The greatest fire starts with a single spark

The lifeblood of any community is its engaged citizenship.  The very character of a community is shaped by its contributions, generosity, and compassion demonstrated by the residents that live and businesses which operate there.  I grew up in a family where my mom was active as a volunteer for March of Dimes, the local PTA, and the Jaycee-ettes.  Dad was president of the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross…and the list goes on and on.


One thing that I have learned over the years is that very often the individuals who provide so much might often go unheralded.  However, their efforts are never unnoticed. We may have no idea who contributed their time and financial resources to improving our lot in life, but the contributions are felt none the less.


Not long ago I was reading the story of Edward Kimble.  Few of us have ever heard of Edward.  He was a shoe salesman.  He never ran for political office and never accumulated great wealth.  I guess you could say he was just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life.  So, what makes him so special?  He was a Sunday School teacher.


Edward worked hard selling shoes during the week and one day, trying to get ahead, hired a young assistant.  Edward shared with the young assistant his passion for Christ.  They began to read the Gospels together during breaks from their work.  The young assistant became inspired, professed his faith, and became a Christian.  His name was D.L. Moody and he became one of the most well known evangelists up to that point.


Moody later inspired another young man, Frederick Meyer, who as a result of the encounter, started a nationwide preaching ministry.  A young college student by the name of Wilbur Chapman accepted Christ into his heart as a result of one of Meyer’s sermons and he too, went into the ministry.  Meyer started a crusade and hired a professional baseball player named Billy Sunday to preach the gospel.  Sunday became one of the most renowned evangelists of his time and scheduled a series of crusades throughout the country.


A group of businessmen from Charlotte, NC heard Sunday and decided to bring him to our region to preach the gospel.  At the last minute, Sunday could not come and he sent another evangelist named Mordecai Ham.  Ham’s meetings were really not well attended.  They were held just outside of Charlotte in a tent with sawdust floors.  However, on the last night of the meeting, a tall lanky farm boy named Billy Frank made his way up the aisle and accepted his Savior that evening.  You know him as Billy Graham, who has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries.billy-graham


In 1968, my church encouraged families to attend an independently filmed movie called For Pete’s Sake.  The movie featured Graham and while I cannot say I remember much about the movie, I recall vividly what took place after the feature ended.  I was nine years old at the time and it was playing at the Cinema Theater in Rock Hill.  After the movie concluded, a man came out on the stage and gave his profession of faith.  Sort of unheard of in today’s age, but I can still recall how quiet everyone was as this man talked about how Christ had changed his life.  Afterwards, members of the Billy Graham Association called anyone up that also felt the calling. 


Who knows why I went.  But I remember the kids I went with refusing to walk up the aisle with me.  A man up front handed me some type of book by the Graham Association.  I recall it was a paperback of some type.  I wasn’t much of a reader at nine but I did keep it in a drawer with other personal effects for many years. Six years later, I joined Bethesda Presbyterian Church as a member.


In 1996, I was fortunate to attend a Billy Graham Crusade in Charlotte, NC.  As the words of Just as I Am was sung and the masses flooded the aisles,  I thought of the little boy as he walked the aisle that Saturday morning in Rock Hill.  Leaving my friends back in their seats, I joined the countless others who felt compelled to come forward.


A single act by Edward Kimble, a simple shoe salesman generations ago, started a chain reaction, touching millions of lives, including mine.  Such is the nature of service to your community.  Sometimes the smallest act of kindness is replayed over and over again.  It is the smallest spark that creates the greatest fire.


Goodbye to the Gipper

This article, written in 2004, appeared in the Lake Norman Chamber newsletter.

 Last month, June, marked an anniversary in my life.  It was a dozen years ago that a small town boy from Rock Hill, South Carolina was elected president of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).  Many of you are probably familiar with the Jaycees.  However, for those of you who may not be – the Junior Chamber is a civic organization for young people in more than 100 countries with 200,000 members worldwide in 6,000 communities.

 In 1992, I was elected National President in Portland, Oregon.  It was a closely contested election running against a Jaycee from Arkansas and another from North Carolina.  While the election was a moment to remember, perhaps my real thrill was meeting the keynote speaker of the convention that year – Ronald Wilson Reagan.  While Reagan was four years removed from office, he still carried the confidence and charisma that people remembered fondly last month.reagan00011

As the incoming national president, I had the opportunity to meet with him firsthand, sharing lunch in a very informal setting.  Reagan captivated our group with stories and anecdotes of his days in the movies and in public office.

