schools in Prince George’s County and attended high school in Hyattsville, Md. Cobey’s father was the athletic director for the University of Maryland from 1956 to 1969. He graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned a master’s in business administration in 1964 from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1968. During this time, Cobey worked as a bank administrative assistant and then as a chemical salesman. He briefly taught elementary school, coached in high schools, and taught a few college courses.
In 1968, he became an athletic administrator and then became the athletic director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1976. In 1984, he was elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District. After serving in Congress, Cobey worked as the North Carolina Deputy Secretary of Transportation and then as Secretary of the Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources. Later, Cobey was a government relations consultant for Capitol Link, Inc. after serving as the town manager of Morrisville, N.C. Over this period, Cobey served two terms as the chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, from 1999-2003. From 2005-2012, Cobey was a presidential appointee to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors, which supervises Reagan National and Dulles airports. He is a former chairman of the board at Trinity School in Durham and a former president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA.
Cobey currently serves as chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education and is a member of the Governor’s Education Cabinet. In addition, he is a board member for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, the North Carolina Education Workforce Innovation Commission, and the Jesse Helms Center Foundation. Cobey lives in Chapel Hill with his wife, Nancy. They have one daughter, one son, and four grandchildren with whom he loves to spend his time. He also likes to travel, especially to the beach, and he describes himself as a “lifelong learner” who enjoys reading.
Editor’s Note: EdNC will be posting leadership profiles on the policymakers influencing education in North Carolina. Recently, I met with a member of our General Assembly. He noted that upon becoming a legislator people started treating him like an object. I come from a family that values public service, period. You know our policymakers as politicians. I hope our profiles help you know them better as people. EdNC wants you to be comfortable walking into the legislature, interacting with the legislators, and participating in state government – it is your government after all.