Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fare thee well, my friend

The first indication I had that anything might be wrong was Friday morning when I was directed to the story in The Salisbury Post that its long-time sports editor (and my friend), Ronnie Gallagher, had died unexpectedly at the age of 57.

Ronnie Gallagher
 It was shocking news.

The story noted that Gallagher had had a mild heart attack a week or so earlier. That, too, was a surprise to me. Ronnie always appeared to be so... so... fit.

The story also said that Gallagher had complained of stomach pains Friday morning before going to the hospital, where he eventually passed away.

I thought that sounded a bit unusual until a friend of mine suggested that severe nausea can be a sign of a heart attack. That information was almost consoling to me — Ronnie always had a big heart: a big heart for sports and sports writing, a big heart for his friends, and a big heart for his family. So maybe, just maybe, his heart simply wore out. Anyway, that's how I want to see it.

I met Ronnie probably in 1976. I'm guessing he was a few years fresh out of North Davidson Senior High School (the family house abutted the school property) and he was already covering games for The Dispatch as a stringer. I was a newly-hired sports writer at the newspaper back then, and I could tell right off there was something a little different about Ronnie: he was soooo into the games, more than even most sports writers, it seemed. He knew all the rules; he knew all of the players; he knew all of the coaches; heck, he probably knew most of the referees and most of the fans in the stands.

His enthusiasm for sports was clearly — and refreshingly — unjaded.

Over the course of time, I discovered he also had developed encyclopedic knowledge of sports, and especially local sports. He could tell you who did what on what day eight years ago, when that player went 3-for-4 and tore his uniform sliding into home plate during a high school playoff game on an overcast day in a season where he hit .422 and drove in 38 runs.

Ronnie may have gotten a career-making break in the early 1980s when The Dispatch created a sister publication called The North Davidson Dispatch (NDD). It was a weekly — it came out every Wednesday — and Ronnie was its sole sports editor/sports writer.

But Ronnie took the job and ran with it. He consistently filled six or eight wide open pages with everything North Davidson. If the Knights had played Tiddly Winks and Pick-Up Sticks as varsity sports, or even as junior varsity sports, Ronnie would have covered them. This is where, I think, Ronnie's earliest concept of what a sports section should look like first developed. It would serve him well later on.

The NDD lasted about two years. Shortly thereafter, in 1986, Ronnie became the sports editor/sports writer for another weekly, The Davie County Enterprise. Taking the foundation he created with the NDD, he singlehandedly turned The Enterprise's sports section into an award-winning publication — something in which he justifiably took great pride.

By 1995 he was working at The Post, and two years later, he was The Post's sports editor. The cream always rises, you know. Once again, he brought his concept of total sports coverage to yet another publication and made it something special. I like to think you can trace those roots back to The Dispatch.

To my way of thinking, Ronnie's writing matured as he did. Winning press awards is a very subjective thing, but it's about the only measurement we have in the business (other than unheard of merit raises or bonuses) to gauge a writer's worth. Ronnie ended up winning 14 North Carolina Press Association awards for The Enterprise, and 20 more for The Post, which is astounding when you consider that in this world of specialized education, Ronnie never went to college. That just doesn't happen anymore. Heck, you can't even get hired anymore without a degree. His was the School of Hard Knocks, and he made it look easy. He was unabashedly proud of that accomplishment, too, and it's well that he was.

So now I sit back and reminisce about an old friend way before I want to. In later years, we'd occasionally bump into each other while covering the same event, and we'd sit and chat for a bit and catch up. But it was all too infrequent.

It's still going to take a little time to process this loss. I hope I have the heart for it. So for now, at least, fare thee well, my friend. Fare thee well.

(Here's a sample of Ronnie at work with one of his Roamin' Rowan videos.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Old Courthouse — Part II

I wish I'd found the following two videos a couple of days ago when I first wrote my blog about Davidson County allocating money — more than $600,000 — to refurbish the exterior of the Old Courthouse. This story first appeared in The Dispatch several weeks ago and my blog was in response to some of the criticism the county's action has generated among several Dispatch readers.