In our encounter, he retold a story I’m sure he used on many occasions about the farmer and the attorney.  As his story went, a farmer in an old pickup truck and an attorney in his sports car collided on a back country road.  Immediately after the collision, the farmer leaped from the truck and asked how the attorney felt.  The attorney, woozy from the collision, was a bit shaken.  So the farmer reached behind the seat of his truck and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.

 “Here, take a swig of this, it’ll make you feel better,” said the farmer.  The attorney agreed he felt a bit better.  The farmer encouraged another sip, and then another, until the attorney felt pretty darn good.  The attorney, feeling pretty spry now, thanked the farmer for his kindness and inquired if he wanted the last little bit from the bottle.  The farmer, with a grin on his face, said, “Nah…I’ll wait till after the state trooper arrives.”

The ancient Greeks believed that character was formed in part by fate and in part by parental training, and that character was exemplified not only by acts of bravery in battle but in the habits of daily conduct.  In our brief meeting I was captured by Reagan’s charisma.  His optimism, drive, and spirit made a profound impact on me as I began my year as national president.  Our theme “Wake Up America!” encouraged young people to get involved in their communities – take part in the political debate regardless of their partisan affiliation.

Last month, Reagan’s death hung heavy on my heart.  I felt like I was reliving the death of my grandfather who shaped so many of my views and beliefs.  Both were men of character, simple and down to earth men, who seemed to understand themselves and focused on their objectives.  They were men of character from a time when character was held in higher esteem than it seems to be today.  A time when character was king.  There will be debate about Reagan’s legacy.  Some will praise him and others will say he fell short. 

I know how he made me feel about my community and my country.  And that’s his legacy to me.  Thank you Gipper.
Addressing the U.S. Junior Chamber 1992
Addressing the U.S. Junior Chamber 1992

A Job Well Done – Rev. Jeff Lowrance

This article was written in 2007 and appeared in the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce newsletter The Lake Link. It was about my good friend Rev. Jeff Lowrance. He was not just a spiritual leader in our community – for many he was a teacher, activist, mentor, and friend. While we miss his leadership, his presence is always felt in the lives he touched.

This article was written in 2007 and appeared in the Lake Norman Chamber newsletter.  It was about my good friend Rev. Jeff Lowrance.  He was not just a spiritual leader in our community – for many he was a teacher, activist, mentor, and friend.  While we miss his leadership, his presence is always felt in the lives he touched.

Rev. Lowrance with Huntersville Commissioner Thompson

A few weeks ago the Lake Norman region lost one of its natural resources.  It was not a commodity, a piece of valuable real estate, or a scenic greenway.  It was however a special asset whose void will be hard to replace.  The Rev. Jeff Lowrance finally succumbed to a near three year bout with cancer. Jeff, the pastor of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Huntersville, was an inspiration to many as he fought the disease valiantly.  Pastoring his flock, calling on the sick and bedridden, and counseling others even as the illness ravaged his body, often leaving him physically drained. 

Rev. Lowrance was an avid historian of the Revolutionary War and the early settlers of Mecklenburg County.  Like them, Jeff had the resolve and determination of the men and women who first settled our region.  He spoke and preached often of the Scotch Irish who stood up to the English and issued the first Declaration of Independence – the Meck Dec. I first met Jeff when community leaders were assembled to help preserve and restore a piece of history that was in sad disrepair –the Hugh Torrance House & Store in Huntersville.  Together, our small group lobbied local, county and state leaders for funding to preserve the historical treasure.

Rev. Lowrance with Huntersville Commissioner Thompson in 1998 at the Hugh Torance House & Store. Over the last decade, I witnessed Jeff’s passion for preservation on many occasions as he pleaded his case before town and county boards – working to preserve historical areas, protecting slave cemeteries, or honoring our past leaders.  While heritage and history was second to his primary mission of serving the Lord, Jeff understood the relationship between church and community. Last fall, we discovered issues here at the chamber of commerce that resulted in the most trying moments of my professional career.  A long time member of our staff betrayed the confidence and faith we placed in this employee.  I will confess that I had a wide ranging reaction.  I was hurt, disappointed, and angry.

