Vernon Sechriest was associated with The Rocky Mount Telegram for 55 years. Back when journalists were a special bred, Mr. Sechriest’s influence on aspiring writers and newspaper associates was said to be inspirational. A long-time editor and as a weekly columnist, he captured my attention when writing his bio for the program at the recent Hall of Fame Induction Event. His column was first titled “Main Street” and then later called “Relax.” I wish I had known about this when I first created this blog, Main Street Rocky Mount. I would have paid tribute to him then and there. Believing that it is never too late for most things, I am paying that tribute now.
Born and raised in Davidson County, he was a Duke graduate with a degree in English and history. He joined the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram staff on June 6, 1930. Mr. Sechriest’s column appeared one day in The Telegram with no introduction. While reporters were busy writing big stories, he felt that the truly interesting stories were overlooked. Mr. Sechriest said, “It is sometimes highly interesting news even when a dog bites a man.”
Here is an excerpt from one of the earliest Main Street column to be found. Chief of Police Oliver P. Hedgepath, seeing as how he had heard tell of big-time gangsters’ invasion in smaller towns and cities, is reported to have made one of his most infrequent excursions to New York last week, first to see his son, Clayton, who is well established there, and second, to find out more about big-time methods…Unfortunately, Main Street is forced to depend a great deal upon hearsay and can’t pin its information upon any individual, but, well, what’s the use of worrying about details anyway?
Growing up an only child, I’m not always happy about having to follow rules. The Kornegay Room of Braswell Memorial Library offers a substantial genealogy and local history collection focusing on the history of Rocky Mount and Nash and Edgecombe Counties. I’m not allowed to take home a small volume of Mr. Sechriests’ columns called, Relax. I thought about making a run for it so I could read this charming collection at my leisure, but Tracy, who is in charge of this research heaven, always generous with her time and knowledge, must be obeyed. I will have to come back another day to read more.
There are good things about living long enough to be able to say, I remember! In another life, this kind of column was featured in the weekly, Cadiz Record, published in Western Kentucky where I lived. They wrote about who was visiting, and what lace adorned the brides’ dress, and what the high school football team ate for breakfast on game day. It was all endearing and wonderful. It was said of Mr. Sechriest at his induction into the Hall of Fame, Class of 2019, that he lived a satisfactory life. I was moved by that simple statement. Isn’t that what we all hope for? Not only is there a golden age of detective stories, but Mr. Sechriest worked in what I think of as the golden age of journalism; a proud and honorable endeavor. I’m sorry I missed his Main Street column each week. I will now think of him fondly, pipe in his hand, as I continue to write about Main Street as he once did.
I hope you will FOLLOW this blog and the new Facebook Page by the same name. See the side column for the buttons to hit. You never know what you might miss. I don’t smoke a pipe like V.S., but I hope he would approve of the content and writing.
Stephen King, the writer, thinks the best stories are about the people rather than the event. That was true in telling this year’s story of the 2019 Hall of Fame banquet. It is inspiring when you add together the long and varied list of accomplishments this year’s inductees have contributed to the life and times of Rocky Mount. That inspiration filled the large banquet room and lifted us to a better place. You could feel the outpouring of love and respect for those who have not only gone before us but are with us: continuing to make a difference in the world. You could hear the laughter and good cheer around the tables, feel the pride of family and friends who had come to honor the stories of these ten men and women.
Everyone who attended this event brought their own amazing stories with them. Perhaps the point of the whole exercise in having a Hall of Fame is so we never forget there is this large perspective. I believe that in honoring each inductee we also honor the setting of their lives. We must not forget the important ‘others’ who have lived and are living beside each inductee. If we take them out of their context, we not only lose their essence but the history they represent. I hope my story, your story won’t be lost. Leave us here in this place, with our music, our fashions, our causes, practicing the faith of our fathers. Stories help us know where we have been, how far we’ve come and that we are not alone in our endeavors. By their work and deeds, let these good people continue to inspire us. It was said of Inductee, Vernon Sechcriest that he lived a satisfactory life. That is my prayer for all of us that we too may live a satisfactory life.
