Memento Mori

Memento Mori

The affirming life of Leslie Deaton

By Cynthia Adams 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

The ache for home lives in all of us,” wrote poet Maya Angelou. “The safe place where we can go as we are . . .” 

For Leslie Deaton, sanctuary is a Dutch Colonial in the historic Fisher Park district. “My story is one of breath-stealing tragedy, but also love in its wildest form, of soul-crushing pain and new mercies every morning,” she says. On leave as a Northern Guilford High School counselor, she’s fighting cancer while drawing comfort from her beautifully realized retreat.

The home, a slate-gray charmer, tells a visual version of Deaton’s story. This is a place of meaning, its well-appointed rooms say. Of warmth. Of joy.

As she found it only a few years ago, it was move-in ready, which was a particular boon, after a sensitive and full restoration by Dunleath residents Camilla Cornelius and Stephen Ruzicka. 

“The house was built in 1922; it looked great,” she praises. Cornelius, who formerly housed a counseling practice there, presented Deaton with four pages of itemized renovations, including specialty faucets.

It was a turnkey home with curb appeal, given the on-trend gray exterior with crisp white trim. “So perfect for me,” Deaton adds, having bought the property in August 2020, “in the heart of COVID.” 

She made the move well before she became ill, and a year before she lost her only child, William Walton Finch, at age 23.

“Losing my son . . . ” she falters, explaining. “He took a Xanax that was pressed with Fentanyl on July 28, 2021. I believe that is why I have cancer. I just could not endure it.” She pauses. “The love of my life. My only child.” 

Her son graduated a semester early from N.C. State University with magna cum laude honors, she adds. Nothing fit.

She sighs raggedly. Tears fall.

Deaton understands those tears are therapeutic and necessary. Ironically, she has seldom been able to enjoy much leisure time at home prior to her illness, given a busy professional life. 

Fueled by her longtime work with young adults, she has continued to speak to students and anyone who will listen about the lethal threat street drugs pose to young people, even after a shocking diagnosis last year.

She believes “the trauma of losing Will opened me up to invasion. Losing a child is a different type of loss.” Losing an older child is no less challenging, she says. “It’s different.” Two people in her life who lost children subsequently “ended up with breast cancer.”

In February 2023, she chose to share her son’s story with 700 students, parents and educators at Northern Guilford. She was joined that night by Amy Neville, a California parent who lost a 14-year-old son. 

“Tragedy would hurl me without warning into a spotlight I never in a million years asked for but felt required to assume in order to tell the most soul-crushing story of my lifetime.”

Publicly, she drew back the curtain on pain following the loss “of my sun, my moon and all my stars — my beautiful son and my only child.” The title of her presentation? One Pill Can Kill.

In a televised interview with WFMY-TV, Deaton shared the nature of her personal trauma. “I got the absolute worst phone call of the human experience. I was informed that I lost my child to a horrific poison, Fentanyl,” she explained

She met Jane Gibson at Authoracare while grieving.

“I was touched by the love and the pride she shared with me about her son,” says Gibson, a recently-retired staff member. “And despite her great sorrow, she was not crawling away into a hole.” Even though it was a busy time in the academic year for her and her students, it was clear to her that “she would find healing by providing counseling support for these teens. What an amazing, loving woman!”

As long ago as 2022, Deaton began experiencing persistent stomach pain. Late that year, nagging back pain worsened.

“I was trying so hard to resist painkillers,” she recalls. “To honor what I’d been so vocal about.” Instead, she bought a new mattress to help her back, still suspecting she also had a stomach ulcer. 

“Then we got new office chairs. Each member of our counseling department had back complaints . . . But guess what? I still had agonizing pain.”

She turned to Ibuprofen, Tums and a heating pad in order to make it through the work day. “One morning in May [2023], our well-intentioned counseling secretary stood at my desk and said, ‘I’m not going to move until you call the doctor.’”

Deaton eventually capitulated, seeking help. When a radiology interventionist proposed a nerve block to alleviate back pain, she tried it.    

It helped briefly. Then her pain roared back. 

During follow-up, her blood work was normal. But an endoscopy and a CT scan detected a large mass in her pancreas. 

Deaton was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer on May 31, 2023. “I was told to get my affairs in order while I still had cognition.” When she learned her diagnosis, she was at home alone. It was a phone call “that cruelly propelled me off my axis once more.”

“Yes, I know I have a terminal diagnosis, but I don’t know what that means,” she says calmly, gazing out a kitchen window. “I could be in a car wreck today,” she says unemotionally. Outside, colorful plants await planting in a garden she plans to call “Will’s Garden.”

She makes plans and continues home projects.

“I’ve not asked my life expectancy from my doctors, and the reason I haven’t is, I feel it’s a guess, at best. I’m focused on today. Today is a gift,” she muses. Shortly after her diagnosis when she realized she wouldn’t be going back to work in the fall, she recalls deliberating over “this silly little rug from Ballard Design. And my friend, Jane Harrill, was here. And she said, ‘You’re going to be here a lot. If that rug gives you happiness, get it.’”

Harrill is Will’s former kindergarten teacher, explains Deaton, as well as an artist. She helps Deaton following treatments. 

Deaton’s close, longtime friend, Todd Nabors, who met her at First Presbyterian church, agrees with Harrill. 

“We’re the same age,” he says. “We’ve been friends forever.” They see each other nearly every Sunday. Deaton admires his aesthetic and relied upon his point of view when it came to her home.

Nabors, who works for furniture company Thayer Coggin and also consults on design, offered similar advice. “Beauty matters,” he told her.

And so, Deaton ordered the sisal rug. 

Deaton has always found “feathering her nest” therapeutic. Years ago, she frequented Summer House, a home decor shop. There she met Kaylee Phillips.

Phillips, who now works in antiques and collectibles at Carriage House, says, “She collects beautiful things. And along the way, she collects beautiful friendships.”

“Beauty does matter to me. And surrounding myself with joy and cheer is a medicine of sorts. It’s a therapy. It’s treatment,” says Deaton. There’s sorrow here, too, of course: the elephant in the room, as the expression goes. Yet there’s an aura of peace, too, and light. It streams through the house’s many windows.

At home, the gentle colors of a spa surround her.

Along those lines, she has selected a fabric with which she wants to reupholster an upstairs den chair. The room is softly feminine, accented with the pastel art she collects. Inside sit her desk, a vintage French chair found at Carriage House, along with a television, chaise lounge and cushy seating. After treatments — a more aggressive regimen of chemo and radiation began in April — she often rests here.

She cocoons here in the beautiful room, sometimes tossing a toy to her dog, Charley, whom she shares with her dad, and Virginia, her cat.

She resists staying in bed when under the weather, and refuses to recover in pajamas but prefers regular clothes. To be as normal as possible. “When I go to treatment, they say, ‘We love seeing what you come in wearing.’” Deaton takes pride in this, saying it is a form of self-care.

Even while wearing yoga pants, she stacks delicate beaded bracelets along her arm — many are gifts from devoted friends.

She refuses to give in or stop making an effort.

This applies equally to her personal environment.

She has just chosen a new fabric by Elliston House for a favorite bedroom chair. “The company is owned by [Greensboro residents] Morgan Hood and Ally Holderness. And I just admire them for taking that leap of faith,” she says of their venture into business.

“At times I’m tethered to that chair.” 

She chose Elliston House for Roman shade fabrics in the same space and the company’s wallpaper to line a breakfront she uses for storage. She’s deliberating another Elliston House fabric for an often-recovered armchair.

She, perhaps, values art and personal mementos above all else. Art is present in every room, as are personal touches. Many of the works she’s acquired have been created by local and regional artists.

Winston-Salem artist Carolyn Blaylock is a favorite. She collects North Carolina artists Bee Sieburg, Libby Smart, Sharon Schwenk, Sue Scoggins, Helen Farson, Amy Heywood, Yvonne Kimbrough, Crystal Eadie Miller and Murray Parker. She describes their styles as “warm and inviting.” She treasures pieces by artist (and fellow educator) friend Harrill.