I turned to Jeff for his counsel looking for answers.  Jeff and I sat down to discuss the issue in his office.  I recall telling him how my personal and professional challenge paled in comparison to the daunting health challenge he faced.  Jeff smiled and said we all have problems – let’s talk about yours.  I talked and Jeff listened.  Before I left we prayed together.  Neither he nor I had an answer why people do bad things.  But we both understand good people make it through bad times.  They get through it because of their faith and because of their friends.

I will miss Jeff.  However, each day that I drive to work I am reminded of my friend.  A man who served his Lord.  Whose mark was left on his community for generations to come.  A mark greater than historical markers or designations.  A lasting imprint left on the people, the parents, and the children of our region.  I know that the instant Jeff left this earthly realm he was welcomed home.  The doors were opened wide to his father’s house.  He was welcomed by those who arrived before him.  The Scotch Irish he preached so fondly of on Sunday mornings.  I can only imagine the Lord and Jeff looking back on his life’s work and the legacy he has left.  And perhaps the words we would all like to hear said –  “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

A Remarkable Journey – Strom Thurmond

This article was written in December of 2006 following the death of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.

This article was written in December of 2006 following the death of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.


Last month two significant events occurred which had a profound impact on Americans and southerners in particular.  One was a dramatic Supreme Court decision ruling that racial preferences can be used for undergraduate and law school admissions.  Just a few days after the Supreme Court decision, in the little South Carolina town of Edgefield, a political giant slipped away.  Strom Thurmond left a huge footprint on American politics.  The only write-in Senate candidate ever elected, Thurmond transformed the political landscape of the south.


Thurmond supporters cannot defend the segregationist views of his past.  In 1957, he led a 24-hour filibuster on a civil rights bill that still ranks as the longest speech ever on the senate floor.  However, this same Senator abandoned his separatist rhetoric and in 1983 voted to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.  In 1987, when the government was considering defunding the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, King’s widow called on Senator Thurmond.  An hour later the Senator had preserved the commission and had doubled its funding.


I met the Senator while I was president of the South Carolina Jaycees. Jaycee chapters organize many of South Carolina’s parades and festivals and the two of us found ourselves in outdoor events across the state.  Two years later, while President of the United States Junior Chamber, our organization was holding a Governmental Affairs program in Washington, DC.  A member of my staff called Senator Thurmond’s office to inquire whether he could coordinate a tour of the capitol for the fifty state Jaycee Presidents and my Executive Committee.  The staff member said they would check and call back.  In a few minutes, my secretary informed me Senator Strom Thurmond was on the phone.  The Senator said it would be an honor to lead the tour himself.  For nearly two hours, my state Senator took our group on a journey through time.  A journey he had made through his years of service to our state and country.strom00011


By now it is quite evident the pride I have of the elder statesman of my native state.  Could he have done more for civil rights when he had the opportunity?  Yes.  Could he have said, “I’m sorry for my earlier views?”  Absolutely.  But when many politicians let their words speak for their intentions, Thurmond’s actions spoke louder than the words.

Race is still used in hiring and admissions.  People of all colors practice it when they choose where to shop, where to dine,  and where to vacation.  Strom Thurmond spent seven decades in politics and while he could have done more for civil rights, he changed the way people felt about each other.  Some day because of leaders like Strom Thurmond and Martin Luther King, Jr. we will realize it’s not enough to be equal in the eyes of the law, we must be equal in the eyes of each other.  Let’s hope that day is soon.

Why I am a Republican

This thesis on why I am a republican was written in 2000 just after the election of George W. Bush.

The time was 1992 and in the town of Vienna, Virginia, the newspapers ran a photo of a group of people held at bay by armed guards.  That may not sound that unusual, but these were not rioters or protestors.  They were Christmas carolers.  You see, the town of Vienna had outlawed the singing of religious songs on public property.  So, the men, women, and children had to sing “Silent Night” behind barricades.  It sounds much like Eastern Europe under communist rule instead it is the country built on freedom of religion.


