Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Two Landmarks Still Standing Tall

It was one day last week, as I was returning to Cary from my childhood home of Sanford, just about 30 miles from my current residence, when I decided to detour a little, going north on US Highways 15 and 501 to downtown Pittsboro and then east on US 64 to Cary.

I wanted to get a first-hand look at the Chatham County Courthouse, or at the very least what’s left of it, after that devastating fire that pretty much destroyed it several weeks ago. To count the number of times I’ve used the traffic circle around that building would be futile. From Sanford, going through Pittsboro to Chapel Hill or Durham or even to Darlington Heights VA, home of great-aunt Sudie where we picked fresh eggs out of the chicken coop and where we played in her old general store that also served as the crossroad’s Post Office, or from Raleigh, taking US 64 and NC 49 in Asheboro to get to Charlotte, back when there was no Pittsboro bypass, always took us though Pittsboro and into and out of that traffic circle.

The stately courthouse, as it rose from the horizon as we approached, was always a wonderful sight to see. It was one of those travel landmarks that told us where we were, unlike much of the non-descript Interstate travel of today. So, one day last week, for the first time since the fire that toppled the clock tower and basically gutted the official seat of justice in the Chatham County seat of county government, I quickly recalled the many memories of driving though Pittsboro, including the time as college students, several of us made two or three laps around the circle before exiting to the west.

Expecting the worse, what I saw didn't shock me, though I’m sure it is not as good as my visual experience that day. The brick walls still extend upward for a floor or two with scaffolding all around what’s left. I expected to see rubble, but was amazed at what I found. So, after a moment or two of gawking and remembering, I veered my car to the right and started out of Pittsboro on what is now business 64. Less than a block away is the Hardee’s, a used-to-be-stop for a biscuit and coffee on early morning trips through, when I drove through instead of around Pittsboro.

Noticing a distinguished gentleman, in coat and tie on a hot day, standing at the entrance to the parking lot at Hardee's as he looked right and left, glancing in every direction as quickly as he could, I slowed my car, afraid he might dart into traffic for some reason. But then I recognized him, or at least I thought I did, as I drove past. At my first opportunity, I made a left hand turn and completed a U-turn, heading back to confirm his name and see if I could assist him, if he needed such.

“Sir, are you Robert Morgan?” I asked, turning into the Hardee’s parking lot. “And, if so, what are you doing standing in front of Hardee’s in downtown Pittsboro?

“Yes, I am,” said the former United States Senator who served in Washington DC 1975-1981. He was also elected as North Carolina’s attorney general prior to his Senate election. “And,” with a sly grin, he continued, “I’m in Pittsboro because the lawyering business in Lillington is a little slow these days. I’m here because this is where the action is.”

He wasn’t kidding about his identity, but he was about being in Pittsboro to ply his trade. He was there, waiting for a pre-arranged ride with a friend to go to the funeral of former US Representative Ike Andrews. That service was being held just a few miles away in Bonlee NC, one of the important seats of the Brooks family of which I am a descendent. Mom always said Ike was a relative. Somewhere in the official “Brooks Reunion” history is a marriage that included an Andrews of Bonlee.

Senator Morgan was glad I stopped that day last week. We had crossed paths way back when. Way back when he was running for various offices and I was participating in elections, working for Democratic candidates. He’s from Lillington; I’m from Sanford. He knew my parents. I reminded him that former NC Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker is a childhood friend and high school classmate, and he joked, “And, you tell people that?” Senator Morgan has always had a quit wit, and even after a stroke many years ago, he retains that character trait and issues it at every turn.

We talked a little about politics, especially about the current race for US Senate, especially because he’s a friend and fan of NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall who led the Democratic Primary earlier this month but who’s in a run-off for the nomination. “It’s just not right that those people in Washington are trying to tell us who to support,” Mr. Morgan said of the influence of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its endorsement of, including supplying of money to, Cal Cunningham against Marshall. “You know,” he made a point to say, “if he’s elected to the US Senate, our two Senators will live no less than 15 minutes apart.”

Our fun continued, talking about politics and elections as Senator Morgan continued to look right and left, hoping to notice his “ride” had arrived. At one point, we talked about his defeat to Republican John East in the 1980 election. I was working for United Press International on election day and night, located at a computerized vote reporting station in Raleigh, studying maps as the returns were called in, and helping to justify the “calling” of winners.

Early in the evening Morgan had a substantial lead over East, and when I was asked to call Morgan the winner, I hesitated and started to gather the data to show why he would probably lose. The votes from the highly populated areas, Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, had been reported, but the rural areas were not in. Before I could make my case, UPI and other organizations, called Morgan the winner, that he was re-elected. “Mark my word,” I told my boss, “in two hours, you’ll retract and East will win because of the vote from eastern North Carolina.”

Two hours later, my prediction came through. That day in Pittsboro, Senator Morgan confirmed he knew what I had predicted. “I had been painted as a liberal, and you know that’s far from the truth,” he said, “and all those friends of mine in the eastern part of the state were not going to vote for a liberal. I knew it would be a tough election. But that’s politics.”

I asked Mr. Morgan if I could give him that ride to the funeral. I wasn’t dressed to honor Ike Andrews, but I would be honored to help the Senator from Lillington. He refused, said his traveling companion would soon arrive, and resumed looking right and left. I shook his hand, told him it was a privilege to talk with him that day. “The honor is mine,” he returned. “And, thanks for recognizing me and stopping.”

As I drove away, glancing in my rearview mirror, I could see the old Courthouse but I also had Senator Morgan in my sights as he was looking right and left. What I saw was two landmarks in North Carolina history, both still standing tall.
There were just 23 participants in the last poll on this page which asked “What is your primary source for news?” But, if the responses are indicative of the mainstream, I’d say daily newspapers, local and national news television broadcasts and local and national radio news reporting are in trouble.

Of the 23 who took time to vote, 43% of the respondents voted for the Internet as their primary source for news while 17% selected each of the newspaper, television and radio answers. And, one person (4%), trying to be as funny as I was for putting in the selection, said “Word of Mouth” is its primary source for news. Of course, the good news for newspapers and television and radio stations is that a lot of the news found on the internet is put there by newspapers and television and radio stations.
Sorry for my absence yesterday. I was traveling and not prepared to post.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, I enjoyed your commentary about Bob Morgan. I remember well the 1980 Senate race, as I was a young GOP volunteer in McDowell County. I'd like to share my equally good memories of Mr. Morgan when I was working at the old WPTF Newsbeat 28 and he was SBI Director. I did several news interviews with him, and always found him to be very gracious and professional gentleman. While I did not vote for him in his elections, I certainly appreciated the good grace and statesmanship he exhibited both in victory and defeat. He personifies the time when partisan battles were spirited yet civil. I would welcome the chance to shake his hand again. I'm glad that you got to.


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