Wealth of Our Community

Growing up in  Randolph County.

By WT Cox

Memories are precious things. They enable us to keep a part of our life experiences with us as we grow old.  As I recall events from my youth growing up here in Randolph County, some events seem just as real today as they did many years ago. We have memories of life events and of pets that we have had over the years, but the most significant memories are the ones of people we have known.  These are the memories that we hold most dear. 

When I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, Ramseur was a different place. It was certainly more rural, but the people were different too.  People knew their neighbors and seemed to care about each other more back then. I remember my grandmother cooking pies and meals for neighbors who lived on our road or in the neighborhood.  Most everyone around us went to the same church… Parks Crossroads or Jordan Memorial. Whenever a neighbor had an illness or life event, the whole neighborhood would come together. Now, most people cannot name neighbors who live across their street or even next door. Where we lived was in the country, and our “neighborhood” consisted of a couple of miles of dirt roads and farm families who stayed in touch with each other. This was especially true during the harvest season.  Some of our closest neighbors grew tobacco, which back then was a very labor-intensive crop.  Neighbors who farmed would come together and help each other during planting and harvest time.  Priming the leaves was the hardest part of growing tobacco… and this was the first “real” job I had growing up.  

I always was one to look for ways to make money. My dad used to let me plant pumpkins and green beans that I sold to Harvel’s Grocery in Ramseur. Mr. Harvel was a kind man and always willing to take my produce. I think daddy was just glad to have me working with him and it kept me occupied while he worked in his garden. I mowed both our and my grandparent’s yards every week, but never got paid money for that… The concept of an “allowance” was not something ever considered in our household. If I was to have money of my own, I had to find ways to earn it. I picked blackberries in the summer and sold them to neighbors in Town for 15 cents a quart, or 50 cents a gallon.  My socks always smelled like the kerosene that I used to keep the chiggers off me. I rode my bike once a week to Alton Cox’s,  who lived about a mile up the road mowed his yards around his house and barn for $1.25 a week…. That was “big” money back then. He also would pay me 50 cents a day to put feed into the feeders of his chicken house.  

 When tobacco harvest season came, all the neighbors were busy working in the fields and looking for help. I got my big chance to help after being asked in church one Sunday morning if I wanted another “job”. Tommy Conrad was needing help with tobacco and the first priming was going to be that Monday. I eagerly accepted the challenge and was told to meet at their tobacco barn around 5 AM. While I had been around tobacco the last year, I had never primed before. I knew it paid good money and was hard work, and I was determined to be the best primer ever and hopefully earn those high wages I had heard about. It was rumored that some experienced primers actually got as much as $2 an hour for their work. That was almost too good to believe. Tommy told me he would start me out at 75 cents an hour and see how well I did, but I would have to wait to be paid until the end of the season when they sold their crop. That was fine with me and still more money than I had ever earned before, so I gladly accepted and promised to be at his barn bright and early on Monday.  He also told me to make sure I wore a long sleeve shirt and pants. I thought he was just kidding with me. I had never primed before and I knew the summer days were hot.  When working out in the heat, surely no one would wear long sleeves. I showed up on time but in shorts and a tee shirt.   The” old” men at the barn just smiled at me and said, “OK, let’s get at it”.  There were several of us “primers” who headed out to the field behind two old mules that were each hitched to two long wooden sleds. I overheard one of the guys ask Tommy why he did not use a tractor to pull the sleds like his neighbor down the road did. Tommy replied, “now why would I do that?  You have to leave out a couple of rows of tobacco for the tractor and with mules,  I can plant more per acre.  Besides, they can turn sharper than a tractor too”.  

I was excited about my new job.  Determined to be the best primer there, I eagerly listened to the instructions on how to “prime”. The bottom leaves were the biggest, and of course the closest to the ground, so you had to work bent over all the time. I was young and small, so that was not a problem.. Actually having to look at the ground all the time gave me an opportunity to look for Indian arrowheads while I worked… another bonus. Tommy told me to grab the first three or four leaves.  “Just twist your hand around the stalk and the leaves will pop right off.  Then you put them under your arm and after you get all you can hold, then lay them in the sled, with the ends facing out”. That seemed simple, I thought. Soon, I discovered that Tommy was not kidding with me when he said to wear long sleeves. The cold, tobacco leaves were wet with dew and the sticky resin made the leaves stick to my skin when I unloaded an arm full.  I did not have time to look for arrowheads because the mule kept the sleds in front of everyone and I was always trying to “catch up” with the person in the row next to me. When we got to the end of the first row, I was the last one to finish.  Some of the “old” men were already way down the next row before I finished my first one. I soon realized that priming was not only a hard job, it was one that took some skill to do right and quick.  The sticky leaves were already beginning to cling to my arms, and I soon realized the big mistake I had made in not listening to Tommy’s advice.  I did my best to keep up, and some of the men would encourage me along the way with things like “come on boy, you can do it”. I was determined to prove I was just as good as them, but actually, it took everything I could muster just to keep up. After what seemed like an eternity, it was time for a “break”. We got a drink of cold water from a long ladle that was dipped into a bucket. Everyone drank from the same ladle, which I thought was strange, but the water was welcomed after what seemed like hours priming (actually it probably was just an hour or two). After a few minutes rest, it was back to priming. The mules responded to commands such as Gee and Haw…  they seemed to know exactly how far to stay ahead and when to stop. The white sandy soil was ideal for sleds and when one sled was full, it would be pulled to the side of the field and another one hitched up. One mule was used to pull the sleds to the barns, that were located down the dirt road to a lead to the home and barns. Most rural roads back then were dirt.  The sandy soil of eastern Randolph County was ideal for tobacco farming and Randolph County had the largest amount of dirt roads in the State. It was not uncommon to see farmers pulling their crops down these roads during harvest season.  