Virginia artist Martha Dick and Georgia artist Lisa Moore are also part of her collection.

Favorite places and influences?

Deaton admires the Carolina Inn, in the “most classic of ways.” (She’s a UNC-Chapel Hill grad.) She loves “going room to room and seeing the differences.”

Home magazines are a constant source of inspiration. She again mentions former home decor shop Summer House. “It had a great influence. I loved it.” She uses painted pieces acquired there, including chests and breakfronts. 

Once, a man delivered something to her prior home and exclaimed, “You’ve shopped at Summer House!” 

“Everybody who’s ever encountered her loves her,” says Phillips, musing about the friendship that originated in that store. “We’ve all become friends with her. It was deepened due to the connection with our children,” she adds.

Often, too, Deaton finds Randy McManus’ floral shop “very therapeutic for me.” 

She picks up a small plate displayed in her den, found in a Pawley’s Island shop in 2019. 

“It simply says, ‘Tell stories.’ It’s funny because I didn’t buy it initially, but it popped into my mind several times before our departure, so I scooped it up on our way out of town, never dreaming of its significance, completely oblivious that it would ultimately become my life’s theme song.” 

Deaton still considers her home a creative outlet and she now has time to contemplate every detail. She considers a colorful pink Elliston House lampshade. (Pink is a favorite color. There is even a pink Keurig coffeemaker on the kitchen counter and a pink leopard print sisal on the kitchen floor). 

She just replaced the upstairs bath’s colorful mirror with a high gloss white-framed one. Satisfied, she says it calms the effect of a lively wallpaper.

This is part of “living my life,” she explains. Design, color and beauty bring her great joy.

When Deaton walks into her son’s former bedroom, her voice is softer. “His special, special things,” she says quietly. “I just had to totally redo it . . . ”

She pauses, as if she is seeing the room as it was before it became a guest room, adding a white Matelassé coverlet, crisp linens and French blue accents. One wall displays diplomas, pictures and mementos from her son.

Everything in here is something about Will, she says.

After his dad left when he was young, Will and his mom had years together. “We had such a unique and special relationship. I weep. And I will never stop weeping. I tell people, I do not cry over my cancer, but I cry over Will.”

She reads aloud framed stickies he wrote to her, struggling with her emotions.

“I have beautiful portraits of him,” she says of her son. “I am so thankful.”

Friends who know of Deaton’s loss and health issues have donated wallpaper, fabrics, bedding, a specially monogrammed neckroll with Will’s initials from Matouk bedding — even a special commission by Triad artist Amy Heywood. 

“She gave that [painting] to me. Came into the home, looked at all my art. And that’s what she created.” Fresh flowers appear at her doorstep. Letters with donations arrive from strangers.

“Never did I dream when I redid this room that so many different people would be using it to stay with me,” she continues, lingering in Will’s former room. She is pleased when they tell her they find peace here.

If memories of Will are the dominant focus of her home, the underlying theme is serenity.

The lighting fixture in her room was a gift from a friend. “It’s a very visual comfort,” she says. “It’s so beautiful at night.” This is a real place of sanctuary, she repeats.

She picks up and cuddles Virginia, the blue-eyed rescue cat. “She has a little dot on her nose,” Deaton says delightedly. She imagined her “walking up Virginia Street. to find me.” 

Deaton rehabilitated her. She is epileptic, Deaton says, and takes phenobarbital; once, a well-meaning friend almost gave her Virginia’s medicine. She winces, but smiles, quipping, “Wonder what that would have been like?” 

The downstairs rooms are tasteful yet casual with cream-colored walls, accented with French finds, collections and artwork. The eating nook off the kitchen had original benches and table, which she decided to keep but stash in storage. It was original, and Deaton says she didn’t want “to be disloyal to the Ruzicka’s renovation.” While she would “never get rid of it,” she stored it in the basement so she could add a table that better worked for her 6’3”-tall son when he lived with her.

Each room in her home sparks a return to the subject of her son.

Will chose to enter treatment at Fellowship Hall, she says quietly, standing in the breakfast nook where they ate together when he was staying here. 

He had completed treatment for addiction. Will had just qualified for Navy Seal training, “when this all happened.” Deaton would never know if it was his first relapse either. At the time, her son was living in Charlotte and doing incredibly well, according to his roommate. He had, for months, endured miles of running and swimming. “He doesn’t fit the mold,” she stresses.

Nonetheless, Deaton extols the virtue of a recovery program. “But when you are 22, and everything about socializing is a drinking event . . .” 

Alcohol, she explains, lowers our inhibitions. “And opioids are the worst. Instantly addictive. I’m not minimizing alcohol,” she stresses, “but it’s a different beast.”

“It’s a tragic, tragic story,” she says. “An incredible, stinging hurt and [emotional] pain followed him,” she says. “But Will was definitely trying to find a way to deal with that pain. And he went at it the wrong way.”

“But he was always outstanding, and he will always be my greatest accomplishment,” she says. 

Coping with extreme pain, Deaton has had to learn how to handle her own fears regarding painkillers. She credits the Palliative Care Program at Cone for guidance.

“Dr. Beth Golding took me under her wing and has gotten control of my pain,” says Deaton. Controlling pain enables her to walk again, go to the grocery store, to do chores. “Transformative,” she adds.

She recalls Dr. Golding saying “we don’t see thriving in pancreatic patients. But you are doing life.”

With Deaton’s pain lessened, she occasionally found diversion working a few hours at Watkins Sydnor, a home store. Earlier last year, she even managed 5-mile walks from Fisher Park to Irving Park, feeling completely energized.

“For me, time with my friends is what matters. It’s not about stuff. Funny, because this article is about stuff, in a way. But what this disease has taught me is that time together is all that matters.”  OH

Dog Is Love

Dog Is Love

Sedgefield Presbyterian Church laps up its new congregational canine

By Maria Johnson 
Photographs by Mark Wagoner

It’s been several weeks since 79-year-old Sue Lucado could make it to church.

She had a cold.

She had guests.

She had COVID.

It’s been one thing after another, but she’s here, at Greensboro’s Sedgefield Presbyterian Church, this Sunday morning. She steps into the vestibule and receives an unusually robust welcome.

She is sniffed

She is licked.

Her shoelaces are tasted.

In an instant, Lucado’s expression changes from somber to smiling.

She leans over and sticks a hand into the mass of apricot curls dancing around her feet.

Two gleaming brown eyes look up.

Two floppy ears emerge.

A finger-length tail covered with wispy tendrils thumps the carpet.

The furry swirl slows enough to reveal Chloe Grace, the church’s 3-month-old, 8-pounds-and-gaining, congregational dog.

Genetically speaking, Chloe Grace is a cavapoo, meaning she’s part poodle, part King Charles Cavalier spaniel.

Spiritually speaking, she’s heaven-sent.

“She’s the most beautiful thing,” Lucado gushes. “Bless her heart!”

The good news about Chloe Grace reached Lucado a couple of weeks ago, when she cut the pup’s picture out of a church newsletter, stuck the picture on her refrigerator, and made an announcement to her own beloved dog, Katie, a Yorkshire terrier.

“I said, ‘Katie, we have a little friend at church,’” she says.

Now that Lucado has met Chloe Grace, she is smitten.

She takes a program from human greeter Paul Durant, who owns the dog with his wife, the church’s pastor, Rev. Kim Priddy.

“You know me and dogs,” Lucado tells him. “I like them better than people.”“Don’t tell anyone, but me, too,” Durant confides playfully.

Lucado nods, still smiling, and finds a pew.


Priddy, the shepherd of this flock, swiped the idea of a pastoral pup from a friend, Rev. Michelle Funk in Pennsylvania.

Funk, who got a church dog last year, had toyed with the idea of a congregational canine for years. Using a therapy dog for church work made sense to her, but when she pastored a church in Burlington, N.C., a few years ago, she had two beagles.

