Susan Warren Rabon knew she wanted to be one of two things when she grew up: a veterinarian or an attorney. She chose to attend NC State in large part for its stellar veterinary program. But it didn’t take long for her to swing in the other direction.
“I made my choice before I even started classes at NC State, after going to orientation,” Rabon laughs. “I decided I wanted to go into political science and then law school.”
That choice helped establish Rabon’s dedication to service — a dedication she has displayed ever since.
Rabon has been named the CHASS 2012 Distinguished Alumna and was recognized at the annual NC State Alumni Association Evening of Stars Gala at Prestonwood Country Club. Award recipients are chosen for their service to the community, their service to NC State and the impact they have made through their careers.
“Susan was an easy choice,” says Jeffery P. Braden, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “She just knocks it out of the park on all three criteria for this recognition.” He reels off examples: Rabon recently joined the college’s Advisory Board. She serves the Holly Springs community as a member of the Kraft YMCA Advisory Board. She has served NC State extremely well for the past eight years as a member of the NC State Board of Visitors. And throughout her career — especially now, as a commissioner for the North Carolina Utilities Commission — she has made a huge impact on the citizens of this state.
Rabon’s passion for service was evident even during her undergraduate career at NC State. Before she graduated in 1982 with a degree in political science, she completed an Institute of Government internship and volunteered in Gov. Jim Hunt’s office. Through those activities she met Jack Cozort, today the owner of Cozort Government Relations and a member of the NC State Board of Trustees. Cozort was a North Carolina Court of Appeals judge for 12 years and also served eight years as counsel to Gov. Jim Hunt.
“My first impression of Susan was how quick her mind is,” says Cozort. “She very quickly understands issues and how to resolve them. I was also very impressed with how well she dealt with people.”
From NC State, Rabon headed to law school at the University of Virginia. She took a leave of absence during that time to volunteer in Gov. Jim Hunt’s office and work for his u.s. Senate campaign. After graduating from law school, Rabon clerked for Cozort at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
“Susan never left a project or an issue until it was completed,” says Cozort. “She always knew what it meant to finish a task and to finish it well. Her involvement in bettering her community was a family tradition. Her parents were community leaders in Danville [Virginia], and Susan carried on the family tradition.”
After clerking for Cozort, Rabon went into private practice and then worked at the Department of Justice as special counsel and chief of staff. She later worked in Gov. Mike Easley’s office. In 2009, Rabon was appointed as a commissioner for the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which regulates public utilities in North Carolina, including electric, telephone, natural gas, water, wastewater, water resale, household goods transportation, buses, brokers and ferryboats. Perhaps her most publicly visible duty is presiding over rate cases.
“The job we have is to balance the citizens’ right to adequate, reliable and economical utility services with the companies’ costs of providing those services to the consumer,” says Rabon. “Regulation in the public interest is a balance. Obviously, the costs of living are going up for everybody, and we are very sensitive and attuned to that as well. Wages and jobs, especially since 2008, have not kept pace with those increases.”
Rabon recently rotated off NC State’s Board of Visitors after serving eight years. The board’s role is to advise the chancellor — and through the chancellor, the university’s Board of Trustees — to ensure NC State’s standing among the nation’s premier universities. Members serve as advocates and ambassadors for the university.
Through her board service, Rabon had a front-row seat for the “amazing things going on across campus,” she says. “We are doing wonderful things at NC State, including partnering with the community and with businesses. We are a great resource for the state’s economic development. I want to be sure legislators and others know that.”
Rabon was a particularly strong advocate for the value the humanities contribute to higher education. “No matter how smart, how accomplished we are, we need to be able to communicate our ideas,” she says. “And we can’t afford to just work within our own disciplines. We need to find better ways to work across those lines. Chancellor Woodson is definitely working to make that happen.”
Rabon’s term also offered her a close look at today’s students. “They are so well polished,” she says. “When they came to speak to the board, I was impressed by their presentation abilities and their intellects. We are attracting very high caliber students to NC State.”
Rabon has fond memories of her own undergraduate days, when Jim Valvano was coaching the Wolfpack, and the political science department, although small, was active and innovative. “When I arrived my freshman year, I had no connections, and that was part of the allure,” she recalls. “I wanted to branch out and meet new people, have new experiences.”
That she did. The life she has lived since then — one of serving and giving back — distinguishes Susan Rabon. Many thanks, Commissioner.
— By Christa Gala
An earlier version of this article appeared in the 2013 CHASS magazine, Accolades.