I remember one time when we had finished a field, and the mules were both hitched to two sleds, full of freshly primed tobacco leaves.  We were headed to the barn when disaster struck. Already bone-tired from a day of priming, everyone was glad to be finished, when suddenly one of the mules began kicking and snorting.  The mule took off running and the two sleds were turned on their sides, with greenish golden tobacco leaves scattered all over the road.  One sled busted apart when the mule turned the corner and the other was in pieces by the time the mule stopped at the barn.  “What happened”, someone shouted.  “Bee” Tommy said.  “Must have gotten stung by a bee”. We began gathering up the leaves of tobacco that littered the roadside placing them into another sled.  When I got to the barn, I expected to see Tommy beat the mule for the damage it had done, but instead, he was brushing him and giving him water.  He calmed the animal down, realizing it was frightened and had not done anything wrong.  “You have to take care of your animals, he said.  They have feelings too”.   

It is strange what things you remember. I had not spoken to Tommy since his wife Patsy died.  I knew they were close. I had just seen him a few weeks ago when he came to church with his sister. Tommy had lost his eyesight. He recognized people by their voice. It was hard to believe he died so quickly.  

I know that there is a lot of more important things people remember about Tommy Conrad, but for me, I will always remember him giving me my first “real” job… and of course those mules.  

Thomas "Tommy" Edward Conrad Asheboro, North Carolina Obituary

Ramseur- Thomas “Tommy” Edward Conrad, 77, passed away Monday, December 27, 2021 at Randolph Hospice. Born June 14, 1944 in Randolph County, he was the son of the late Clarence Reid Conrad, and Maude Johnson Conrad.

Tommy was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of almost 56 years Patsy Spencer Conrad; and his son, Spencer Reid Conrad. He is survived by daughter, Donna Conrad Long and her husband Reggie of Robbins; grandchildren, Colton Long and his wife Mary of Robbins, Chesley Cox and her husband Ethan of Troy, Carter Long of Robbins and Steffenie Porvaznik and her husband Mike of Raleigh; great-grandchildren, Reid Thomas Long, Wyatt Samuel Cox, and Gibson Stone Long; brother, Kenneth Conrad of Naples, FL; sisters, Cathy Johnson and her husband Gene of Asheboro and Sherri Needham and her husband Barry of Ramseur; and sisters in law, Jane Gerringer of Asheboro, and Sandra Baucom and her husband Larry of Asheboro.

A graveside service was held at 2:00 pm, Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Parks Crossroads Christian Church, 2057 Parks Crossroads Church Rd, Ramseur, NC 27316 with Reverend Randy Kelley, Reverend Ransom Love, and Reverend Todd Nance officiating. The family wishes to thank Randolph Hospice House for their care of Tommy in his final days. In lieu of flowers, the family wishes for donations to be made in Tommy’s honor to Randolph Hospice or Parks Crossroads Christian Church.

Wealth of Our Community

Ramseur’s Own “Mother Teresa”

The Wealth of Community Series

Ms. Tony Marley

We would like to wish a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a wonderful lady many people affectionately refer to as Ramseur’s own “Mother Teresa.” Ms. Toni Gilmore Marley will turn 100 years “young” this December 15th. Over the years, this remarkable lady volunteered thousands of hours for local causes, especially Hospice and the Local Food Pantry.  She has faithfully served at Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Asheboro and other charitable causes.  Ms. Marley has been recognized many times for her many hours of volunteer work. In 2014, she received the Service Above Self Award presented by the Randolph Rotary Club for her volunteerism, especially to the Randolph County Hospice.  In 2015, Toni Marley was the recipient of the NC Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in a special ceremony with Governor Pat McCrory.  Then in 2020, Ms. Marley was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, as granted by the State of North Carolina and Governor Roy Cooper.  This award was given for her “incredible heart and years of service to her community.”  When presented with this award, by Trent Cockerham, CEO of Hospice of Randolph County, Ms. Marley commented, “I can’t feel worthy of this … I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that many other people have done.” What Ms. Marley considers “not worthy” would be quite an accomplishment for most people.  Toni had volunteered over 8500 hours of her time when this award was given in September of 2020, and now that number of hours is even more. She not only serves as a patient volunteer by visiting and offering support, she also helps coordinate and prepare donations of desserts and assist with food services. Toni is also known for her baking skills. Hospice credited her with bringing in over $22,000 to the organization through sales of her cakes and desserts. 

Ms. Marley was part of the original group of volunteers that was formed back in 1981 when Hospice first came to Randolph County.  She now is the last surviving member of that group.  She is not the typical person you would expect to donate so much of her time to giving back to her community. She was originally from Pittsboro, in Chatham County, and came to Ramseur when she was 16 years old. She finished high school and married Joe Harris Marley, and they had two children.  Her husband unexpectedly died at the young age of 36 and left Tony behind to raise her two children on her own, ages 9 and 5. She lived just a couple blocks from the Coble Dairy where she worked.  She was able to put both her children through college, but when her daughter got sick and unable to get around on her own, she gave her the family car so she could get to class from her dorm. During this time without a car to drive, Toni rode a bicycle to work every day, and to church and the grocery store. Eventually, when her daughter passed away from her illness, Toni refused to let hardship get her down. She pulled from her faith, saying “there are a lot of people who are worse off than me”.   She dedicated her life to serving others, whether it be in her church or by volunteering her time, she was determined to share God’s gift of caring with others. In addition to the many awards Toni has received, she is most proud of her church and the outreaches it provides. She is a member of Jordan Memorial Methodist Church in Ramseur and active in the ladies’ group, church choir, and assists with the newsletter.  She still exercises weekly with ladies of the church and attends services when she can. “I thank the good Lord every day that I can get up and take care of myself”, Marley commented when interviewed after receiving her latest award. She enjoys walking in her yard and growing flowers. Her vision is bad, so she cannot drive anymore, but thankfully she has friends who love her and remember the years of thankless service she has given to her community. Toni Marley is referred to by many who know her as Ramseur’s “Mother Teresa” because of her compassion and zeal for helping others in need. She will turn 100 years young this December 15th, and we wish her a very Happy Happy Birthday. 

A celebration service will be given to Ms. Toni Marley Sunday, December 12th from 2:00 till 4:00 pm in the Jordan Memorial Methodist Church fellowship hall, located on Main Street in Ramseur.  The public is invited and to please wear a mask, even if vaccinated. 

 *portions of this article were gathered from the Jordan Memorial Church Newsletter, an article by Tony Bolick USA Network, and from conversations with her friend Emily Johnson.  We were unable to interview Ms. Marley directly.

