My wife, Margaret, and I dated from one Tuesday till that Thursday when we became engaged. “Lust at first sight!” Think “the thunderbolt” from THE GODFATHER. Against the supposed odds, it has lasted almost 44 years. Two reactions to this quick decision came from: (1) My Father, a retired Baptist minister. When I announced the news to him I added, “…Dad, Margaret is Catholic.” His reply : “I’d rather you’d be Catholic than what you’ve been” OUCH! And (2) When mentioning the 3-day decision to friend, Harold Wayne Clark, Harold quizzed, “…were you at the beach?”
Bob Owens was one of thirteen, the oldest of seven boys, before there was a girl. Bob’s dad, Jack, was in the Navy in Hawaii. A real hard assed war vet. Bob was 18 years old, an All-American high school quarterback, and due to go to Wake Forest University on a full scholarship.
The night Bob graduated from his high school in Honolulu, Jack told him (1) Here’s $25 and my congratulations and (2) You don’t live here anymore, we need your bed.
Then he asked, “When are you enlisting?” Bob replied, “Dad, I’m going to Wake Forest, I’m deferred.” Jack repeated his question. Bob his answer.
Jack then said, “Bob, your country’s at war. When are you going in?”
Almost immediately upon his arrival in Vietnam Bob was assigned “the point man” on a reconnaissance mission. He stepped on a foxhole with a sniper pointing the gun straight up, shooting Bob point blank in the stomach.
After nineteen months in rehab, this fine young man walked out still with part of the bullet in his back.
I’ve never met anybody who was as “pure good” as Bob Owens. He was to become my assistant coach, a dear friend, and be Wanda’s husband.
Wanda’s 1st husband had been killed in a parachute accident almost the time the twins, Jay and Todd, were born.
Their new father, Bob, brought them, at age 9 ,to our first tennis camp at Elon.
Physically they were identical. Personality wise – opposite. Jay was mean as a snake, Todd – a pussycat.
They commuted to camp, but Jay learned the dorm “residents” were going to have a “water balloon fight” camp’s middle night – Wednesday.
It was Margaret’s idea, and our only water balloon fight ever.
The blond boys approached me about the event, with different agendas. The conversation went like this:
Jay: “I heard ya’ll were having a water fight.”
Todd: “Yeah, and a night tournament.”
Coach: That’s right.”
Todd: “Our mom may let us stay Wednesday night.” Jay: “ Can we be in the water fight?
Todd: Will you let us play in the tournament?”
Jay: “How many balloons do you get?”
Todd: “Will you help us keep score in the tennis tournament?”
Jay: “Can you hit anybody you want to?”
Todd: “I’m not positive our Mom will let us stay.”
Jay: “We are staying for this.”
The next year Bob volunteered to work in Tennis Camp. It took half the staff to watch Jay and Todd, so I was delighted.
Bob and Margaret could run the camp. Throw in Kyle Wills and Eddie Gwaltney and our staff made a little needed money, plus we raised our kids in the camp. A court, or gym, is not a bad place to rear a child.
Bob was all work, and kindness. If I picked something up, he took it away from me and did it himself He couldn’t sleep well because of Vietnam, so he’d put ’em to bed, and wake ‘em up.
The first night after a hard day at camp, I told Bob to leave the trash until morning. “Not so, can’t leave after fishing ‘til the boat is clean. ” Capt. Jack” taught Bob well. Oldest of thirteen made managing tennis camp a snap for Bob.
Bob soon became my Assistant Tennis Coach.
Once, after practice, Bob was blowing all the leaves off our 12-court facility. When he circled by me, standing at the fence watching him, he stopped.
“Coach, what’s wrong?” He could see the tears in my eyes. I told him the truth.
“Bob, I just hope there’s not another American young person as good as you, about to be shot.” I was so wrong and am saddened by all the tragedy we are experiencing.
Another summer failure was a college foray with an East Carolina student. I was hired by Virginia Beach Photo Service, located on 15th St., Virginia Beach. The trick was to sell pictures on the beach, which were developed, and placed in a key chain “plastic viewer.” $2.50 charges netted a commission of 50 cents per sale. Strictly commission.
The summer job gods got me good this time. It rained for 17 straight days. I mean no one was at the beach. I almost starved. Finally the sun shown.
I was an apprentice without sale #1. My mentor advised me to leap when I felt froggy. I watched several sales pitches and began to think I could do it.
As we approached two seated teenaged girls my employer went into high gear. He: “Let me take your picture.”
Through several “pitches” she remained firm, where upon he reached down and yanked her up by the arm and took her down to the shoreline and snapped her picture.
Me: “Let’s join your friend.”
She: “No way.”
After three similar rebukes I employed similar tactics as my teacher.
As I grabbed her arm and started to lift her she began to shout “I’ve got an artificial leg! I’ve got an artificial leg!”