The country where a plaque honoring the confederate dead hanging in the Texas State Capital is looked upon as insensitive and a sign of racial prejudice but a photo of a nude woman, arms outstretched, symbolizing the body of Christ is depicted as art and subsidized by tax money.


Our country, where the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have developed a 90-minute video depicting the mutilation of cattle to show at the entrance of Burger King, but many of the same protesters support the right to “Choice” and support partial birth abortion – a procedure that is performed in the second and third trimesters and entails inducing a breech delivery with forceps, delivering the legs, arms, and torso only, puncturing a suction curette into the skull, suctioning the contents of the skull as to collapse it, and completing the delivery.  A partial breech delivery is not considered a “birth” at common law, where it is the passage of the head that is essential.


America, where students are forbidden to pray at a commencement address or a football game but a state supported school, Penn State University, allows a student run event known as Sex Faire to take place where sexual games including “orgasm bingo” are conducted and the festival features anatomically correct gingerbread cookies.


While I am a committed Republican, the roots of my political resolve are founded in the Democratic Party.  I was only four years old, but I can still remember quite vividly, when my mother made me sit still long enough to witness the caissons making their way down the road, carrying the body of America’s slain President.  I can still see the picture of John F. Kennedy that hung in my great grandmother’s den.  My great grandmother Feemster’s maiden name was Rosie Agnes Lee and a cousin of Robert E. Lee of Virginia.


My great great grandfather John Jacob Adkins was a soldier in the War of Northern Aggression, also known as the Civil War.  John was not fighting for state’s rights or to defend the institution of slavery.  John and his sons, and daughters, worked the fields themselves.  They had no slaves.  John, like the majority of southerners were defending their homeland from invasion from the North.  Much like his father’s father had fought for the same principles in the Revolutionary War.


Both sets of my grandparents were ardent Democrats who believed that Franklin Roosevelt had saved the country.  They had weathered the great depression.  My grandfather Feemster hoping a train and taking odd jobs where he could find them and my Grandfather Russell working the fields as a farmer when we wasn’t putting his time in at the local mill.  They were products of an impoverished south, laid waste after the War Between the States.  They did not have the benefit of a college education, but instead were students of hard work and adversity.  But their faith in God, promise of future, pride in their heritage, and commitment to the ideals of the Democratic Party were never shaken.


John Kennedy, seemed to symbolize the essence of the presidency, as he  found his place in my grandmother Russell’s home, adorning a window box with small pictures of close relatives and a small silver figurine of the late president.kennedy0001


I was ecstatic in high school when a little known southern governor proclaimed his candidacy for the high office of President.  I thought it was “cool” and actually volunteered to put bumper stickers on cars, distribute posters, and hand out fliers during his successful campaign for President.


Given this rich history with the Democratic Party, why did I turn to the Republican Party?  There was no “Road to Damascus”, no instant conversation.  Rather it was a culmination of education in school, service in civic clubs, and exposure to political figures that figured in my resolve.  An individual can follow blindly into a political philosophy because that’s the way his or her family always voted….or they can closely examine their own philosophical beliefs and compare them to our present day political party’s platform.


What do I believe?


I believe that faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life, that we exist to glorify God and use our talents for his…or her greater glory.


I believe this country was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and that while Government should not dictate what religion we observe,  the fact is this country was founded on religious principles.


I believe in individual accountability – that each of us are responsible for our own actions. 


I believe that discrimination in any form is wrong.


I believe that nearly all of our problems are created by people, and that only people, not government, can solve these problems.


I believe in limited government, a strong military, tax reform, and encouraging faith-based organizations and volunteerism in our civic clubs who work tirelessly for those who need a helping hand.


I believe in the inalienable right of every American to bear arms.


I agree with the Republican platform that states that today’s tax code is dysfunctional.  It penalizes hard work, marriage, thrift, and success – the very factors that are the foundations for a lasting prosperity.  Our Federal taxes are the highest they have ever been for a peacetime America and taxes at all levels of government absorb 36% of the national net product.


I support President Bush’s tax cut, which will stimulate our slowing economy, double the child tax credit to $1,000, and eliminate the marriage penalty.  We need to encourage entrepeneurship and growth by capping the top marginal rate, ending the death tax, and making permanent the research and development credit.  We should encourage capital investment and savings which is at a dangerously low savings level for young couples.