Wealth of Our Community

Antoinette (Toni) Gilmore Marley

Our son calls “Miss Toni” the Mother Teresa of Ramseur. When there is an illness, accident, death or any kind of family crisis Toni Marley will be the first person to visit with a casserole or dessert and consoling words for the family. She quietly notices if there are things that need to be done and immediately pitches in to help. 

Toni visits the elderly and persons confined to their homes. She makes regular visits to those who reside in care facilities in Ramseur and Asheboro. She seems to have that sixth sense that tells her if there is a special concern.

Toni has been a member of Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church since she was a teenager. She has been youth director, Sunday School Teacher and has served in numerous offices and committees. She is currently a member of the member care team and the adult choir. She supervises the kitchen at the church and coordinates all church meals whether for fellowship or for fundraising. 

Toni is an active member of the United Methodist Women and attends district and conference activities. Over the years she has served as president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer as well as offices within her small group circle. 

She coordinates the bereavement meals that are served to church members’ families prior to or following a funeral. She also coordinates fundraising activities for United Methodist Women.

Toni is an active member of Church Women United of Randolph and is currently serving as treasurer of that organization.

In December, 2003 a food pantry was established by the churches in the Ramseur area. Toni attended the organizational meeting and continues to serve as an active member of the coordinating board. All food and work are provided by volunteers. Each church provides volunteers every six weeks to keep the food pantry open. Toni is in charge of staffing the pantry with volunteers from Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church. During those weeks Toni works at least one day and often more. She collects and delivers the food donations to the Ramseur Food Pantry and also to the Christian United Outreach Center in Asheboro.

Those of us who are younger than Toni marvel at her energy and enthusiasm. She sets the pace for the rest of us. We could certainly learn time management from her. I can think of no one more worthy of being recognized for service to others.

Emily Johnson

Historian Jordan Memorial United Methodist Church

Wealth of Our Community

PARADISE FOUND:  Willie Brady and his Carambola Gardens

by Gordon Brady

With Introduction by WT Cox

I am amazed at the impact and contributions that many Ramseur natives have had on society, not only in North Carolina but national and international. People who grew up here in our small town have impacted our world in a lot of different ways. This is a story of Ramseur native Willie Brady and his life experience that has gone from a small town to the Peace Corps during the time of the Viet Nam War and to a small island in Central America that eventually would become his home. Willie’s life is documented from his time growing up on Liberty Street in Ramseur to his transition to builder and conservationist on his adopted island home or Roatan.  His Carambola Garden is a mixture of botanical wonders and nature trails that entice cruise ship passengers as well as travelers from around the world. Willie has managed to improve the lives of countless people and give back to nature at the same time. His story is told by his childhood friend and Ramseur economist Dr. Gordon Brady, who has a story of his own that we hope to tell in future issues. 

This mini-biography of William Parks Brady (“Bill” aka “Willie”) is a “labor of family pride.” It is based on discussions with Bill, his family, and my somewhat “rusty” reflections and impressions of events and people over 70 years. I recently had the privilege of a 5-day visit with Bill at his family home in Roatan, Honduras. Aside from growing up on Liberty Street, we are descendants of Jesse Alfred Brady (1867 – 1943), elected for two terms as sheriff of Randolph County (1922-24 and 1924-26).

Part of growing up in the 1960s was watching each episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” The story goes — caught in a storm on a three-hour cruise, seven castaways washed ashore on a tropical paradise. Its 99 episodes (1964-67) focus on the efforts of an unlikely mix of characters trying unsuccessfully to leave their island paradise – Bill Brady’s story is the reverse. Bill is the professor — in this case an expert in architecture and botany. A central role is played by Irma, Bill’s wife of 42 years — best friend, mother to his children, business partner, and advisor. My role is to tell the story of a “Liberty Street boy” who found paradise, but unlike Gilligan, Bill and Irma chose to stay in their island paradise. They married, had a family of three (Matthew, Nicole, and Gisselle), and built a life around preserving the ecosystems of Roatan, commercial, and philanthropic projects. Irma has won awards for her many environmental and educational contributions to Honduras.

Bill’s introduction to Roatan came by accident. In 1970 Bill joined the Peace Corps after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in architecture. In a process over which he had little control, Bill “landed“ on Coxen Hole, Roatan on a mission to help the locals with housing. It took only a short time for Bill to be fall in love with his newfound island paradise… soon he was hooked. Now, nothing could take him from the island paradise. 

Bill loved his newfound home, but also made every effort to bring some is his loves to the island… one was baseball. He started the first organized team on the island and soon had a thriving construction business as well. He became involved in philanthropic and charitable activities and soon met his future wife. He was married in 1979 and had three children. Over the next 50 years he was instrumental in much of the development on the island, including the establishment of an ecological preserve that he named Carambola Botanical Gardens.  

Bill was the first son of John Emmett “Bill” Brady, Jr. (1914-1957) and Roselea Parks Brady (1915 – 1995). Linda Brady Burgess was the first, then Bill, and finally John Emmett III(aka Nicky). Bill grew up in the home of his grandparents John Emmett (1870 – 1963) and Lydia Ann Thomas Brady (1874-1954). Bill’s grandfather was my great uncle, a man with whom I enjoyed many conversations about the origin of the Ramseur Brady’s. The Brady’s were primarily Scotch Irish having moved to Ramseur from Bennett in the late 19th century.

Bill grew up in a home designed and built by his grandfather John Emmett Brady, Sr. John Emmett Sr., who was a successful builder, developer, and businessman (he owned the furniture factory in Ramseur). He instilled in his grandson a love of function, design, and carpentry. I well remember two of John Emmett’s inventions. He built a two-story hen house and designed a mechanism to transfer the eggs to a central depository on the first floor. This freed the family to focus on other activities including a grape arbor, unusual plants, and many species of trees.

I always marveled at John Emmett’s black iron structure to store ice for the summer. Like John Emmett, the icehouse had a long life and was removed in the 1970s.

Early on Bill developed an interest in baseball through his family and the Ramseur community. John Emmett’s children were very athletic and accomplished in baseball and golf. Bill’s uncle Clarence L. Brady (1895-1913) died from a baseball injury.