“Neither of them was church therapy dog material,” Funk says in a phone interview.

“You know beagles. They follow their noses. They’re very loving, but they have a mind of their own.”

Then, in 2022, she was called to her current church, Heidelberg Union Church in Slatington, Pa.

The time and place seemed right.

One member trained seeing-eye dogs and often brought the trainees to church. A past member had attended with his personal service dog, who sometimes sat in on messages for the children.

“Dogs in church was not a new concept in this congregation,” Funk says.

She resurrected her hunt for a four-legged staffer. Her research turned up a handful of pastoral pooches nationwide. The cavapoo breed, known for being warm, intelligent and hypoallergenic, was a popular choice.

Funk visited a reputable cavapoo breeder and brought home a 4-month-old pup that her family — fans of the Harry Potter franchise — named Muggles.

At a pastoral retreat last year, Funk told Priddy about taking Muggles, in his first week on the job, to see a church member who was living at home under hospice care.

Funk placed Muggles in the woman’s lap. As the woman stroked Muggles’ soft coat, she opened her heart. Words poured out.

Muggles knew what to do. He relaxed, stayed put and let the woman talk.

She was scared of dying, she said. She had things she wanted to do in life. As faithful as she was, she wondered if God would be present at her passing.

Funk reminded her of Jesus’ words on the cross: “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

She reassured her that fear and doubt were normal.

She prayed with the woman.

It was clear to Funk that Muggles had helped the woman tap a vein of emotion that she, the pastor, might not have been able to reach alone.

The story lit a fire in Priddy, who’d grown up with dogs and owned dogs when her three children were young.

“I knew that dogs made people happy, but when Michelle talked about her visit, I realized the potential of reaching church members in a new way,” she says.

She ran the idea past her husband, Durant.

“I said, “As long as it’s for a purpose . . . ’” he recalls.

Historically a “big dog person,” he agreed to getting a smaller, more portable cavapoo — with a mature weight of 15 to 20 pounds — for the church gig.

Priddy pitched the plan to her session, the congregation’s ruling body. She told the story of Muggles.

If she got a similar dog, she said, she would bring the dog to work, take it to visit sick and homebound members, and have it certified as a therapy dog as soon as possible.

The idea was consistent with other forward-leaning projects that Priddy has backed to improve the church’s outreach, relevance and membership — an Earth-care committee; a yoga class that meets during the Sunday school hour; guest speakers on the war in Gaza.

Like many mainline churches, the Sedgefield congregation has shrunk over the last several decades. Today, riding an uptick following the doldrums of COVID, there are about 85 active members. About half are seniors. Many live alone.

A dog, Priddy hoped, would comfort those who missed touching and holding another living being.

She also aimed to delight children in the church’s preschool program and signal to potential members that the congregation was open to new ideas.

The session agreed unanimously.

On a Friday in March, Priddy and her husband brought their 8-week-old bundle of joy home from a breeder in Charlotte.

That Sunday, they toted the puppy to church.

Priddy invited church members to vote on a name for the dog by dropping dollars into red Solo cups bearing the names suggested by children of the church.

After the service, $125 in votes were tallied. The top two vote-getters were Chloe and Grace.


“Helllllllo, Miss Helen,” Priddy singsongs as she steps through the door of an apartment at the River Landing retirement community in Colfax. “I’ve brought all kinds of guests today.”

Across the room, church member Helen Boyer, 98, sits in a recliner with her feet up, watching daytime television.

“Where’s Amazing Grace?” She calls out in a bright voice. “I call her Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace is better for a church dog.”

Priddy leads the pup into the studio, detaches a leash and lifts the dog into the chair with Boyer, a stalwart church member who attended services regularly until she gave up driving about seven years ago. These days, she watches on YouTube or, if her daughter is with her, on Facebook Live.

“Get up here, Amazing,” says Boyer, whose manicured fingers slide into the pastoral pup’s curly coat and begin massaging. “How are you, missy? It’s been a while.”

Soon, Boyer is talking about how she misses the dogs she used to own — what good company they were and how they kept her on her toes. One dog, Suzy, a Doberman, lived with her when she moved to a cottage in the retirement community 20 years ago.

Suzy died about 10 years ago, but Boyer still feels close to her.


“She’s over there, in that drawer,” Boyer says, pointing to a bureau that holds her beloved dog’s ashes. “She’s going to be inurned with me.”

Chloe Grace is not impressed. She nibbles Boyer’s unguarded toes.

“No biting!” Priddy says, removing her charge.

Priddy pulls out a bag of treats and hands some to Boyer. For a tasty price, they finish their visit peacefully.

In closing, Priddy scoots closer to the recliner and offers Boyer a hand in prayer. She thanks the Lord for this time together, for Boyer’s devotion to the church and for the opportunity to talk about their dogs.


Ask almost any question about Chloe Grace, and the answer is probably “yes.”

Has Chloe Grace had any accidents at church?

Yes, but none in the sanctuary. As of this writing.

Did Chloe Grace participate in this year’s Easter egg hunt?

Yes. She quickly found a candy-filled egg, at which point Priddy and Durant pulled her from the hunt.

Has Chloe Grace been invited to children’s birthday parties?

Several. One girl requested the gift of being chased around her party by the puppy.

Do adults drop by the church just to see Chloe Grace?

Yes. The clerk of session, Karen Johnson, who is retired and lives near the church, sometimes texts Priddy to see if she has brought the pup to work. If the answer is yes, Johnson heads to the church.

Are people sometimes disappointed if Priddy shows up to a church meeting alone?

Yes. “I thought Chloe Grace would be here,” they say sadly.

Does Durant tease his wife that more people come to church to see Chloe Grace than to see her?

Yes. Priddy’s reply: “I don’t care, as long as they come.”

Does Chloe Grace attend Sunday services?

Yes. Usually, she hangs out in the back of the sanctuary with her usher-dad, Durant, and her clerk-of-session-pet-sitter Johnson.

Does Chloe Grace help take up the offering?

Yes. She has a flair for opening hearts and wallets. Someone suggested training her to stare at people until they drop money in the offering plate — and to bark if they don’t give enough.

Does Chloe Grace occasionally run under the pews, causing a visible ripple of heads turning to catch the flash of fur under their feet?

Yes. Sometimes, they step on Chloe Grace accidentally. She seems to forgive those who trespass against, and on, her.

Does Chloe Grace have a time-out spot for when she is too excited?

Yes. See the playpen in the church library.

Does Chloe Grace have an Instagram account?

Yes, @chloe_the_spc_pup. Follow her colleague, Muggles in Pennsylvania, @pupminhuc.

Are there members of the church who aren’t crazy about dogs in general, or Chloe Grace in particular?

Yes, probably. But they haven’t whined to the leadership.

Do people seem to be smiling more around Sedgefield Presbyterian these days?

Definitely. Johnson credits Chloe Grace with lifting spirits.

“She’s a ray of sunshine for people. When she greets you, how can you not have a better day?” she muses. “She doesn’t care if you’re walking with a cane or if you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re 2 feet tall or 5 feet tall, if you’re Black or white, gay or lesbian. She doesn’t care. She’s there to give you love, like God is.”  OH

Out of the Woods

Out of the Woods

Three Team U.S.A. Olympians redefine themselves in the Gate City

By Cassie Bustamante  

Photographs by Mark Wagoner

“Woods are not like other spaces . . . They make you feel small and confused and vulnerable, like a small child
lost in a crowd of strange legs . . . They are a vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.”

— Bill Bryson, from A Walk in the Woods

This month, the City of Light will be aglow with 10,500 athletes from all over the world competing in the 2024 Summer Olympics, plus an estimated 15 million visitors.
To say the world will be watching is an understatement. But who are these athletes — heroes for a glorified moment in time — after the paddles have been stowed, the Nikes unlaced and the skates hung up for the last time? We caught up with three local Team U.S.A. Olympians, including two gold medalists, to answer that question.