As the president of a chamber of commerce, I can attest that small business create most of the new jobs in this country and generate more than half the gross domestic product. According to the Small Business Administration, 25.5 million small businesses in America employ more than half of the country’s private work force, create three out of every four new jobs, and generate a majority of American innovations.  Providing health insurance is a major challenge for these small business owners.  Almost 60% of uninsured workers are either employed by small business or are self-employed.  I agree with the 2000 Republican National platform that calls for the 100% deductibility of health insurance premiums and letting small businesses band together, across state lines, to purchase plans through chamber of commerce or association plans.


Republicans recognize that the role of government in the new economy is to foster an environment where innovation can flourish. I applaud the Republican Congress, who last year pushed through the Internet Tax Freedom Act that put a moratorium on new Internet taxes to ensure electronic commerce would not be smothered in its infancy.


reagan0001When looking at education, to borrow a classic query from Ronald Reagan, “Are we better off than we were eight years ago.”  The sad answer is no.  At a time when our country enjoys remarkable economic growth and a world of opportunity, test scores suffer, American colleges and Universities are offering remedial courses and U.S. businesses are unable to find qualified and trainable workers.


I support the Republican plan to raise academic standards through increased local control and accountability.  We need to expand parental choice and encourage competition by providing parents with information on their child’s school, increasing the number of charter schools, and expanding education savings accounts for use from kindergarten through college.  We need to help states ensure safety by forcefully prosecuting youths who carry or use guns and the adults who provide them.


But we must recognize that it is not the teachers who are to blame for many of our challenges to the educational system.  Teacher pay and benefits are central to attracting and retaining qualified educators.  We are losing the battle of attracting young educators when they can obtain better wages by choosing another, more lucrative field.  Financial incentives such as lowering the points on a new home, a dream for many young couple, could attract young people to a career in teaching.  A single point could mean a four to five percent wage increase for a young person.  We need to establish longevity pay to keep some older teachers on the rolls just a little longer, providing our children with the education they need and deserve.


Since 1992, Social Security’s unfunded liability has increased from $7.4 trillion to $8.8 trillion.  Its trustee’s project by the year 2015, there will not be enough cash coming from payroll taxes to pay currently promised Social Security Benefits.  In the eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration, there was a lot of talk but no reform of the system.  I believe that Social Security must be reformed and I support the Republican Plan to allow personal savings accounts to be the cornerstone of that restructuring.  Today’s workers should be free to direct a portion of their payroll taxes to personal investments, netting higher return rates, for their retirement future.


Choice is the key and any new options for retirement security should be voluntary, so workers can choose to remain in the present system or opt for a new system, which could yield higher returns.


I support President Bush’s efforts to repeal the Death Tax. Hard working Americans should not live in fear that the fruits of their labor will fall into the hands of the government rather than that of their children.  It is a double tax, which is imposed when you earn the money, and again when you die.  Supporters of the tax say it only punishes the rich.  But in essence, many of the rich avoid the tax through a gaggle of Attorneys and CPA’s through estate planning and financial loopholes.  In actuality, it is the families of long held family farms or the inherited small business that cannot come up with the funds to pay the tax.


I believe that a strong and well-trained American Military force is the wold’s best guarantee of peace.  While we remain the preeminent super power in the world and no one can question the commitment of our fighting men and women, recruiting lags, and our well-trained personnel have left in record numbers.  Our dedicated military that continue to serve on our behalf are compensated with pay, which is 13% less than their civilian counterpart.  Thousands of military families are forced to rely on food stamps and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that 2/3 of the nation’s military housing is sub-standard.  We must restore the health and vitality of the American Military, increasing wage and benefits, and ensuring they have the training and equipment to carry out their mission.


Why am I a Republican?  I have watched as election after election the Democratic Party pitted race against race, social class against social class, and old against young.  If the Republican Party is elected….race relations will be set back to the Jim Crow era.  If the Republican is elected, they will cut Social Security benefits and make it difficult for seniors to receive their Medicare support.  If Republicans are elected, they will give a big tax decrease to the rich but increase taxes on the poor and middle class.