As I watched the towel that had covered her prosthesis, I observed in compass fashion, her leg draw a half circle in the Va. Beach sand. Bus back to Robbins. Borrowed the fare.
The tobacco market was the central business. The tobacco people were funny. Hell, everybody in Eastern North Carolina is funny. In the Piedmont the people were “nut gatherers”, or accomplishment oriented. People east of Raleigh got out of bed thinking of something funny to say. Buddy Bedgood told me that the fact that Yankees thought we were so dumb is what made them so easy to fool.
Next to two term Governor James B. Hunt I guess Buddy was the best known Wilsonian. He, wife Peggy and Jimmy and Tassie Dempsy were dyed in the wool Carolina fans. They befriended Dean Smith early, and he never forgot them. Before NCAA rules stopped them, the foursome hosted great tailgate parties, at Carolina football games. The basketball recruits all loved the Dempsys and the Bedgoods. I did too.
Buddy had flaws, but he got things done. The football stadium at Fike High School bears his name. He was loud, chubby, smoked constantly, and got right up next to you to talk. With each point of emphasis he’d bump you with her considerable girth.
The UNC Education Foundation booked a trip to Hawaii in 1972, for the “Rainbow” basketball tournament. Carolina fans by the plane full. Imagine. Anyway Margaret and I were asked along with Pete and the Boykins, Faye and “Country.” We were “fillers” to make the required number.
We stayed in the “Royal Hawaiian” or the old pink landmark hotel. It was lovely. Upon checking out Buddy was presented with a bill for 50 cents for each call made within the hotel. This was a policy many hotels instituted later, but it was new to Buddy, who owned “The Heart of Wilson,” Wilson’s top motel.
And it was no small bill. Buddy knew everyone on the plane, orchestrated the whole weeks activities, and talked over the phone constantly anyway.
Buddy confronted the desk clerk. They exchanged arguments. Finally Buddy said, “Well, I own a motel and we certainly don’t charge any such ridiculous fee!”
The clerk puffed up and said, “Sir, is your motel this large?” Buddy countered, “The telephones are the same size.”
Dr. White was a champion of the “total athletic program.” My first year he asked me if I thought we ought to add women’s soccer. “Tomorrow” was my answer.
I’ll never forget those early women’s soccer teams, remarkably successful, kicking though what was always a rain drenched play off win. My favorite was Katie McGrath, who also played basketball and volleyball.
I taught Katie and got to know her. She returned from the holidays one Christmas telling me her father had bought a motel.
“So your family is going into the motel business,” I commented.
Katie, one of their thirteen children, said “Oh, no sir, Coach. Dad bought it for us. I’m in #9.”
One interesting case involved a soccer player from Jamaica, Tony Barriteau. Tony was a joy, and volunteered his time teaching the growing number of soccer kids in Wilson.
Greenfield School was the private school in Wilson, and it was typical of the schools built during integration, soccer; no football.
I got a call from George Bell, Greenfield’s headmaster. He wanted to know if I should hire an applicant named Barriteau, who’d listed my name as a reference.
“Why not?” I asked.
George hemmed and hawed until my silence forced him to say it.
“Well, he’s black, you know and our parents……..”
He was still stammering when I advised him “George, hire Tony.”
I’d forgotten it until a call from an excited Tony Barriteau. “Coach, I, I, I think
I did it right. I remembered all you said, I, I, I…”
“Tony, what happened.”
He explained that on his first day at Greenfield he was eating lunch with the faculty and staff. All of a sudden George Bell, choking on his lunch, turned blue and grabbed his throat. Tony had administered the “Heimlich Maneuver” perfectly, popping George’s lunch on the cafeteria floor.”
“Tony”, I said, “go get Mr. Bell on the phone. ” A few minutes later George Bell said “Hello”.
I couldn’t resist: “George, how do you feel about hiring Tony Barriteau?”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a white cat or a black cat, as long as it can catch mice,” Colin Powell at Elon University – 2005.
Nolan Respess and his assistant, “Dee Dock”, coached in tiny Pantego, NC, early in their careers. The schools sports program was basketball and baseball. That’s it. Except for the principal’s news, fueled by school consolidation.
“Gentlemen we’re adding football. Not only that, you two are the coaches.”
Nolan said neither he or “Dee Dock” knew much football, but there they were on opening Friday night.
On the kickoff return one of their new kids got “cold cocked!” Unconscious right at their feet. The kid finally “blind staggered” to his feet, barely awake. Coach Re spess’ first substitute was instructed to “Take his place.” The kid ran over to where the other kid had been stretched out and laid down.
Hmm, we’ve got some coaching to do. Later when he tried to find the same kid, another teammate said, “Coach, he is over there, pointing to the concession stand. The “sub” was calmly eating a hot dog through his facemask.
Coach Respess: “Son, did they give you a hot dog?” “No, Coach, I bought it.”
“You had money in your uniform?”
“I hid it in my shoes, I knew I’d get hungry.”