Bill was a very solid student (“Beta Club”), well-liked, and athletic. Academics and sports occupied much of his time. Bill and his brother Nicky developed a game similar to baseball which they called “lemon ball.” The game was played with baseball bats and a plastic lemon juice dispenser shaped like a lemon, hence the name lemon ball. It became quickly popular on Liberty Street but to my knowledge, it did not catch on outside Ramseur.

E.C. “Zeke” Tatum (1926 – 1995) who taught Ag and shop at the Ramseur School was a strong influence on Bill’s artistic and architectural talents through carpentry, assembly, and presentation of projects. These skills played an integral role in the roads he was later to travel and became the foundation of his great accomplishments. In addition to one-on-one learning from Zeke to Bill, membership in the Future Farmers of America and summer jobs became an important avenue for Bill’s development. Bill was co-founder of the Science Masters and benefitted greatly from the guidance of science teacher William A. Barbour.

A summer job with Asheboro architects Hyatt Hammond and Alvis George provided firsthand exposure to the world of professional architects and builders. He became immersed in the process of project development, implementation, and presentation. While working for Hamond and George, Bill met Ramseur/Randolph County legend Oscar King (1899 – 1985) a skilled builder, pipe fitter, and general jack of all building trades. But more than this, Oscar was legendary for his ability to interact/coach workmen, contractors and leaders of municipal governments. Bill credits King with instilling an approach to maximize cooperation to complete projects.

Bill attended the Ramseur Baptist Church and was a member various organizations including the Royal Ambassadors, a youth group. Bill very much enjoyed RA camping trips and church activities such as bowling and a baseball team.

School and the Baptist Church played a strong role in Bill’s interest in sports and “healthy” competition. The Brady’s had always been active, but several had the potential for the leagues outside the community. Bill had a number of colleagues who contribute to the story. Tim Wright, Larry Moody, Wayne Siler were some of his closest friends during his Ramseur years…

People of my generation remember Bill’s efforts to update the facade of the family home with a huge parachute which covered the long front porch of the family home on Liberty Street. Bill and several friends stretched a giant parachute across the huge front porch which surrounded the front porch. Bill describes the motivation as “let’s see if we can do this, how to do it, and how to overcome any resulting problems. The home soon became a “clubhouse” for the Ramseur boys to hang out in. The community became suspicious that great mischief was taking place behind the veil. This led to an investigation by local police Ott Gant and Wiley Craven. Soon, the rumors of mischief were dispelled and the home was once again a meeting place for teenagers and young people. On Sundays, Liberty Street would be full of young people playing “beach ball” from the brick wall that separated the yard of the home from Liberty Street. 

While many boys his age were going into the military, Bill chose to go into the Peace Corps. It soon became apparent that getting accepted into the Peace Corps was not as easy is it may seem. Not wanting a “bad apple” to spoil their image in host countries, the Peace Corp sought appointees of high moral character and unassailable integrity. They also wanted a fit between appointees and the challenges of the projects and the regions to which they were sent.

Bill’s desire was to improve the life of the people on the island, preserve fragile Roatan ecosystems, AND “play baseball”. He introduced Little League programs for the youth to the island. Bill and his wife Irma also became heavily involved in environmental issues. One of their first projects was to mount an organized effort to stop the burning of clear-cut land clearing.

Bill got a good match with his wife Irma. She is a lifelong resident of the islands and has won many environmental awards for her leadership in environmental and educational issues. Her concern for the threats of development to Roatan ecosystems resulted in her founding the Bay Islands Conservation Association, a grassroots organization to promote the sustainable use of the island’s resources, monitor environmental impacts, and ensure that development doesn’t come at the cost of irreplaceable habitats. BICA grew in scope and influence over the years under Irma’s leadership, and now has chapters on both Utila and Guanaja, Roatán’s neighboring islands. It also manages the Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve, the site of our most recent project in Honduras.

Serving as a field evaluator, Irma has long worked with the local and national Ministry of Environment to certify proposed development projects on Roatán as sustainable before they are approved. She remains a strong advocate in protecting Roatán’s remaining coral reefs, mangroves, and other critical coastal environments from poorly designed developments. Her role has often brought her into conflict with developers and politicians, but her tenacity, knowledge of the issues, and broad community support have repeatedly won out and helped foster a culture of sustainability on the Bay Islands. Aside from the central role she plays at Carambola, she is deeply involved in the Port Royal Wildlife Refuge, a terrestrial wildlife preserve, and the Carambola Botanical Garden, which offers free tours to local children to build appreciation for Roatán’s unique flora.

Bill became known as the “Gringo” who played baseball and promoted the sport as part of Roatan culture. His projects in Roatan included designing schools, churches, municipal water systems, and bridges. Today there are many options to play sports in Roatan, including soccer, football, baseball, rugby, and softball. But in the early 1970s when Bill arrived, there were very few. Seeing this as an opportunity, Bill took it upon himself to make a difference. Aside from his day job” he found time to organize a Little League Baseball League – composed of six teams across the island.

He formed a baseball team of islanders. In addition to coaching Little League, Bill raised money to buy uniforms and saw it as an opportunity to pass along his love of baseball to the youth of Coxen Hole.

Eventually, Bill and Irma were able to acquire a 41-acre swatch of land and establish a botanical preserve. The name Carambola was chosen due to its unique star shape star-fruit composed of “five fingers.” Technically, it is known as the fruit of Averrhoa carambola, a species of tree native to tropical southeastern Asia.

The development of Carambola Botanical Gardens was a new direction for Bill’s career work moved into the realm of cultivation for beauty as well as export. Bill’s vision for the Gardens itself was shaped by his architectural training, love of plants especially trees, and their role in ecosystems.

Today, Bill’s Carambola Garden preserve is a major tourist attraction on the island of Roatan and is a must-see destination for many of the thousands of tourists that visit the island via cruise ships every year. Many visitors come by air from all corners of the globe to visit the preserve and observe some of the botanical wonders that are only found on Roatan. 

While Bill is right at home in his adopted island paradise, his thoughts still reflect back to his growing up in Ramseur. The values learned, faith, family, friendship, and commitment are Ramseur traits that now are a part of this island culture thanks to Bill.