Joey Cheek, Gold Medal Olympic Speed Skater

Tamara Cheek, Olympic Canoeist

Sprawled out on his charcoal gray sofa, 2006 gold-medal Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek rests one hand on his chestnut-brown boxer, Cashew, who lets out a contented sigh. Both man and dog are totally at ease in this snapshot of daily life. But, Joey, now 45, admits that was not always the case for him.

“The years after the Olympics are — ,” he begins and then pauses. Tamara Cheek, also 45 and an Olympian herself, jumps in.

“Oh, are we at the walk in the woods?” After checking on Jack, the couple’s 4-year-old son, who’s happily scooting his Paw Patrol vehicles across the floor of the nearby playroom, she explains.

A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s New York Times-bestselling book about his ups and downs — both literately and figuratively — along the Appalachian trail, is a metaphor for how the Cheeks and some of their fellow Olympians describe life after the games. One reviewer called Bryson’s trek “A journey of discovery and renewal.” And that’s certainly been true for both Tamara and Joey.

For Joey, the path to the Olympics began when he was a roller-blading middle-schooler in Greensboro. His parents made sacrifices to support his fledgling athletic career. He recalls a home with sparse furniture and beat-up cars. “I had everything I needed, which was also all I ever wanted.” At 16, he left home to train in Calgary and made the leap from wheels to blades.

In 2002, 22-year-old Joey made it to the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, where he won the bronze medal in the 1,000-meter speed-skating event. Four years later he returned to the Olympic rink, this time in Turin, Italy.

As he headed back, he had an inkling that this would be his last time skating on Olympic ice. Plus, he wondered, “What am I going to get from four more years of this that I haven’t already gotten?” Turns out, that thing was a gold medal — as well as a silver.

Without taking a pause, he hung the skates and hit the ground running, enrolling in Princeton and cofounding Team Darfur to raise awareness about the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Sudan. His humanitarian activism caught the eye of Hollywood star George Clooney, who invited Joey to accompany him to China via private jet to lobby the government there. In 2007, Clooney reached back out to invite him to be in a film he was shooting in South Carolina. “And to give you an idea of the hubris I was feeling at the time,” says Joey, shaking his head, “I said, ‘I’ve got a bunch of big parties I am going to. I can’t make it.’”

He was seemingly skating through life. “Nothing is indicating that this system isn’t flawless,” says Joey, “that you have not cracked it.”

The path was clear: “gold medal, ivy league, billionaire.” Upon graduation, he was off to New York City to launch a sports-streaming start-up.

But, for the first time in his life, “some of the wheels had started falling off,” he says. “And that was crippling for me. Crippling.”

So how did he get out of the woods? “A huge part of it is her,” he says, looking at his wife.

“She had me do this exercise,” he says. Tamara helped him analyze his life up to that point so that he could see the arc of his career — which, he notes, was worse than ever at that moment.

But, soon after, “the arc turned.” He adds, “And it’s only gotten better.”

Did Tamara know from her own experience? Did she have a moment of “who I am without this?” she asks, then answers. “Yeah.”

But, Tamara admits, her moment of truth was not nearly as challenging as Joey’s. Hers came when a a friend who was a philosophy major at the University of California in San Diego (where she enrolled after the Olympics) pointed out to her that when you are young, you look to institutions to assign meaning to yourself. But once you leave academia — or the Olympics — and enter the real world, you’re on your own, and meaning and purpose must be generated internally.

“You might feel a little bit lost,” she admits and, as a mom of a superhero-loving preschooler, likens it to being Bruce Wayne instead of Batman. But, in the end, what was crippling for Joey was liberating for her.

Tamara is a dark-haired beauty who bears resemblance to — and has been mistaken for — supermodel Linda Evangelista. In fact, she opens to a page in her scrapbook, a gift a best friend created for a birthday, to a torn-out page from a 2000 Esquire magazine story, titled “The Girls of Summer.” Among 10 female Summer Olympians headed to Sydney, Australia, there’s an image of then 21-year-old Tamara, strong and tanned, and wearing a white tankini as she stands in a kayak and holds a paddle in her right hand. “I definitely shunned any further movement in that direction,” she says of her short-lived modeling gig.

Where Joey says that part of the reason you strive for the Olympics is to “chisel your name on a tablet somewhere,” Tamara’s approach as a flat-water canoeist was quite different. “I didn’t really have a gold medal as a goal ever.” She adds, “I just wanted to win races.”

Until she picked up paddles, competition was a foreign concept to Tamara. She describes the progressive Waldorf school she attended as the kind of place where “no blade of grass should be taller than the next.” But, at the age of 16, Tamara recalls seeing kayakers on a lake in Seattle, where she grew up. Instantly drawn to the beauty of the sport, she quickly discovered she took to it like a fish to water.

In another photo album, she opens to an old black-and-white photo of an athletic young woman, her grandmother, who died at the age of 36. She wonders aloud if that’s where her own inherent talent comes from. “I like to think that in some way I was carrying on her spirit when I was in Sydney.”

But, according to Joey, Tamara’s superpower is her ability to pick up anything she sets her mind to and excel. He laughs and adds how it sometimes drives him nuts “because there seems to be no method and all I am is process.”

While Tamara won the U.S. Olympic trials in the K-2 500-meter sprint as well as the 1999 World Cup silver medal in the K-2 1,000-meter kayak sprint, she did not land on the podium in Sydney and decided to leave her career as a canoeist after just six years. She admits that she was likely only halfway up the arc, but she was ready to move on. “I wanted to go to school and have a life after the Olympics.”

During college, Tamara continued to work closely with Team U.S.A. Canoe/Kayak, which was temporarily without a coach. Testing the waters of her own coaching skills, she filled in, discovering it was not the job for her.

Upon graduation, she was offered a role as a marketing director in Charlotte, working for the National Governing Body for Olympic Canoe/Kayak. While in that position, she also founded her own company — a platform-that connects creative service providers with real estate professionals — directed an award winning documentary and continued to serve the Olympic movement in professional and volunteer capacities. But her favorite career moment? Being on the team that won the rights to bring the 2028 Summer Games back to the states.

It was in Charlotte, says Tamara, “where our story begins.”

Her boss, late businessman David Yarborough, who became a mentor to her, asked her to attend a speech that Joey was giving. “For some reason, I didn’t go,” she adds.

But the “subconscious seed,” as Joey calls it, was planted.

Their stars were in orbit, says Tamara.

“Circling and never knowing each other,” adds Joey.

“You can’t fight fate,” he says.

Their stars would finally collide when both were in their upper 30s and involved with the Olympic Alumni Association, now the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians Association.

On January 1, 2019, Tamara, dressed in a white puffy jacket, and Joey, in the matching black, said “I do” atop snowy Lookout Mountain in Colorado, where they lived at the time. A year-and-a-half later, Jack was born amidst a global pandemic. Eventually, in 2021, with Joey working remotely for a venture firm he’d cofounded, the family piled into their Jeep with their dog and most of their belongings and headed for Greensboro, Joey’s hometown. The plan was to stay until they figured out their next move.

But, as he looked around a room full of family, Cashew happily playing with his brother’s dog, he says it dawned on him: “We are not leaving!”

The couple settled into a home where Joey kept an office, but his work was making him miserable and costing precious time with family. “I left with no plan. And I do not do that,” says Joey.

Encouraged by Tamara, Joey headed to a Downtown Greensboro event to learn about upcoming projects.

“You hadn’t been out of your office for three years,” she says to Joey.

While at the event, Joey met Thompson co-founder and president Clifford Thompson, who, Joey says, “is very active in wanting to see a startup community here.” Things began to click into place. In October 2023, he became the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president for entrepreneurship.

And while the role is still quite fresh, Joey has big dreams for his hometown. “I want to be able to take Jackie downtown and say, ‘Look what we did in this town.’”

As for Tamara, she’s currently doing consulting work with the N.C. Folk Fest and serving on the Miriam Brenner Children’s Museum gala committee. And her community here? “Maybe I like it so much because it feels a little bit like it was training for the Olympics, like everyone is on the same page, “ she says, “that we believe in this place and we mostly want the same things for it.”