This most recent presidential election was most evident of this and perhaps the most striking instance was an ad run nationally by the NAACP which inferred that George W. Bush was in part responsible for the James Lee Byrd hate crime in Texas and at the very least…light on the enforcement of harsh penalties for such action.  The commercial was at best misleading and at worst reckless and inflammatory.


President Bush and the Republican congress are well on their way to passing the much-needed tax cut.  They will repeal the ergonomics legislation, which is having a dire on our manufacturing and small business community.  I applaud the President’s support of the military and his commitment to our armed forces and his call to set up a commission to study and make recommendations on Social Security reform. 


We must overhaul the tax code, simplify it, and repeal taxes such as the death tax, and the marriage penalty. 


And the Lord spoke through Joshua saying, “I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and the olive groves which you did not plant.”  We have inherited much…and much is required in turn.


The soil of this country is wet with the sweat of the indentured servant, who toiled in his labor to pay off the debt incurred from a trip to the New World and a land of opportunity.  A soil soaked with the tears which ran down the cheeks of the black slave, a child pulled from the arms of her mother, a husband separated from his wife.  A soil stained with the blood of the American soldier, fighting against foreign foe, sometimes neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother.  The soil is nurtured with the blood and bones of those slaughtered native Americans, whose land was stripped from them.


Ours in not always a pleasant history.  Great injustices have been done to the Black American, the Native Indian, the southern family following the Civil War, Japanese Americans who were interned in prison camps during World War II, and females who were treated as second class citizens during much of country’s history.  But we should not strive to cover up our history, allowing revisionist to rewrite our past, but to remember and learn from the injustice.


Perhaps an individual who had the greatest impact on my personal philosophical and political belief was Ronald Wilson Reagan.  While President of the U.S. Junior Chamber, I had lunch with perhaps America’s most optimistic supporter.  I can still recall, his address to our Jaycee Delegates at a National Convention when he said, “Many people look back fondly on our past and talk about how good things used to be.  But I believe America is a country of tomorrow and I believe our best days are before her.”


I too believe America is a country of tomorrow, where opportunity abounds for those with the initiative to seize it.  Where there are no hyphenated Americans, only Americans.  Where we no longer pit class against class or race against race.  Where we are all acknowledged as one race…the human race.


A country where entrepenuership and hard work is rewarded.  The less fortunate are assisted and the elderly are shown the respect and afforded the benefits they deserve.  Where every child is given the best education available.


I believe in one nation……under God…..Indivisible….with liberty and justice for all.    

Requiem For a Friend

On November 6, 1999 I gave the hardest speech I ever delivered, a eulogy for my Granddaddy Russell. Grandaddy was a grandfather, a teacher, a gardner, a mentor and above all a friend. I take comfort when I close my eyes I see his weathered frame stooping over the plants he tended. His voice still speaks softly in the stillness of my mind. The memories I hold dear keep him close to my soul.

High School Class Photo
High School Class Photo

 To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In every individual’s life, comes that special moment when he or she will be called upon to do something great, and what a tragedy it would be, if at that moment, they were unprepared for the task.”

 My grandfather spent his whole life preparing for this moment.  Not that he didn’t appreciate life.  He did.  But he looked forward to the day when he would stand at the door of his father’s house…with all of the world’s mysteries unveiled…and where he would be reunited with Glenn, Harry, Ernest, his mom and dad…and Louise.  

And I’m sure for the first time in several years he is hearing that familiar refrain we heard so many times, “Now Elie, you know that ain’t right!”   You see, on many occasions when my grandfather recalled an instance that happened in his past, my grandmother would reply, “Now Elie, you know that ain’t right!” and she would quickly point out the way it really occurred as she remembered it.  Perhaps in heaven my grandfather might actually win an argument…but I fear St. Peter has his hands full with “Bumba”.

Growing up as a boy, I would spend weekends with my grandparent Feemsters and with the Russell’s.  On Saturday night after supper, Granddaddy and I would sit on the backdoor steps where he would polish his shoes.  He would look over at me and ask, “Doc, you got those shoes shined up for church tomorrow?”  I would say, “Well, my shoes are already clean.”  Granddaddy would be quick to reply; “Those shoe’s aren’t polished.”