Some of the criticism, I felt, showed a stunning disregard not only for the appreciation of historic architecture, but for history itself.

Both videos eloquently express the way I feel — more than I could myself — about preserving and/or renovating historic structures.

The first clip was taken from CBS Sunday Morning and the pertinent segment is entitled "Buildings: What's New is Old."

Pay attention to what Vanity Fair architect critic Paul Goldberger has to say near the end of the clip: "Historical architecture is part of our culture, just the way art, music and literature are part of our culture. Architecture is the only one (of those three) that's around us all the time, every day. It does its magic on us every day."

See here.

Amen, brother.

The second clip is a "local" piece by MyFOX 8, showing some of the historic buildings that stand majestically in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.

See here.

One critic wrote about the Old Court House, "Paint a picture and let's move on," more or less implying the building had outlived its function, if not its form, and who would miss it anyway if it ever fell in on itself?

Which left me to wonder, Why paint a picture when the story is standing right in front of us?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Old Courthouse

A recent story in The Dispatch told us that Davidson County is going to spend $940,000 on two repair projects, including $617,500 for external repairs to the Old Courthouse on Main Street. About $150,000 of that designated courthouse money will come from Preservation North Carolina, a nonprofit designed to protect and preserve historic buildings.

The stately Old Davidson County Courthouse is due for some repairs.
Sounds like a good idea to me. I'm into historic preservation. It's a way to save unique architecture as well as preserving an example of a construction skill set that's almost lost. As it is, the courthouse exterior is a living museum (as well as a real working edifice that houses the Davidson County Historical Museum). Furthermore, the Old Courthouse is a well-known landmark. To my way of thinking, preserving old structures is also a way to enhance our quality of life — an appreciation for something that you can't quite put your finger on but by the same measure something you know is there. You can feel it. Perhaps more importantly, you can also feel it when you've lost it.

Preservation is also a way to link ourselves to the history that got us here. By keeping our ties to the past — how and why those who went before us implemented their particular plan for the town — we might have a better understanding of how to ford our own way to the future.

But if you glance at some of the reader comments to the story, you'd think the county was ready to take barrels of currency and throw them into the Yadkin River.

Even the state recognizes the courthouse's history.
Example 1: "Why? If it is so important then I am sure people will be willing to donate private funds. I am the future generation and we have a courthouse. Paint a picture and lets move on. People are going without food and shelter in this county, allocating nearly $1,000,000 is unacceptable."

Example 2: "Money on History, now the question is who made that money to do the job, and were did it come from? That is Lexington for you folks waste tax dollars on empty buildings. People will not bring their business here because of an old building's."

Opposition to historic preservation almost always brings up the argument that the money can be better spent elsewhere. Usually, that means feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.

Well, I'm for that, too. Who isn't? It's a really good-sounding argument for collecting votes, but I'm not sure using tax dollars is the way to go here. Use $1 million to feed the hungry? Then what? When the money's gone, I'll bet the hungry are still going to be hungry. Throw in another million? When does that train ride end?

It was suggested that preserving the courthouse — which was, ironically enough, no doubt built by tax money in the 1850s — could be done by private donations. I might argue that a better way to care for the needy is already in place with organizations like the Salvation Army, Pastor's Pantry, most churches and any number of nonprofits, including the spectacular work done by the United Way.

There are no simple financial solutions, either for taking care of the indigent or for historic preservation. And I'm not sure one takes priority over the other. Both are important concerns and both require our attention.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ferrari fever

My wife once danced with the late Eddie Smith Sr. about 10 years ago when we were taking shag lessons at the Robbins Center. We had to practice our steps by changing partners every so often, so Kim ditched me for Eddie. He was very much the gentleman to my wife. I don't think he stepped on her toes at all.