Wealth of Our Community

Remembering William Russell Jessup

By WT Cox

One of the most difficult things about growing old is having your friends pass away. When I was young, I remember my grandmother reading the obituaries every day. Back then, there was no Facebook, social media… or the internet to keep in touch with people.  A lot of families did not even have telephones when I was young, but our newspaper was delivered daily… sometimes it would end up in the side ditch or a mud hole if had been raining, and other times our family dog would find it and hide it, but normally it was there every day. Assuming that she got her hands on the paper, my grandmother would always go to the obituary section. Now, that I am close to 70 years of age, I can understand why my grandmother always read those obituaries. It seems that one of my childhood friends or classmates pass away, much too often. Over the last decade, so many friends have died. Thankfully we are left with memories, and as I look through pictures from the past, I cannot help but smile as I recall some of the great times I have had with people I grew up with. Russell Jessup was one of my best friends, and he passed away on Veterans Day, November  11th, 2021. It seems fitting that Russel was called home on a day dedicated to veterans. One of his most cherished accomplishments was the time he spent in the Navy during the Viet Nam War.  

Russell Jessup was born June 24, 1946, and grew up just outside Ramseur and attended Ramseur School along with his brothers Jean, Tommy, David, and Tony, and his sister Lori, Judy, and Phoebe.  His father was a farmer and carpenter, so Russell grew up with a respect for hard work and a love for his country.  He joined the Navy just as the Viet Nam War began to heat up. Russell belonged to an elite group of all-volunteer soldiers known as HELATKLTRON-3 Sea Wolves.  He was stationed on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) during her maiden voyage as the first nuclear combat battle group to ever fight in wartime. He served with a Light Helicopter Attack Squadron and flew 501 combat missions as an open door gunner in some of the heaviest fightings during the War. After the Navy, Russell returned back to his hometown of Ramseur and began to carry on with his life. He married Donna Bell on 10/26/1979,  and they were together for 42 years until his death this year. After re-settling back in Ramseur, Russell went to work as a stonemason. Russell became known as one of the best stonemasons anywhere and took great pride in his work. I was privileged to have Russell lay the stone for my home’s foundation and saw firsthand just how hard of a job that was.  The heavy lifting and work required eventually caused back problems and Russell was forced to retire.    

Russell was an avid outdoorsman and loved camping and canoeing. We went on many canoeing trips together navigating white water rapids of rivers like the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, New, Haw, Mayo, Dan, French Broad, and Rocky Rivers…. Just to name a few.  The last time I saw Russell, he said “we got to break out those canoes one more time..” That time never came. I look through pictures that were taken over the years and remember the good times.  Friends are never lost, as long as we remember them.   

Contributing Works Uncategorized Wealth of Our Community

Grace Saunders Kimrey: “Poet Laureate of Liberty Street”

Grace Evelyn Saunders Kimrey (1910-2001) was the “Poet Laureate of Liberty Street.” I called her “Miss Grace” in deference, and to flatter her, I once asked if she thought her books would become a “best seller” — to which she replied “it would be nice, but poetry rarely sells!” Another reflection on Miss Grace’s wit is a statement I attribute to her regarding her husband Sam. Although I have remembered it all these years, but can no longer find it in any of her books. You might say it is not poetic, but more of a tribute: “My husband is a millionaire, he told me so today, but if I ever leave him, he will be poor again!”

Certainly many old timers would remember “Miss Grace” Kimrey and her husband “Mr. Sam” (1909-2000). He was a flat surface roofer of the old school using hot pitch, gravel, and mops weighing up to 75 pounds when fully loaded with molten pitch. He retired from roofing in the 1970s and left their son Gary (1931-2019) to continue the trade. In retirement, Sam and Grace had a furniture store in the Vaughan Marley Store building on Liberty Street. It has been vacant for many years and remains so to this day.

The Kimrey’s were active in the business community and regular attendees of the Ramseur Baptist Church (now called First Baptist Church of Ramseur). The church was about 75 yards from the Kimrey’s front door where they served in various leadership roles as Sunday school teachers and officers. Mr. Sam was a dapper chap with interesting hobbies including collecting rocks and arrowheads and participating in community activities such as the Lions Club, the campaign in the late 1950s to light the Ramseur High School Athletic Field. He was also involved in many school and church-related activities — even playing Santa Clause for the local schools.

But back to the poetry of Miss Grace. To my knowledge she wrote four short books and a regular column in a local newspaper:

Songs of Sunny Valley. Banner Press, Emory University Georgia 1954.
The Star of Hope. Banner Press, Emory University Georgia 1954.
Glimpses of Beauty. Banner Press, Emory University Georgia 1955
“The Morning Star.” Bicentennial Edition. (This is a history of Ramseur. ) Published by Grace Saunders Kimrey. 1976.

Miss Grace (Class of 1938 Ramseur High School) had no formal academic training in writing poetry but was obviously well read and gifted. Archibald Rutledge, the Poet Laureate of South Carolina, discovered her and described her as “a poet known for her rare, loving, admirable spirit.” She offered to sign copies for those who sent them to her. I have several of her carefully inscribed books in her neat cursive handwriting.

Miss Grace’s inspiration came from her surroundings and the neighborhood children. My sister Celeste Brady Byrnes and I grew up next door to the Kimrey’s dining room. Our Mother Sally Brady’s beauty shop shared a lawn with the Kimrey’s. The Kermit Pell family lived up Liberty Street and there was always constant street traffic daily and for the church on Sunday (and midweek prayer service). In several of her poems Miss Grace mentioned the people who inspired her – telling them privately they were her subjects. She liked my Mom’s roses and admired her work ethic.

Miss Grace’s book “Songs of Sunny Valley” was based on views from her home and the neighborhood children around her. She described the title of her book as coming from her efforts to name the Kimrey home.

One of her poems which most people can relate to regardless of age:
“How do you feel when you feel old?””

When Mother heard
Some young folks say,
“O, we feel so old today,”
She looked at them
With age-dimmed eyes
As if she wished
To chide or scold
And gently asked
To their surprise,
“How do you feel
When you feel old?”
Songs of Sunny Valley, (1954) p.45.