Granddaddy would spit on his shoes as he polished and bring them to a high luster…and I would spit on my shoes because that’s what granddaddy did.  Afterwards we would retire to the dining room table to do our “lessons”.  That’s what he called it.  I would rather watch TV but granddaddy said we had to study for Sunday School.  “But why do we have to read all that?” I would ask.  “We’ll be reading it again tomorrow.”  “You need to lead the discussion.” He would point out.  “You need to be prepared.”


In the twilight of his life, the grandchildren would stay with him on Sundays.  On one particular Sunday, I ventured through the house and peered into his closet.  Granddaddy did not own many suits.  The one tie I recalled him wearing often, I was told yesterday, actually belonged to my father, as did the shirt he wears today.   


If you walked through the house, many of the books you would find belong to my dad who reads about one a day.  The books that belonged to my grandfather can be found in the hallway in the bookcase and on the headboard of his bed. You would find they are study guides on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…the meaning of Revelations, a Biblical Concordance, and a Bible.


You see my grandfather was a simple man.  During his lifetime he worked at the bleachery I am told, at the JP Stevens Plant, drove a taxi cab, worked with the chain gang with my Great Granddaddy Will.  He was farmer who raised his own crops and cattle, served with the volunteer fire department, and served as a Sunday School teacher.  He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather.


Throughout his life he placed God first, his family second, and his work third.  And he was a hard worker.  If he told you in the morning he had just a few chores to do, that meant he would be out till the sun went down. 

There’s a passage in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  Shakespeare penned, “And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars and cast him to the sky.  So that all the world will be in love with the night…and pay no attention to the garish sun.” 



Bumba and Elie - 50 Years!
Bumba and Elie - 50 Years!

Tonite, when I look to the heavens and see the stars twinkling bright.  I will think how fortunate I…all of us in this room…and the countless numbers whose lives he touched…how fortunate we were…to have known Elie Russell. 

Relaxing at home
Relaxing at home

Selected Poems 2009

Wonderful Weekends


The weekends seem so long ago

Early morning sun peaked into the Sunday Sky

Cold milk dancing on fresh corn flakes

Cool winds whispering to tall green pines

Telling silent secrets no one could hear

The tiny dog huddled in the corner

dreaming little puppy dog dreams

Fresh cornbread sifted through the air

The red birds gliding effortlessly from tree to tree

Sounds of cars rush down the lost highway

disappearing into a dark country night

Moments watching the needle

Gliding through the fabric of my youth

Stitching moments together

A soft satin quilt of patches in time

Keeps me safe and warms my soul

The Employee Free Choice Act – A Rising Tide Threatens Our Competitive Edge

A sweeping sea of change is set to change the course of labor relations across this nation that will have a dramatic impact on the Charlotte region and Lake Norman businesses.  A bill called The Employee Free Choice Act has been introduced in both Houses of Congress and President Obama has given strong support to this legislation. For non-union employers, the world is about to change.


Many of us with roots in the area may have family and friends that were employed in the once preeminent textile industry.  Both sets of my grandparents and many of our relatives worked at the various mills which dominated our local economy.  Then in the early to mid 1980’s, many of the textile companies lost the competitive edge to international markets which supplied products less expensively.  Strikes and labor negotiations between the unions and management broke down as plant after plant closed its doors leaving workers displaced and wondering where they would turn.  For many, their job at the local plant was the only position they had ever held leaving them with an uncertain future and limited skills. union


Over the last fifty years, unions have been in decline. For much of the time, total union membership grew, but not as fast as the workforce. So the percentage of union members in the workforce declined. In recent years, union membership has been declining in absolute terms as well. Unions are tired of losing elections or winning the election, but not getting a contract. Hence the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill contains the following provisions:


  • There would be no more secret ballot elections for union representation. When a union got more than half the employees in a workplace to sign union cards, the union would be recognized.
  • Penalties for employer unfair labor practices would be increased significantly.
  • If the parties cannot agree to a contract within 120 days, an arbitrator would write the parts of the contract about which the parties could not agree.

It is much easier to get employees to sign union cards than it is to get them to cast a secret ballot for the union. Peer pressure can get signatures. But peer pressure does not work as well when the employee is marking a secret ballot. Indeed, most unions require their organizers to get 65% of employees to sign cards before the union will petition the Labor Board for an election. Yet unions still lose lots of elections. So the card check provision of the law makes organizing easy.