I knew Eddie had been a former mayor of Lexington and that he was a respected local humanitarian/philanthropist with a compelling rags-to-riches tale tacked on to his résumé.

I didn't know he owned a Ferrari.

And not just any Ferrari, but a rare 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4*S N.A.R.T. Spyder at that. Only 10 of them were ever built, and one of them, which belonged to actor Steve McQueen, was rear-ended in a wreck. I guess that means only nine of them remain on the planet.

Last night, the car was put up for auction by the family in the hopes that it would raise millions for charity.

I really wanted to see the auction live, conducted by RM Auctions in Monterey, Calif., but I didn't see any possibilities on my Time Warner cable lineup.

So I went to my computer and googled "rare Ferrari auction", which got me to RM Auctions. And there, at the bottom of the page, was a button to connect me to the live feed to the auction.


This was about 10 p.m. I sat through an hour of rare Mercedes, Austins, Ferraris, et al, being put on the block, with several of them ultimately fetching $1 or $2 million.

Who has that kind of cash for a car, I wondered.

Anyway, around 11:15 p.m., the Ferrari was rolled out. Its estimated pre-auction value was already $14 million, but auctions can be dicey things. They're risky. My wife's family held an estate auction to liquidate her parents' property, and sales were somewhat disappointing, even in a recessive economy. So I wasn't sure if the Ferrari would reach the $14 million level.

My wife was on the phone with a high school classmate at the time, so I brought the laptop into the kitchen so she could see the auction in progress.

Almost immediately, the first bid was for $16 million, just under the record $16.4 million for any Ferrari ever sold at auction.

Holy smokes.

A few moments passed as potential buyers had time to come to their senses, but the next bid hit $17 million to break the record. I was astounded. A few more minutes passed as the auctioneer tried to coax a few more dollars from these world-class buyers as they sipped their champagne from crystal flutes, but nothing happened. Well, that's that, I thought.

Then, suddenly, the auctioneer got excited as the next bid leaped to $20 million. My mouth dropped. Kim stopped dead in her phone conversation. The $20 million figure had been given as the high end of the car's expectations, but it didn't stop there. In moments, the figure became $23 million, then $24 million, and finally, $25 million.

Eddie Smith's 1967 Ferrari sold for $25 million at auction. Before fees.

I wasn't sure if I could believe what I was seeing. That was amazing.

This morning, in an attempt to find a video clip of the auction to insert in my blog, I came across an item from that said a rare Ferrari NART Spyder sold for $27.5 million, plus fees, last night, setting a record.

Fees. What does that mean? Does that include the auction house commission? Administration fees? Taxes? I don't know how this works.

And who was the buyer? Will the car be driven, or placed in a museum? And if it's a driver, what kind of insurance do you put on a car like that?

None of those questions really mater, of course.

What does matter is that Eddie Smith's incredible legacy continues moving forward.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blowing Rock respite

Kim and I might have had a brief glimpse into our own future this past weekend in Blowing Rock.

We were enjoying our annual three-day weekend retreat from the heat while also taking in a little Art in the Park, as we like to do each summer.

Except on this particular Saturday, we were about an hour ahead of the vendors. They were still setting up their tents and putting their crafts on display, so Kim and I decided to kill some time and take an early stroll around town.

We came to the village tennis courts, where we saw a "mature" woman — perhaps in her late 60s, but possibly older — lobbing shots back over the net to an apparently even older gentleman.

Blowing Rock seniors make sure they get their time on the court.
"Lookit that, Kim," I said to my wife, pointing to the couple. "More power to them."

Kim and I took a seat at a nearby park bench to watch.

The woman clearly knew the game. She started slicing the ball, putting some reverse, sideways or some other undecipherable spin on the ball, completely befuddling her partner. Plus, he couldn't go to his backhand. He'd take a swing and miss, then amble over to the ball, pick it up, and whack a fairly straight-forward return that sometimes actually cleared the net.