Gary Hodge’s Wonderful Photographs Featured In This Post
“Live your life in such a way that you’ll be remembered for your kindness, compassion, fairness, character, benevolence, and a force for good and respect for life, in general.” – Germany Kent
What a difference a year makes in the evolution of a new enterprise like The Event Center. The venue for the Hall of Fame banquet was fantastic. Clean as a whistle, shiny and bright, fabulous lighting and sound system and powerpoint equipment. Like every endeavor, it is the people behind the scenes and out front tap dancing and smiling that added to the evening’s pleasure. The wait staff is a crew of personable people who performed admirably. One of the young women told me the day before as tables were being set, their marching orders were, everything must be wonderful. It still isn’t easy to get an entree out of the kitchen for nearly 400 people, but a tasty, well-presented plate it was. I write this as a preamble to the event itself because you will be delighted to know, that knowledgable people helped our planning, making every effort to please. I want you to spread the word that this prestigious event and attendees (dressed in their fine bib and tucker) shared this lovely venue with pleasure and pride.
Once again, we should have had a style show for those attending the event. The ladies in red were gorgeous in their dresses and suits. It was like watching red birds flitting in the garden; bits of red throughout the audience.
Several of our elected officials in attendance were introduced. Councilman & Mrs. Bullock, Councilwoman Chris Miller, and husband and the cities newly elected mayor and wife. Sorry, I don’t have Mr. Bullock’s photo or of the five Nash County Commissioners and county manager among the guests.
There would be no Twin County Hall of Fame banquet without the tireless efforts of the President of the board, Dave Iery, and Board Members who serve with pleasure.
Tony Williams, Lanny Shuff, Steve Raper, John Jesso, Skip Carney, and Mike Frye. Of course, it is the talented women of the board that keep these gentlemen straight. Tiffney Delano-Treasurer, Amanda Bell, Jane Finch, Mae Parker, Haven Weston, Mary Wells, Mary Perry, Maria Newcomb, Stepheny Houghtlin.
In Part 2 we will get to the heart of the matter- the ten inductees. Don’t miss it. ALL photos except the final two are the wonderful work of Gerry Hodges.
“When we hear what God has done with others, it inspires us and expands our hearts with greater faith, vision, and purpose. ” Matt Brown, Awakening
A few years ago I realized I knew so little about the people who have been the architects of my life, those that have orchestrated the world I know. When the politically correct editing of our history began, I changed my reading habits and started to read a steady stream of non-fiction about our Presidents and the many fascinating characters that surrounded them. From different points of view, the lives of these same figures are intertwined forever.
Growing up, there were heroes everywhere. Statesmen found in politics, and dazzling sports figures in Chicago playing for the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks. There were heroes in movies and in the books we read, teachers, family members. With my new reading regime, came new heroes. John Gilbert Winnent, among many things, served as the Ambassador to England after Joseph Kennedy. Winnent was a beloved and amazing man. Yet until I read Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, (twice) I’d never heard of him. The learning curve I’ve been on emphasized the astounding impact our leaders make upon us for good and ill. Complicated men like Churchill who continue to be memorialized and others who fade from public memory, yet without them, things would have turned out differently.
Without the Peter Varney’s years of leadership, things in Rocky Mount would be different. I came late to his story. I met him by chance at the Smokehouse where we had both been having lunch. I could not have known at that moment, but as we became friends, I found a bright and interesting man, who is also quiet and unassuming. Generous, he is willing to share the breadth of information, stories, and history of Rocky Mount. Peter is being inducted into the Hall of Fame later this week. For someone who shuns the spotlight and tries to keep a low profile, his shadow always outruns him. Everybody knows his name. They call him, Mr. Peter. Though his life is centered around his church and family, he still managed to leave a lasting mark on Rocky Mount by sheer will, leadership, heart, and professional abilities.
I have given my word that I won’t shed a tear during his induction. You and I both know there isn’t a chance I’ll pull that off because my heroes have dwindled to a precious few. The statesmen are far and few between these days and there are athletes who won’t stand for the National Anthem. But in Peter Varney, I have a hero. His tale is told by those who worked for him, with him and continue to honor him with stories they tell about him. Under his watch, we have successful examples of preservation in the train and bus stations, the Imperial Center, the Douglas Block and so much more! How different things would be if not for Peter Varney. Deserving, everyone is celebrating Peter’s induction into the Hall of Fame. It is a dilemma for him: while greatly touched by this honor, it puts him ‘on stage,’ not one of his favorite venues. I write this piece for Peter with affection and gratitude on this occasion. How grateful I am that he took me under his wing to reveal beautiful brick and mortar buildings and for stories about the city he has served and loves. He has our appreciation and admiration for all he has done and continues to do.