Now that these two Olympic speedsters are no longer racing to win, they have time for family, friends, community involvement. A walk in the woods these days? It’s a Sunday family hike along one of Greensboro’s many trails. And while life with a preschooler offers its own set of challenges, Joey says, “I would trade the worst day hanging out with Jack over winning medals.” He pauses and takes it a step further. “I will trade one back if it would give me one more day with him.”

Middle: Johnson works with N.C. A&T student Shadajah Ballard

Right: Johnson chats with Olympic hopeful Daniel Roberts

Allen Johnson, Gold Medal Olympic Hurdler

At 53, Allen Johnson doesn’t look much different than he did when he crossed the 100-meter hurdle finish line at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, taking home gold for the United States. His head is clean shaven these days, but his 5’10” frame remains slender and athletic. Sitting behind his desk at N.C. A&T State University’s Truist Stadium, where he has worked as director of the track and field programs since June 2022, Johnson is at ease, comfortable in his navy-blue Nike A&T-branded polo shirt and proverbial coach’s hat.

Is this where he imagined he’d be? No way. As an Olympic athlete training with coaching legend Curtis Frye, Johnson says that was not the life he envisioned for himself. “Being a college coach in track and field was the absolute last thing on Earth I wanted to do. I mean last thing.” Driving it home, he adds, “Last, last, last!”

But when his body could no longer achieve previous heights, Johnson had to take his own walk in the woods. “A part of you dies and you have to mourn it.”

As a young man entering UNC-Chapel Hill in 1989, Johnson, a D.C. native, assumed he’d major in business. “It was the ’80s,” he says with a laugh. “I wanted to get a BMW, big house, have money, live life.” His dream? His own car dealership. “I was always into cars,” says Johnson, who now drives a Tesla.

But his athleticism opened doors for him and he left Chapel Hill during his senior year, not before setting several school records that still stand as well as winning four ACC titles. (He went back to finish his degree, which he earned in sociology, in 2012, when daughter Tristine was an undergrad. He even had a class with her.) Johnson’s pursuit paid off with a full-time track and field career that spanned 17 years, from 1993 until 2010.

During that time, Johnson, participated in three Olympics: 1996 in Atlanta, where he won the gold; 2000 in Sydney, Australia, where he fought a hamstring injury and just missed the podium, placing fourth; and 2004 in Athens, Greece, where he was captain of the U.S.A. Track and Field Team but did not place. For most of that time, he had endorsements from Nike (1994, 1996–2008) and Oakley (1995–2004) to support him. But, he says, “The last two years I was kind of on my own.”

“I was going to run until the wheels fell off, which meant I was going to stay too long,” he says, confessing he ran two years too long. “In a perfect world, I would just love to get up in the morning every day and go race.” But, he admits, his body could no longer physically handle the work.

In 2008, just two years before his running career crossed its finish line, Johnson recalls seeing Marion Jones on Oprah, discussing her use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Jones likened being an elite athlete to wearing a mask, playing a part. And when those running days are over? “The mask has to come off,” says Johnson.

“You don’t feel invincible, emotionally — or anything — because you become a regular person again.”

But, he adds, “you’re reborn.”

For Johnson, an opportunity to become something new was found in the last, last, last place he ever expected.

It began organically. People came to him, seeking his expertise and offering to pay. He volunteered as assistant under Coach Frye at the University of South Carolina. “I never got paid, but I looked forward to getting up and going out there the next day to work with the people I was working with.”

In the fall of 2011, he was offered a paid position as assistant coach at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was nervous. Not only was it something he hadn’t done professionally, but it was far from the Mid-Atlantic states he’d called home for most of his life.

“That was a leap,” he says. But without risk there’s no reward. During his first year there, he led the 4×400-meter relay team to the Mountain West titles. He stayed there for five years before returning to the East Coast as assistant coach for the N.C. State Wolfpack, where he worked for six years.

While not every athlete makes a great coach, Johnson seems to have cracked the code. “You know the whole cliché, meet them where they are,” he says.

That doesn’t mean just physically. Johnson connects with his athletes on an emotional level, too. He looks for triggers, good and bad, creating strategies to handle those that arise. He helps them stay away from the negative while embracing the positive. Plus, he makes himself available. “I have a policy: If you need to talk to me, call me any time.” With a coy smile, he adds, “But try to keep it between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.”

Now, in his first head coaching position at N.C. A&T, that policy’s expanded to include staff as well. “Be ready for anything” is his daily mantra. Emails and calls come from every which way, sun up to sun down and beyond. “One thing I tell people about being a college track and field coach is the job is never done. You just pick a stopping point each day.” And when he finally makes it home, he spends time with his wife, Olympic bronze-medal-winning track sprinter Torri Edwards-Johnson, and plays with their 2-and-a-half year old daughter.

While his days can be filled with chaos, he’s got a small network of friends who are also first-time head coaches, similar to having Olympic teammates. “We all have had aspirations of being a head coach and what we thought it was going to be like,” says Johnson. And is this it? No, he says, “You don’t know what it is until you actually do it.”

It’s challenging him in a new way. But he’s got sound advice when it comes to tough times: “It’s what you do on the bad days that is going to define your success.” He adds, “It’s not really that hard on a good day. It’s hard on the bad day when you don’t feel like doing it, but you dig down deep, mentally, physically, and you get it done.”

Are there moments he wishes he could be 25 again and line up with the athletes? Of course. “But I can’t do it anymore.”

Instead, he’s found joy in helping others. As for his student athletes, he wants to make sure their college experience is happy and meaningful, and that he pushes them to move the stopwatch needle.

Plus, Johnson has been working with Olympic hopeful Daniel Roberts, who, like Johnson, is a 110-meter hurdler. Roberts won the bronze medal in the 2023 World Championships and Johnson’s goal this year is to get him the gold at the Paris Olympics later this month. “I wish I could still run — can’t — but getting to coach him, coach Trayvon [Bromell] and the other athletes, I guess for me it’s kind of a natural progression to the next phase.”

Is it the same as competing? No, Johnson admits. “But I have no regrets. I love track and field.” And while it’s the last thing he thought he’d be doing, turns out the next best thing is helping someone else reach their highest potential.  OH

*At the time this story was written, Roberts was training with Johnson for the Olympic Trials, which were held June 21–June 30. We will update you on his progress in our biweekly newsletter, found at

Poem July 2024

Poem July 2024

Cicada Rondeau

They don’t so much sing as plead

In their droning sound stampede.

I hope they find the love they need —

Something more than meet-and-breed.

Can that even be with insects —

To have sensations beyond touch?

Do they know joy as well as sex?

They don’t so much.

                              — Paul Jones

Paul Jones is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of the collection Something Wonderful.

Peace and Purpose

Peace and Purpose

A spirited little girl’s art offers solace — and hope

By Ross Howell Jr.  

Photographs by Amy Freeman

The home that Austin and Shelby Tew built sits outside Stokesdale at the end of a long gravel drive surrounded by 10 acres of hardwoods. It’s unique and its story is bittersweet — even heart-breaking.

And I didn’t arrive at the house in the way you’d expect.

I began the journey at the MM Interior Design Group offices on State Street in Greensboro, where I was greeted by Mark Mitchell, business administration manager. Mark walks me into the design area. Marta Mitchell, founder, president and partner of the firm, is looking at fabric samples and stops to greet me.

Marta’s firm recently reached out to the magazine about the Tew house, a project she’s been working on for some three years. She’s a stylish woman with a wonderfully calm voice and an accent I don’t recognize.

When I ask her about it, Marta tells me her family was from the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. She grew up in the outskirts of São Paulo.

“I still have an accent, but I’ve been in Greensboro for about 40 years,” Marta says, smiling. She moved here with her husband, Peter, who’s now the marketing manager of the firm.

“My husband came for graduate school and was later offered a job, so Greensboro became home,” she adds. “Our two sons were born here.” It was the younger of the two, Mark, who met me at the door.