The inspiration for the title of her book and the name given Kimrey house merited a poem.
“A house with a soul”

We purchased an old, old house for our home
Almost at the foot of a hill
Where the sunshine is brighter
And the bird’s song is lighter
And the valley lies peaceful and still.
There’s a road at the front and a stream at the back
Where in summer the small children play.
Here the sky seems much bluer
And the heart grows much truer
And heaven seems nearer each day.

I prayed for a name for our valley and house
And soft as the zephyrs in trees,
Its words ringing clearer
And I heard what it said with all ease.
“Sunny Valley, Sunny Valley, Sunny Valley,” it sang
And the melody over me stole.
When the voice ceased its singing,
These words were still ringing,
“A house, a house with a soul!”
Songs of Sunny Valley, (1954) p.12.

This short piece highlights some of her work with the hope that becoming acquainted with “Miss Grace” will stimulate interest in learning more about her work. Miss Grace’s recognition as a poet continues with many of her books now available on eBay and Amazon.

Wealth of Our Community

Tony Williamson

One of the most talented artists to come from Randolph County is Tony Willimason.  He is a world class mandolin player and musician.  If you Google Tony Williamson, you will see a list of his many accomplishments and notice that he is almost always listed as a native of Chatham County. Chatham County is where Tony has lived for many years, but I remember him from my youth at Ramseur School and consider him as a Randolph County (Ramseur) native. Tony started school at Ramseur in the first grade, a year ahead of me in 1960, but we shared many of the same classes at Ramseur.  I remember in Ms.  Madge Caviness’s combined 5th and 6th grade class, Tony and I were rivals, always competing to see which one would outdo the other.  I especially remember a spelling contest where we were the two finalists, and Tony beat me for the honor of being champion. I was never practically good at spelling or English either for that matter. Tony has always excelled in whatever he chose to do. He was Randolph County finalist for the Morehead Scholarship in 1971 when he graduated from Eastern Randolph, and went on to earn the highest degree from UNC at Chapel Hill.  I lost track of Tony for a long time after graduation, but Tony and his brother Gary continued to make headlines in the bluegrass music community. Several years ago, the two Williamson brothers  came to our church, Parks Crossroads Christian, and performed some old time gospel tunes with Tony on his famous mandolin and Gary on Guitar.  He has lived an interesting and eventful  life, full of challenges and certainly many accomplishments.   

There is no doubt that Tony is smart, but  his talent for music, especially the mandolin, is extoridinar.  Along with his older brother Gary, the two became a sensation in the Bluegrass World. Currently Tony lives in Chatham County with his wife in a restored 19th century home and operates Mandolin Central , a company dedicated to finding, restoring and selling classic Mandolins.   

 David McCarty, a staff writer for Fretboard  Journal , Bluegrass Unlimited and Mandolin Magazine had this to say about Tony:

“Quite simply, what Tony Williamson doesn’t know about mandolin is probably not worth knowing.  As a player, collector, dealer, historian and mandolin community activist, Williamson has helped keep the mandolin’s great American legacy alive while uplifting and encouraging generations of modern players.  From bluegrass, to classical, pop and other forms, Tony Williamson is a national treasure”

Tony was a recipient of the 2018 North Carolina Heritage Award as a visionary musician, composer, musical instrument expert and teacher.  He has been performing and receiving awards for nearly 50 years and continues to perform live and travel internationally today.  

Tony was raised in rural Randolph County into a family of wood-workers and musicians.  His grandfather, Alfred, made his own musical instruments and inspired his grandchildren with his love of music and stringed instruments. Tony and his brother Gary won first place in the coveted “World Championship” at Union Grove, North Carolina in 1969 with their band The Bluegrass Gentlemen and were featured on the cover of Bluegrass Magazine.  In 1975, Tony went on the road with a touring band, the Bluegrass Alliance, whose alumni include Vince Gill, Sam Bush, and Tony Rice.  Afterward, he worked with a succession of bands that led him to the top of his field playing classical, jazz and folk music.  His credits include performances on stage and recordings with Alison Krauss, Chris Thile, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Bobby Hicks, Tony Rice, Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Don Stiernberg and Robie and Linda Williams of Prairie Home Companion fame.  In addition to the prestigious NC Heritage Award, his list of honors includes the IBMA recorded event of the year in 1994 and many on stage performances such as repeat performances at the Merlefest Festival, an annual music festival held in Wilkesboro, NC.

David Ryoko of the Chicago Tribune said back in 2001 that “Tony Williamson is among the finest mandolinist alive and his instrumental passages dazzle…. This is great music”.  Tony’s tours have included performances in almost every state in the US, as well as appearances in France, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, Peru, Canada and Italy.  He brings to stage a love of music, a deep connection to his North Carolina roots, an enthusiasm to take those roots to creative new realm and a wonderful knowledge of musical instruments and their history.  

Acoustic Musician Magazine wrote ”Mandolin Virtuoso Tony Williamson sure can play, and what he doesn’t know about mandolins, nobody does!”

*Courtesy:  Tony’s Bio on the Mandolin Central website.

Taken from Eastern Randolph Links 1971 Yearbook
Tony Williamson, 1960 Ramseur School 1st Grade
Tony with his beloved Lloyd Loar signed Master Mandolin.  For the past 4 decades, these two have been constantly together.
 (Photo by Sandra Katharine Davidson)

The following is a bio that was posted in 2014 by Bluegrass Bios.  