Enjoy this special evening with the splendid class of 2019 inductees. SFH
The day I sat across the table at the Central Cafe from Chris Falk, Lynell Bynum’s grandson, I felt teary. (You know how I am.) This handsome, young man, articulate, bright, whose company I was keeping for a few hours, is one of the richest legacies his grandfather has left us. In a few days, Lynell Bynum will be inducted into the Twin County Hall of Fame. His grandson will be accepting the award on behalf of his grandfather and the family. Chris is an example of why I keep saying, one thing leads to another. First, it was Ben Braddock, along with his partner, who bought Station Square; Ben asked me to research and write about Mr. Bynum. A few years later from my seat on the Hall of Fame board, I am introducing Chris the night of the event. The tears I hid at the Central Cafe were on behalf of his grandfather who would be amazed and proud of this young man. Chris, who shares many of the same interests and passions with his grandfather, wanted to talk about ‘Main Street,” preservation and his love of Rocky Mount.
I remind you that Lynell Bynum along with Errol Warren, a local architect, and Sandy Bulman of Bulman-Frazier Design Studio in Raleigh, together redeveloped an entire city block into a modern shopping center and office space. When it was all said and done, the Station Square project, named for the railroad station next door became the gold standard on how private and public partnerships can develop projects together within the community. Mr. Bynum took basic commercial structures, some in dreadful condition, and restored them with sensitivity to their glory days. Today, Ben Braddock, one of the modern-day ‘repairers of the breach’ has brought to Rocky Mount his passion, his determination, his unique skill set, his financial where with all and his role in finding new investors and owners to help save our commercial structures as Mr. Bynum once did.
The summer I left for college, my mother asked a question. “If something happened to me, would you be okay?” I answered, “Yes, I thought so.” My mother smiled. “You hope you have given your child enough to be going on with.” I think of that conversation and apply it to Chris Falk. I have whispered to Mr. Bynum, that Chris, who now has a family of his own, has indeed ‘gone on’ in a fine way.
We all wonder from time to time, what might be remembered of us? I hope those I love will hear a song that makes them think of me or recognize the fragrance of the perfume I have always worn. Perhaps they will read what I have written. Mr.Bynum could not have imagined that there would come a day when he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame and that his grandson would stand in his place to accept the award. Mr. Bynum is remembered for his contributions to the life and times of Rocky Mount. Perhaps we too will have someone coming after us who shares our interests and passions and is carrying on in our place. Wouldn’t that be lovely!
Sunday, November 25, 2018 – Rocky Mount Telegram From Contributed Reports
Twin County Hall of Fame Welcomes New Inductees
Lanny Shuff left, and Sam Toler hold Toler’s portrait during the Twin County Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at the Rocky Mount Event Center.
The 15th annual Twin County Hall of Fame Induction Banquet was many things this year — not only a celebration of 12 new inductees but a revival meeting, a fashion show, a reunion of friends, family and supporters and a remembering of those gone before us that helped form who we have become — our parents, mentors, coaches, educators and friends.
The banquet was a first at the new, spectacular Rocky Mount Event Center where rooms Edgecombe 1, 2 and 3 can be opened to seat a large gathering. Everyone was appreciative of the chef back in the kitchen preparing food for a small, intimate dinner party of 500 people, who were served a delicious meal of salad, steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and small cheesecake desserts.
This was a history-making occasion with an audience filled to capacity since the Induction Banquets began and the first catered event in the Event Center. Golden Platter Milton Bulluck, a 2006 inductee, entertained the audience with several signature songs.
Framed portraits honoring the lives, leadership and careers of the class of 2018 Inductees were presented in honor of Dr. Robert and Rev. Carolyn Barbe, Dr. Newsom Pittman Battle and Dr. Margaret White Battle, James Erastus Batts, Dr. Charles Marshall Coats, Janice Beavon Gravely, Janice Bryant Howroyd, Robert ‘Bob’ Melton, Lt. Col. James A. Mercer. Betsy Buckley, and Samuel A. “Sam” Toler. In addition, Kimberly Kyser accepted on behalf of her father, musician Kay Kyser, who was inducted in the class of 2004.