Marta explains that she had been trained as an interior designer — “we still called it ‘interior decorator’ back when I was in school,” she adds — and started the business in 1989, working alone.

“Now, we work in teams of three designers on every project,” Marta says. Her most senior staff are design directors — there are three of them, including her. They manage the work of lead interior designers, who serve as the main client contacts and bear overall responsibility for individual projects. The lead interior designers work in tandem with assigned interior designers on individual projects day-to-day.

“There are 14 of us now,” Marta says. “There aren’t many interior design firms this size.”

Typically, her firm is hired by a client before construction even begins. Marta guides me over to the design pod where Angela Austin — one of the company’s lead interior designers — has the computer-assisted design model of a client’s waterfront house up on her computer screen.

She shows me the floor plan for an attached guest house.

“Right now, I’m working on some selections for cabinetry,” Angela says. With a keystroke here and mouse click there, she shows me a variety of cabinet styles in place, some stained, some painted, along with variations on ceramic tile and its placement — as well as a floor plan with chairs and sofas.

“All of this was done before the contractor even broke ground,” Marta says.

In addition to using 3D models, renderings and video walkthroughs, Marta’s design group takes visualization to the next level — producing virtual reality tours.

Marta guides me to a large conference room.

Awaiting us are Shannon Harvey, the lead interior designer for the Tew house, and Chloe Fields, interior designer for the project. Shannon is an experienced interior designer born in Mississippi, who lived for a time in Germany. Chloe is a recent UNCG graduate with a degree in interior architecture. Marta is the team’s design director.

I sit down in a swivel chair.

“Here, this goes over your head,” Shannon says, handing me the VR headset.

And boom.

There I am, inside the Tew house.

“You can look up and you can look down and you can turn around in your chair to see more,” Marta says. She explains how the VR program brings daylight in, so what I’m seeing is more realistic than the 3D computer models.

I look up at wooden rafters and industrial-sized heating and cooling ducts hanging from the ceiling. I look straight ahead toward an enormous kitchen island in a long great room. Beyond the island is a bank of windows and doors looking out into woods.

“You can turn around in your chair to see more,” Marta says.

Now I’m looking at the entry wall of the house. There’s a spiral metal staircase leading up to a loft.

“The Tew project was really interesting,” Marta says, as I continue looking around, “because the house was already built when Austin came to us.”

Since he had work experience in construction, Austin personally completed or oversaw the building of the house, from pouring concrete to framing.

“It was empty, just walls,” Marta adds. “Then Shannon started working on it.”

Guests were always the first consideration, Shannon tells me, not the comfort of the Tews themselves. They also stressed that they were on a limited budget, so Shannon provided images of her furniture recommendations to Shelby, who searched for similar, less expensive pieces, while Austin implemented Shannon’s painting or finishing ideas himself.

“He’s so handy,” Chloe says. “He’s built dressers, beds . . . that concrete countertop you see.”

And there was another essential consideration — their young daughters, Braylen and Cora.

Shannon tells me to swivel clockwise in the chair.

“There,” she says. “The big piece of art on the wall. That’s Cora’s.” It’s a whimsical, colorful painting of hearts set among strokes of pure, bright colors with a single word: LOVE.

As we continue my tour, Marta explains some of the design elements that Shannon introduced — painting sections of the enormous wall with contrasting colors to break up the space and placing big pieces of furniture strategically for the same purpose.

When I’m set to remove the VR headset, Shannon gives me a hand.

“The Tews started building this home when Cora’s cancer was in remission,” she says. “But the cancer came back.”

Now, fast-forward with me from virtual to real — the heart-breaking part of the story — as my car tires crunch along the gravel driveway in Stokesdale.

Austin Tew greets me at the door and invites me in. He’s accompanied by a romping, blue-and-white pit bull rescue named Dolly. She brings me a couple toys to inspect, decides I’m not as interesting as I first seemed and returns to her bed.

I stand there, looking around the great room. It’s big, feeling even larger than the space I saw in the VR headset. If it weren’t furnished, you could drive a semi-truck and trailer inside and park. The concrete floor is polished. The windows are metal-framed. The house exterior is clad with white aluminum siding.

Turns out, Austin is the owner of Key Automotive Group in Stokesdale, so it makes sense.

“You see, I’m pretty industrial,” he says, smiling. “So we really had to find a designer who could think outside the box.”

“Marta was the only one who got it,” Austin adds. And got it, Marta’s team did. The house feels like a home.

Shelby emerges from her office at the back of the house. She’s a CPA with her own practice. Since it’s tax season during my visit, she’s in need of a well-deserved break and joins us.

The first room we step into is Braylen’s bedroom. She’s the Tews’ older daughter. The couple herd me through the bedroom quickly, since it looks just as you’d expect from a 10-year-old in a hurry to get to basketball practice on time.

We pass by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom to another bedroom.

“This is Cora’s room,” Austin says quietly.

Feeling awkward, I turn my eyes to a corner, where a rainbow is painted on the wall.

“Cora had picked out a rainbow and I promised her she would have one,” Shelby says.

“Marta found a pretty design online,” Shelby continues. “We got in touch with a mural artist named Lacey Crime, who painted this for us.” The artist also painted a lovely frame of flowers around the mirror in Cora’s end of the Jack-and-Jill.

“She never saw the rainbow or the flowers,” Shelby says quietly. She directs my attention to the ceiling of Cora’s bedroom. It’s covered in clouds.

“Marta picked out that wallpaper,” she says.

Austin clears his throat and we continue our tour.

As we walk, they tell me their story.

The Tews were living in Madison, just over the Virginia state line. They had gone out for dinner and Cora had fallen at the restaurant, hurting her leg. The Tews felt a small lump and thought it was from the fall, but the toddler cried through the night.

Shelby decided the next morning to take Cora to see her pediatrician. Later, she called Austin from Brenner’s Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem and said an oncologist was going to run some tests. The results showed Cora had cancer.

Wanting a second opinion, Shelby dove into research and found that one of the leading treatment facilities in the country specializing in pediatric cancer was the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

There, on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, 2019, Cora was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a highly aggressive form of pediatric cancer. She was 2 years old.

Between February and June, the Tews made frequent trips to Cincinnati. In mid-June, the doctors scheduled surgery for Cora.

“So we packed our stuff and hauled it up there,” Austin says. It would be an extended stay.

Surgery was followed by 23 days of radiation and chemotherapy.

Cora’s lab tests looked good. Doctors removed her intravenous port. She was clear of cancer.

The family returned to North Carolina and broke ground for construction of a new home on the Stokesdale land they had purchased before Cora’s diagnosis.

Then, on Cora’s second, 3-month checkup back in Cincinnati, scans revealed her cancer had returned.

“We couldn’t believe this was happening,” Austin says.

Shelby tells me that, during the grueling, 12-hour days of treatment at the hospital, she and Austin noticed how much Cora enjoyed coloring or drawing pictures to take her mind off the beeping machines and busy nurses — how working on the art seemed to give her strength. And they found that big sister Braylen — just two years older than Cora — would use painting to let her emotions out.

Despite their situation, the Tews understood they were among the fortunate, because they were self-employed.

“You’d see some kid all alone in the hospital during the day because their parents couldn’t be there,” Austin says. “They had to work to keep their jobs.”

And, as happened with the Tews, families would find insurance companies denying payment for life-saving treatments.

“You see these situations, and it’s devastating,” Austin says. “You want to find a way to help.”

They decided they would use their individual skills to create a business — Faith and Healing Arts — that helps other families struggling financially with childhood cancer.

Building on their love for their own children’s art, they’ve found suppliers who reproduce their own and other children’s art in large sizes on high-quality art paper or canvas. Austin builds the frames and mounts the art.

Already, Faith and Healing Arts has retailers selling the work of children from some 25 families. The art can also be purchased on the Faith and Healing Arts website. All proceeds from sales go to participating families.