"She's good," I said. "She knows what she's doing."

Before long, they were joined by another age-appropriate couple, and then another. Within the next half hour or so, there were enough seniors on the side-by-side courts for two full doubles matches. And they arrived ready for serious competition, wearing their tennis whites, sweatbands, wristbands, knee braces — whatever it took. Some even carried their technologically current rackets in specially designed tote bags. Whoa.

One thing I noticed right off is how courteous these folks were to each other. A good shot that fell in just out of reach of an opponent was usually followed by an "I'm sorry" by the striker.

When the games actually started in earnest, hard-won points were celebrated with raised arms, or by"Good shot" from an opponent. The only trash talk I heard came from one guy who said something to the effect that it was too bad there weren't some good players on the court who could actually return the ball. He said it with a laugh.

I know. I sound like I'm surprised by these people; by their attitudes about competition, by their very presence on a tennis court itself.

But this is what I mean when I say that Kim and I may have been given a glimpse into our future. A sign on the tennis court fence said the courts were open to seniors, age 55 and over, every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. So these folks were just a decade — or less — older than ourselves.

I just hope I can still get around that well when I'm their age. Maybe I should do less sitting on the park bench.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Working through it

You can stop reading right now if husband-admiring-wife stuff gets on your nerves.

The last time I did this, Kim was modeling leather on a Harley-Davidson (see here).

But recently, about a month ago, Kim found full-time employment with Parrott Insurance and Benefits, as their office coordinator. She greets you as you enter the door; she answers the phone; she keeps the office supplies in stock; she keyboards; she organizes files; she takes care of mailings, and she makes the coffee, among other things. She even has her notary public stamp.

In other words, she does the essential stuff to keep the office going while freeing up the others to do the essential stuff to keep the business going. (There is a difference in that, if you look closely enough).

Basically, it's similar to what she'd done as administrative assistant to bank senior management for 31 years at Lexington State Bank/NewBridge Bank, and, on a lesser scale, for about a year at Edward Jones. Clearly, her experience was never an issue.

It seems to me like the perfect fit for both parties. She loves working there. She says it feels like family.

Anyway, about two weeks after she was hired, it was suggested to her that she get her state licensing in both health and life insurance. Even though she isn't an agent, she legally can't discuss insurance with a customer unless she's licensed.

So it was off to school.

Huh? What? School? At age 53?

Each morning, for a week, Kim made the trek to Greensboro for an intense eight-hour-a-day course in life and health insurance to train for the state licensing exam. Then it was back home for three hours of study each night.


That part required me to be the thoughtful, supporting husband. I kept the TV volume turned down a notch or two. I tried to screen incoming phone calls. I tried to offer encouragement whenever she cried out, "I can't do this anymore."

She had to take and pass two exams — one in life, one in health — just to qualify for the state exam. And she did just that.

Kim was always a good student in high school and at the community college, almost always knocking down A's. But I couldn't imagine resurrecting rusty study skills 30 years later. That had to be a shock to her system.

So now it was off to the state exams in Statesville for two multiple-choice quizzes of 65 questions. We reserved a Saturday morning for this. I was walking around town when my cell phone buzzed. "I passed the health part," she said. But the disappointment in her voice told me we had to revisit the more difficult life quiz. Apparently, she missed passing that one by one, maybe two, incorrect answers.

So we set up the following Thursday morning for the retry. She studied like crazy. One night, she had me read her sample test questions for three hours, and I was duly impressed. She only missed five. I knew then that she'd nail it.

And she did. She came out of the testing center with her face beaming, relieved and exhausted and I was incredibly proud of her. True, this wasn't like passing the bar (I have no idea what that might be like), but it was a grueling experience nonetheless, acknowledged even by others within the industry.

I'm thinking of buying her a Harley.

Or at least some leather.