A life of service and leadership with the underpinnings of education, discipline, responsibility, perseverance and strong parenting was the reoccurring theme throughout the inductees’ stories. The acknowledgment that faith, prayer and the church strengthened the lives of these outstanding citizens was evident.
No one in attendance will soon forget the quiet, sweet voice of inductee Janice Bryant Howroyd when accepting her award while singing the hymn her mother taught her: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. I know his eye is on the sparrow, I know he watches over me.”
At the end of the evening, there was a collaborative sigh of thanksgiving for the inductees, the success of the occasion and the amazing guests. There was even a shout from within the Event Center: “We Did it!”
They certainly did.
SFH with an additional Comment: When I went off to the University of Kentucky, I intended to major in Journalism, but my Freshman Advisor was the head of the Sociology Department and one thing led to another. The closest I got to0 that original dream was selling advertising for a weekly newspaper called The Country Gentleman in Crestwood Ky. When Lanny Shuff asked me to write this piece for the Telegram it brought a smile. You know the expression having your day in court, well, I had my day writing for a newspaper. It was fun.
Did you ever play the game ‘dinner party’ where you named your guest list from famous people? I always thought it revealed interesting things about my friends as they named their list. I dare say you will know more about me if I tell you I would invite – Coach K, Roger Federer, Amos Townes the author of A Gentleman in Moscow, Newt Gingrich, English gardener and writer, Beverley Nichols, singer Michael Boule, and Senator, Susan Collins, who recently gave an historic speech on the floor of the Senate.
You are invited and have a wonderful opportunity to have dinner with the class of 2018 inductees for the Twin County Hall of Fame. This year’s class includes an author and painter, an educator, the ‘King of ‘Barbecue, two groundbreaking female business owners, two married couples of medical doctors, a veterinarian, a 30-year Little League Coach, and a military and public safety officer. The inductees come from both Edgecombe and Nash Counties. Six are living and six will be inducted posthumously.
Dr. Robert Barbe and Rev. Carolyn Barbe
Dr. Newsom Pittman Battle and Dr. Margaret White Battle
James Erastus Batts
Dr. Charles Marshall Coats
Janice Beavon Gravely
Janice Bryant Howroyd
Lt. Col. James Mercer, US Army (Ret.)
Robert “Bob” Melton
Betsy B. Strandberg
Samuel A. Toler
The event is being held at the new Rocky Mount Event Center, which is an amazing venue for a wonderful occasion like this. We are among the first guests and I guarantee you will be wowed by this new public building. Come and honor those who lived their lives making a difference in the community and thank those who are still with us for their leadership today. Your ticket not only helps pay for your dinner but acts as a fundraiser, a much-appreciated contribution towards the framed portraits that are given to the inductees and a fund that one day will help purchase a permanent space for the Twin County Hall of Fame. Your support for this annual event is appreciated! Looking forward to seeing you there.
5:30 p.m. Registration and Social, 6:15 p.m. Dinner, 7:00 p.m. Program
YOU CAN PAY BY MAIL OR ONLINE
Everyone is nervous. As I visited the newly hung portraits of The Twin County Hall of Fame recipients, many asked if their hair still looked okay, were their ties straight, did their clothes look too out of date? You can’t blame them, really. They know they are now gathered in the new Rocky Mount Event Center where hundreds of people at a time will be looking at them and reading about their contributions that won them their special place. It is one thing to be seen in a small area of the train station and another to be exhibited in a thoughtful and tasteful way on the walls of a fabulous new public building. I dare say they all have thought to themselves, this is the kind of thing that happens to other people, those more worthy than I that I have read about and admired.
Yet, here they all are. It will bring a tear to your eye as you pass through the receiving line greeting the recipients one at a time. The same people who tried to live their lives by making a difference and those still with us carrying on in that same tradition. It is ‘meet and right’ as we Episcopalians pray, to honor them in this new setting where they find themselves. They must secretly be proud because it is a first-rate, impressive presentation.
We click our heels and salute them once again.