For two years, Cora received chemotherapy at Brenner’s Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, with 3-month scans at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

All the while, she played with her sister as her father poured concrete and framed the walls of her new house.

“But it was like she knew she wasn’t going to be around,” Austin says. “She never really staked a claim.”

Cora passed away in 2021. She was 5 years old.

We pause by a group of photographs on a wall so I can have a look.

“There’s my little mini-me,” Shelby whispers. “My little Cora Grace.”

They take me to the back corner of the house and I have a peek at Shelby’s office looking out on the woods. When she sees the client messages queued up in her inbox, she realizes she’d better get back to work. I thank her for her time and we say goodbye.

In the great room, Austin shows me a grouping of Cora and Braylen’s art. Then we go through a door into the beautiful private suite they’ve built and furnished, where families going through cancer treatment can stay when needed.

Austin leads me back to the kitchen area, where along the wall there’s a commercial-sized refrigerator, lots of cabinets and a hidden, walk-in pantry. A stove and sink are located in the expansive, concrete-slab kitchen island.

He pats the slab.

“There’s a ton of concrete here,” Austin says. “And a steel bar to hold it up.”

He tells me about the concrete safe room in the house, built strong enough to withstand a tornado, where Braylen and Cora used to play just after the concrete had been poured and the framing was going up.

Austin tells me about the radiant heat system in the concrete floors, proudly showing me the utility room he designed and built — each duct, fan and pipe gleamingly clean, easily accessible for maintenance.

“All the fan motors are in here,” he says. “You turn on a bathroom fan when you’re in the guest suite, you don’t hear a thing.”

It’s a great house, a one-of-a-kind house. It’s a house blessed with peace and purpose.

Recently Austin celebrated his 40th birthday.

“We had our daughter’s basketball team’s kids and parents here, we threw corn hole in the living room, we did it all,” he says, reflecting for a moment.

“You know, an empty house sucks,” Austin says. “What matters now is to live life.”  OH

For more information on the Tews’ art program to help the families of children who have cancer, visit

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer.

Wild and Wonderful

Wild and Wonderful

Pinehurst No. 2 prepares to test the best

By Lee Pace

Feature Photo: 2014 U.S. Open Photograph by Joann Dost

A December day in 1935. A man approaches the house at 120 Midland Road in Pinehurst, notices the Scottish-style stonework and arches of Dornoch Cottage, and rings the bell.

Donald Ross opens the door and greets A.W. Tillinghast.

What a meeting of the minds of the early days of golf course architecture.

Ross, 63, the son of a Scottish stonemason, apprentice in his 20s to legendary pro Old Tom Morris at St Andrews, an immigrant to the United States who set up shop in Pinehurst in 1900 and designed notable courses across the eastern United States — from Seminole Golf Club in Florida to Inverness Club in Ohio to Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York. His tour de force, Pinehurst No. 2, sits just behind his house.

And Tillinghast, 59, the son of a wealthy rubber goods magnate in Philadelphia, who grew up playing cricket and fell under the spell of golf on a visit to St Andrews in 1896 where he established a mentor-mentee relationship with Morris. Tillinghast’s design acumen was on display across the land as well — from San Francisco Golf Club on the West Coast to Winged Foot Golf Club and Baltusrol Golf Club in the shadows of the New York City skyscrapers.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, to hear these friends and sometime competitors talk about their shared experiences — their formative years at St Andrews, their design philosophies, the challenges of maintaining businesses and servicing clients when travel was by train and communication by post.

Surely Tillinghast espoused, to some degree, his belief that “a round of golf should present eighteen inspirations, not necessarily eighteen thrills.”

And no doubt Ross would have looked at the 72-hole facility at Pinehurst Country Club and talked about how it had become the epicenter of golf in America. “I wholeheartedly believe in golf,” Ross once said. “A country which gets golf-minded need not worry about the honor, the integrity and the honesty of its people.”

Tillinghast’s visit came at the behest of the PGA of America and his role as a consultant with the organization which in 11 months would conduct its flagship competition, the 1936 PGA Championship, on Pinehurst No. 2. They carried their golf clubs past Ross’ masterful rose garden in the backyard, through the wrought-iron gates and onto the third green.

Ross showed his guest the green complexes that he had just converted, with the help of green superintendent Frank Maples, from their previous flattish sand/clay structure to undulating Bermuda grass, shaping the sandy soil around them into a cacophony of dips and swales. He noted the roll-offs around the greens, how they penalized shots even slightly mishit and propelled balls into the hollows nearby.

Ross led Tillinghast to the fourth tee and explained how he had just added that hole and the fifth to the routing, taking them from a previous employee-only nine holes, and had arrived at the final (and current) configuration after originally unveiling the course in 1907.

They felt the taut turf under their feet, reveling in how the drainage qualities of the sandy loam made for the ideal golf playing surface. As they went, Ross explained the choices golfers had off the tee — on the par-4 second, for example — showing his friend what a lovely view it was into the green from the left side of the fairway but pointed to the gnarly bunker complex a player had to flirt with to get there. Ross nodded to the native wiregrass that grew in profusion along the fairways and how it reminded him of the whins of his native Scotland.

Did the man known in the business as “Tilly” dip into his bag for a flask and a wee snort as he was wont to do? Did Ross grouse that this new and improved No. 2 was better than any new-fangled effort from Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie down in the red clay of north Georgia?

All of this, we’ll never know. What we do know is what Tillinghast said after his visit.

“Without any doubt Ross regards this as his greatest achievement, which is saying a great deal,” Tillinghast offered. “Every touch is Donald’s own, and I doubt if a single contour was fashioned unless he stood hard by with a critical eye. As we stood on hole after hole, the great architect proudly called my attention to each subtle feature, certain that my appreciation of his artistry must be greater than that taken in by a less practiced eye. Nothing was lost on me, and after our round together, I told him with all honesty that his course was magnificent, without a single weakness, and one which must rank with the truly great courses in the world today.”

And, 89 years later, the show goes on.

Pinehurst No. 2 would continue to be the site of the North & South Open on the PGA Tour through 1951, with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Ross himself among the winners. It would host the 1936 PGA (won by Denny Shute) and the 1951 Ryder Cup (won by the Americans, 9 1/2to 2 1/2, over the team from Great Britain and Ireland).

But it wasn’t in the mix to host a U.S. Open.

Left: Donald Ross (Courtesy Tufts Archives)

Middle: The Ninth hole of Pinehurst No. 2 (Copyright USGA//Fred Vuich_

Right: A.W. Tillinghast (Courtesy USGA Archives)


Through the 1970s that union was simply impossible because Pinehurst shut down for the summer (the founding Tufts family and the staff went to Linville or Roaring Gap in North Carolina or traveled north to Maine), and the American national championship was played always in June.

When the resort went to air-conditioning and a year-round operating calendar, the idea was still problematic because of the USGA’s preference for playing courses with firm and fast greens, a challenging task on Southern courses during hot weather months. The U.S. Open was not played in the muggy Southeast until venturing to Atlanta Athletic Club in 1975, though it had already visited hot spots in Houston, St. Louis, Dallas and Fort Worth.

About the time Jerry Pate was winning in Atlanta, officials at Pinehurst Country Club began floating the idea of an Open for No. 2. The Diamondhead Corporation was five years into its ownership of Pinehurst after purchasing it in 1970 from the Tufts family, whose patriarch, James W. Tufts, launched the town and resort in 1895 as a refuge from the cold winters of New England. The Diamondhead president, Bill Maurer, conceived the World Open on the PGA Tour and the World Golf Hall of Fame in the early 1970s and wanted all the traffic, attention and accolades he could muster for Pinehurst and its No. 2 course.

It took two more decades to figure out how to bring the National Open there.

First, there was the dodgy financial bona fides of the resort and club, which eventually went bankrupt and was taken over by eight banks for two years beginning in March 1982. Robert Dedman Sr. and his Club Corporation of America bought the facility in 1984 and provided what has turned into four decades of stability, innovation and financial security, with Robert Dedman Jr. taking the baton after his father died in 2002.

