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