  • From Siler City, North Carolina.
  • Tony is a well-known mandolin virtuoso, with several solo projects to his credit.
  • Their grandfather was in Company B, 52nd Regiment of the North Carolina Troops who marched with General Lee up Seminary Ridge, July 3, 1863 in the Battle of Gettysburg. He survived.
  • First band: The Bluegrass Gentlemen (1970) which made the cover of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
  • Gary earned his Ph.D in educational research from Stanford University. He works full-time for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
  • Tony owns a musical instrument company called Mandolin Central.
  • 1977, Gary was a member of the Bluegrass Alliance.
  • 1978, Tony worked with the Richard Greene band.
  • 1989-1991, Tony was a member of the group ASH&W (He was the “W”).
  • 1994, Tony performed with a one-man show called “The Sound of the American Mandolin.” He has a degree in music from the University of North Carolina.
  • 1995, Tony and Gary formed a duo called The Williamson Brothers.
  • 1995, Tony released solo project “Across the Grain” (Plucked String).
  • 1996 , Tony released solo project “All for Naught” (Mandolin Central).
  • 1998, The Williamson Brothers released “My Rocky River Home” (Mandolin Central).
  • 1999, the Tony Williamson Trio released “Christmas at Doobie Shea” album (Doobie Shea).
  • 2000, released Let Us Cross Over the River album (Doobie Shea).
  • 2003, Tony released Sessions at McBain Mill album (Bonfire).
  • 2003, the Williamson Brothers released “Still Light of the Evening” album (WildChild).
  • 2011, Tony released “Lloyd Loar Mandolins” album (Mandolin Central).
  • 2013, The Williamson Brothers released”Bluegrass!” album (Flatt Mountain).
  • 2018, received the North Carolina Heritage Award.
Wealth of Our Community

Tommy Edwards

I was saddened to learn that Tommy Edwards, a much loved  traditional bluegrass musician and teacher, passed away on Saturday morning, May 22, 2021.  Tommy was an exceptional musician who will long be remembered by the people who knew him.   He was 75 years old and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. I remember “Mr. Edwards” as a soft spoken, laid back history teacher during my 8th and 9th grade at Ramseur School.   Later I discovered that he was also one of the best bluegrass musicians and song writers in the business.   I am thankful to have seen him perform countless times, and to own many of his recordings.  His band, The Bluegrass Experience is regarded by many as one of the all time best Traditional Bluegrass Bands.  



July 20, 1945 – May 22, 2021

In North Carolina’s central Piedmont, as throughout the Old North State, Tommy Edwards was a bluegrass music legend. A founding member of The Bluegrass Experience, Edwards was a prolific songwriter and lightning-fast guitarist whose vigorous downstrokes imbued his songs with power and tone, earning him World Champion Guitarist trophies at the 1970 and ’71 Union Grove Fiddlers Convention.

Edwards passed away the morning of May 22, following a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75. On Friday, May 21st, Governor Roy Cooper awarded Edwards the Order of the Longleaf Pine. The state’s highest honor is “awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.”

Edwards was born and raised in Siler City, NC., an hour south of Camp Springs, site of the late Carlton Haney’s famed bluegrass festivals. As a teen, Tommy worked in his father’s grocery store, where he honed the work ethic and relaxed social skills he would carry with him throughout his life. 

It was in Siler City that Edwards formed the Green Valley Ramblers with brothers Paul and Donald “Earl” Beane and future Blue Grass Boy, Jerry Stuart. In 1971, Edwards and the Beanes enlisted Thomas “Snuffy” Smith, Charles Lee Conard and “Fiddlin’” Al McCanless and formed The Bluegrass Experience, the award-winning combo celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Success came early, as the band was crowned World Champion Bluegrass Band at the 1972 Union Grove Festival. The championship brought invitations to perform at prestigious venues, including University of Chicago and Finland’s National Folk Festival. The band won its most ardent followers closer to home through their nine-year Thursday night engagement at Chapel Hill’s Cat’s Cradle from 1972 through ’81.

A 1970 graduate of East Carolina University and a U.S. Army veteran, Edwards taught history and coached sports for 30 years in the Chatham County School District. He blended his love of history and music into his songwriting, contributing five of 13 songs to his 2011 CD, “North Carolina: History, Mystery, Lore and More.” He also shared his passion with listeners on “Bluegrass Saturday Night,” the weekly broadcast he hosted for 16 years. His show featured classic and contemporary recordings as well as interviews with artists featured on his show. Tommy’s dedication to promoting and preserving North Carolina’s heritage was recognized by his induction into the prestigious North Caroliniana Society.

Edwards’ retirement from teaching allowed him the freedom to pursue his bluegrass obsession. He took full advantage, performing at street fairs, wedding receptions, music clubs, IBMA’s World of Bluegrass – anywhere and with anyone fortunate to accompany him on stage. Tommy’s solo albums feature such bluegrass luminaries as Bobby Hicks, Russell Johnson, Jim Mills, Matt Hooper, and Dewey Brown. His shows were nearly always attended by former students, their children or grandchildren. A true Southern gentleman, he was revered by all were fortunate to know him.

Almost any afternoon, Tommy could be found behind the counter of the antiques store he and his wife, Cindy, operated in downtown Pittsboro, a few blocks from their historic home. Folks would meander through, examining the diverse array of items along with vintage guitars, banjos, mandolins for sale or trade. Often as not, Tommy would be picking out a tune or holding an impromptu jam session with a friend or musician passing through town from one gig to the next.

To younger musicians, including Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin and Chatham Rabbit’s Sarah McCombie, Tommy was mentor, friend, and musical partner. He was generous and patient, offering encouragement and complementing the musical savvy of his youthful friends.

Tommy is survived by his wife of 43 years, Cindy Edwards, and current Bluegrass Experience band mates, Stan Brown, Mike Aldridge, Keith Thomas, and Snuffy Smith. Truly original, Tommy leaves a legacy of friends, music, and memories North Carolina is not likely to experience again.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions  may be made to Chatham Arts Council, PO Box 418, Pittsboro, NC 27312 and Pinecone, PO Box 28534, Raleigh, NC 27611.

A public celebration of Tommy’s life will be held in June. Date, time and location to be determined.

–Intro by WT Cox, Obituary courtesy of Donaldson Funeral Home

Mr. Tom Edwards, Ramseur School Photo, 1970
Uncategorized Wealth of Our Community

Ramseur Dry Cleaners


Friendly and reliable service is a trademark for many businesses in Randolph County. The folks around Ramseur have depended on the Mace family for dry cleaning services for almost nine decades and their family-run business spans three generations. 