But the arbitration of contract terms should be of equal concern to employers. Today, nothing goes in a contract unless the employer agrees. But under the EFCA, an arbitrator could impose terms on an employer that the employer would never agree to.


Do small business need to be concerned? Absolutely! Studies have shown that it is much easier for a union to organize a small business than a large one. One reason is that it is much easier to keep union activity a secret among a smaller group of people. Large companies are prepared for union activity. They have large sophisticated Human Resource departments to manage employee relations.


Much like the storm which swept away much of the textile industry many years ago, this legislation could be the last blow for many of our businesses that are already facing intense competition.  This could be the final straw that some companies may use to move their operations offshore to countries where unions are non-existent.  As we rebuild our struggling economy, we do not need to lose more jobs to international competition.  A major competitive advantage for North Carolina has been our status as a right to work state and low union activity.  If this bill passes, there will be a renewed emphasis by the AFL-CIO to change the face of our labor force in the Carolinas.  The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed to this proposed legislation and we encourage you to call or write your Senators and members of Congress and share your concerns as well.

Unanswered Prayers

001_1I am, as my favorite author Lewis Grizzard said, fortunate to be an American by birth and a Southerner by the Grace of God.  As a student of history, I recently ran across a prayer recorded from a Confederate soldier many years after the “War of Northern Aggression”.  Some times we all wonder why bad things happen to good people.  We wonder why God allows misery and misfortune to be a part of lives.  Why does he or she given your perspective not step in and improve our lot in life when we pray so hard for his intervention.  This prayer written so long ago really puts so much in perspective.  I hope you find it as enriching as I have:


I asked God for strength that I might achieve

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health that I might do greater things

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life

I was given life that I might endure all things.

I got nothing that I asked for

But everything that I could have hoped for…

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among all men most richly blessed.


On this beautiful day


God bless     

Angels Walk Among Us

While our business community continues to be challenged by the current economy, there are some leading economic indicators pointing to very positive signs. It was also rewarding last month to see Cornelius ranked as #7 nationally as the “Best American Suburb” and Mooresville touted as the #1 Micropolitan community for new and expanding industry. Quite simply – it is good to be recognized as the Best of the Best.

In a week when the accolades poured, perhaps the one which made me feel best was from Sandy Tilley who runs the Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen in Huntersville. Sandy told our Kiwanis group that volunteers and contributions from area businesses has been in one word – “overwhelming.”

While it came as no surprise to me that Lake Norman was cited as the best place to live, work, and visit, I have to confess I was not aware that facing our current economic plight, benevolence was quite so high. Generosity is nothing new for our region. Just a few months ago we recognized Bruce Forest for his work with the Cornelius Animal Shelter. However, while Bruce was credited, and rightly so for his involvement, the credit also lies with the countless volunteers and donors who made that dream a reality.

I’m reminded about the story of the 8-year old boy that went to a pet store with his dad to buy a new puppy. The store manager showed them to a pen where five little furry balls gathered together. After a while, the boy noticed one of the litter all by itself in an adjacent pen. The boy asked why that puppy was all alone. The manager explained, “The puppy was born with a bad leg and will be crippled for life, “so we’re going to have to put him to sleep.” “You’re going to kill this little puppy?” the boy said sadly while patting it. The manager replied, “You don’t understand he’ll never be able to run and play with a boy like you.”

After a short conversation with his son, the dad told the store manager he and his son wanted to buy the puppy with a bad leg. “For the same money you can have any of the healthy ones. Why do you want this one?” inquired the manager. To answer the manager’s question, the child bent over and pulled up his pants on his right leg, exposing the brace underneath. “Mister, I want this one because I understand what he’s going through.”009_9

When there is so much about today we can lament – the climbing unemployment, lagging sales, uncertain futures – Lake Norman residents are still compassionate. We care as much about each other as we care about ourselves. It’s true that the worst of times often brings out the best in each other. It’s also true that when times seem the worst, Angels walk among us.

They work in soup kitchens, care for neglected strays, deliver meals on wheels, and volunteer with a church or civic club. You will not recognize them by the wings on their back or footprints in the sand but by the smiles on their face. They are God’s gift and a reminder we are never truly alone.