Ramseur Dry Cleaners is one of the oldest continually operated, family-run business in Randolph County. It was originally started in 1934 by Kenneth Mace in a building located on Main Street, Ramseur. The building was located just up from the old Red Front Store that is still there today. His brother Eugene (EV) Mace joined the business in 1936 and the two brothers ran the business together until 1949. As the business grew, the old coal-fired boiler that operated the plant on Main Street needed to be replaced, so the brothers decided to move the business to 807 Moffitt Street and build a new, modern building in 1947. Two years later, Eugene purchased his brother’s part of the business and Kenneth opened a laundry in Lillington.  Mace’s son Steve joined the business in 1961 after he graduated from high school.  Steve worked at the business with his father for over twenty years, eventually taking over the family business. Eugene Mace died in 1983. Steve and his wife Betty continued to operate the business and were soon joined by their son Keith, who joined the business after graduating from Ramseur High School. In 1989 Keith officially took over the family business.  Steve died in 1990 of lung cancer. Over the years, many members of the Mace family have worked at the cleaners, making this a true “Family-run Business”.   

As the industry began to change, Keith wanted to upgrade the equipment and modernize his dry cleaning business, but there were some limitations as to what he could do in his Ramseur location. After a lot of searching,  Keith opened a new facility in Randleman in July of 2007. Now the business was equipped with some of the most modern machinery and equipment in the dry cleaning industry. The Randleman location is a full-service dry cleaning business and can do a wide range of services including and full-service laundry and a center for alterations. The business is located at 120 Point South in Randleman and is open Monday thru Friday from 6:00 AM until 6:00 PM and Saturdays from 8:00 AM till Noon.

 The Ramseur connection runs deep in the Mace family with many good memories of people they have served over the years. Keith was not willing to close the Ramseur location, even though the Covid 19 pandemic has severely affected the business. The smell of freshly cleaned clothes and views of revolving dresses, suits, and jackets are now gone from the Moffitt Street store, but you can still get friendly service at the drop-off center that operates from the original location.  Currently, Ramseur Dry Cleaners is still open with revised hours. The location is open 6 days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM  till 2:00 PM, and Wed and Saturday from 8:00 AM till Noon. Keith says that it is his hope that business will improve and Ramseur Cleaners can get back to their normal hours. 

Uncategorized Wealth of Our Community

Grady Lawson

by Gina Lawson Young
Forward by WT Cox

Randolph County has been blessed to be called “home” by many people who have made the area of North Carolina a great place to live and grow up. One of those people is Grady Lawson. If you grew up here in Eastern Randolph County, you most certainly have benefited in some way from the accomplishments of Grady Lawson. Whether you knew him as a friend or never met him personally, he had a large impact on our county. I remember Grady as being an elder in our church; Parks Crossroads Christian Church, and from his selling of Christmas trees every year in support of ERHS athletics. It was a ritual of our family every year to go the day after Thanksgiving and purchase a tree from Grady. He would be there selling trees, weather rain or snow, and was usually there until the last tree was sold. Grady was also known for his passion for baseball and for the young boys that played the sport. You could almost find Grady whenever there was a Legion Baseball or ERHS baseball game being played, he was their most avid fan and supporter. Grady cared deeply for his community and will be remembered not only as a successful businessman but for the impact he made in the lives of all who knew him.
The following was submitted by Gina Lawson:

   A little background – William Grady Lawson was born in King, NC on November 19, 1929. The family, which included his younger brother Gene, his mother Eva Estelle, and his father Henry, moved to Bennett, NC when Grady was young and where Henry was a tenant farmer. His two sisters, Doris and Peggy were born there. Shortly after, when Grady was 14, they moved to Ramseur where Henry was a tenant farmer for Hugh York. Later, Henry was able to buy the property from Mr. York.  Grady continued to live there until he married. His mother died suddenly when he was 18 (she was 39) of a heart ailment. Grady fell in love with a girl from his high school and married Helen Marie Carmac from Ramseur in 1948 in her mother’s home. He always referred to her as “the prettiest girl at Ramseur High School”.  Grady worked at Pugh Oil near the old Blue Mist on 64 and he and Helen lived across the road in a small white house. They moved to their current house a year later (Uncle Willie built it) and were there until he entered the Air Force 2 years later. He did his basic training in Texas, and then they moved to Montana where he was stationed from 1952-1954. (He hitchhiked home from Montana to get Helen and then drove them both back.) They were then stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany from 1954-1956 where daughter Gina was born. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. Upon returning to the US after leaving the service, they moved back to the house they would live in for the rest of their lives. Grady was able to borrow a little money and purchased the Ramseur Shell Station shortly after his return. Son Mike was born in 1961. Grady opened Ramseur Auto Parts in the mid-60s. After over 30 years in the service station business, he sold the station in the mid-80s to concentrate on the auto parts store until his retirement. He also operated Lawson Wrecker Service.  Grady was always active in community service and volunteerism because of his tremendous love for children and his hope that they could have better futures through a good education.  He served on the Randolph County Board of Education for over 40 years. He also served on the board of Randolph Community College for 28 years. He always strived to do what was best for the kids. He sponsored many local children’s baseball teams over the years and was later an avid supporter and sponsor of the American Legion Baseball team. He was most proud of the fact that his players earned over $2 million in college scholarship money-that, and whenever they beat Asheboro. He was an active fundraiser for Eastern Randolph High School Athletics. For 32 years, he organized and ran a Christmas tree lot that benefited the program. He was inducted into the American Legion Hall of Fame and was in the inaugural class of the Eastern Randolph Hall of Fame. The baseball field at Eastern Randolph is named in his honor. He was also honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Jim Hunt in 1984. Despite the accolades, Grady is probably most remembered for the small, kind things he did everyday-buying a ball glove or cleats for a kid who couldn’t afford them, charging a college student only $5 for a tow, helping out boys doing community service, and taking baseball players out to eat after games. Above all else, he loved his family fiercely.  
Grady passed away on November 20, 2017. Helen still lives in their original home in Ramseur. Daughter Gina lives with her husband Tom in Raleigh. They have three children-Brad and wife Casey and their son Truitt, Kelly, and Ali and her fiancé Cary. Son Mike lives with his wife Amy and their children Bobby, Carson, and Kylee in Lexington. Every year we present the Grady Lawson Memorial Scholarship to a senior at ERHS based on academics, athletics, character, financial need, and community involvement.