Second, there was the issue of the playing surfaces.

Pinehurst and other golf courses in the Mid-Atlantic, or so-called “transition zone,” have forever been vexed over the choice for their putting surfaces between Bermuda grass, the de facto choice for Florida and warm weather climes, and bent grass, which thrives in the North. Pinehurst officials experimented with new strains of both over the 1970s and ’80s, walking that tightrope between offering smooth and playable greens for members and resort guests for 12 months of the year, and yet having the ability to get them lightning-quick while not dying in the summer for an elite competition. Pinehurst old-timers still remembered Hale Irwin and Johnny Miller taking dead aim at flagsticks during PGA Tour competitions on No. 2 in the late summer and their approach shots going splat and stopping mere feet from the hole (Hale Irwin shot 62 and Johnny Miller 63 in mid-1970s birdie-fests).

Donald Ross must have raged in his grave.

By the early 1990s, the USGA and Pinehurst officials agreed that advances in grass technology and green foundation construction would allow them to rebuild the greens and have them stand up to the world’s best players on a 90-degree day in June. The USGA announced in June 1993 that it would conduct the 1999 Open at Pinehurst. The competition was a rousing success from the perspective of ticket sales, corporate support, traffic ebb and flow, housing and, certainly, the golf course itself.

“It’s the most draining course I’ve played in a long time,” said European Ryder Cup team member Lee Westwood.

“People sometimes ask what’s the hardest course I’ve ever played,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen. “Now I know.”

The Open has been contested on No. 2 twice more, and the course has played as a par-70 for each championship. The scores validate that what Ross completed in 1935 stands in fine fettle in the next century.

Payne Stewart was 1-under in winning the Open in 1999, Phil Mickelson was even-par, and Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods were 1-over. Michael Campbell won with an even-par total in 2005, with Woods at 2-over. Martin Kaymer has been low man in the three Opens, shooting 9-under in 2014, but his nearest competitors were a mile back, with Ricky Fowler and Eric Compton tied for second at 2-over.

The firm greens, the delicate chipping areas, the flow of the holes and the strategic nuances led Tom Weiskopf to venture in a 1995 conversation that Pinehurst No. 2 is a better year-round test than Augusta National Golf Club.

“Augusta National is good one week a year,” Weiskopf said. “I’ve played Augusta two or three weeks before (The Masters) and it’s a piece of cake — a piece of cake. Pinehurst No. 2 is never a piece of cake.”

The 2024 Open at Pinehurst will be the first played on the Champion Bermuda greens installed after the 2014 Open and the second of the Coore & Crenshaw restoration era. Bill Coore, a native of Davidson County who played No. 2 often during his boyhood summers, and Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion, coordinated an extensive makeover in 2010-11 that included stripping out hundreds of acres of Bermuda rough, recontouring fairways and bunkers to Ross’ design, and rebuilding the perimeters with firm hardpan sand dotted with wiregrass, pine needles and whatever natural vegetation and debris might accumulate.

“In the early days, this golf course was disheveled and brown, and the ball rolled and rolled and rolled,” Coore says. “That’s what gave it its character. There was width here, the ability to work your ball to get the best angles. Over time, that was lost. It was too green and too organized.”

“Bowling alley fairways,” Crenshaw adds. “Straight and narrow, just like a bowling alley.”

Don Padgett II was the Pinehurst president and chief operating officer from 2004-14 and the man who convinced Dedman that hiring Coore & Crenshaw and taking No. 2 back to its “golden age” from 1935 through the 1960s was the correct move. Padgett is a “golf guy,” in industry parlance, coming to the resort with a background as a PGA Tour player in the early 1970s and a longtime club professional. His father, Don Sr., was director of golf at Pinehurst from 1987-2002.

One March afternoon a decade into his retirement, Padgett is sitting in a rocking chair on the porch overlooking the 18th green of No. 2. It’s sunny and 55 degrees. The tee sheet on No. 2 is full.

“I think this is what the Tufts envisioned,” Padgett says. “If you’re from Boston, this is balmy. My dad used to say if you’re in the golf business, stand here because everyone will come to see you.”

The world of golf is coming to Pinehurst in June, and the game’s top players will find the 18 holes that so impressed A.W. Tillinghast in 1935 and will vex them in 2024.

“I think the golf course today probably presents itself as the best it ever has,” Padgett says. “It’s Ross’ concepts with modern maintenance behind it. I think he would look at this golf course and say, ‘Wow, I wish I’d had the ability to grow grass like this.’ These are his concepts with modern turf. It’s not distorted, it’s enhanced. I think he would bless it.”  OH

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace has authored four books about golf in Pinehurst, including The Golden Age of Pinehurst — The Rebirth of No. 2. Write him at and follow him @LeePaceTweet.

Thinking Outside the Jewelry Box

Thinking Outside the Jewelry Box

With his grandfather’s tools, Jake Wosinski makes his mark on McGee Street

By Cassie Bustamante  

Photographs by John Gessner

Behind the jewelry case at Jacob Raymond Jewelry on McGee Street sits the artisan and proprietor. His bald head is counterbalanced by a large, full gray beard and atop his long, narrow nose sits a pair of blue-framed glasses behind which dark brown eyes peer outward. The sleeves of his plaid shirt are rolled up to his elbows, revealing tattoos on both forearms. In short, Jake Wosinski, 52, is not someone you’d expect to be selling engagement rings.

And yes, you read that right: His last name isn’t Raymond. The Raymond in his shop’s name comes from his grandfather — his father’s father — who first sparked his interest in jewelry making. In fact, Wosinski still uses many of the tools he inherited from his grandfather. He holds out a pair of dividers engraved with a patent date of June 2, 1885, by Starrett, a company that Wosinski notes is “still in business in Boston, still making these.” The dividers also feature the engraved initials of those who have used them before. Pointing to a tiny set of curlicue letters, Wosinski says, “And so I scribed my initials on there.”

Among the tools he inherited and uses on a daily basis are these nearly 140-year-old dividers, a large polisher and a steel ring mandrel, which aids in shaping and sizing. While he isn’t sure how far back the mandrel goes, it dates at least to the ’50s because it bears the inscription of a name familiar to Wosinski: George Beaudet.

Beaudet was the jeweler who originally taught Wosinski’s grandfather, Raymond, the craft in Milwaukee, where Wosinski originally hails from. When Raymond moved to California — where Wosinski’s own family headed soon after — he took his skills and tools with him and continued the trade. “I kinda grew up around it,” says Wosinski.

While the first jeweler in the family that Wosinski can recall is his grandfather, he comes from a long line of men who’ve worked with their hands. “Most of my family on my dad’s side were tool and dye makers, or mold makers,” he says.

He thought he’d follow suit, but decided to attend the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, where his family had relocated when he was 16. He began working toward earning a degree in English, but the family once again moved, this time to Greensboro. After working for a year, he planned to switch gears and study structural engineering at N.C. State as soon as he qualified for in-state tuition. “But I never made it back [to college].”

Wosinski’s brother, Brad, worked with a bartender who also happened to be a gemologist. Through him, Wosinski discovered the Gemological Institute of America and, at the age of 20, began a correspondence course. The institute would send him gems to identify with equipment he’d purchased — a microscope, a polariscope and a refractometer. From there, he ventured into a gem-cutting class at Randolph Community College.

The class itself bored him, but in it he first learned about the Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem. He enrolled in a jewelry making course that would change his life. “As soon as I took that class, I was like, yeah, this is what I am doing.” At that moment, the dream of having his own jewelry business one day was born.

Had he always been an artist? In training, no. “Maybe I could have done better if I had taken an art class,” he says, “but at the same time, since I don’t have rules of art or whatever, I am just doing whatever I want, thinking more outside of the box.”

A man on a mission, he sold his motorcycle to buy the tools he needed, set up shop in his parents’ garage and tried to get a job working for a jeweler. Lacking experience, “No one would hire me,” he says. “Finally, I went into a jewelry store and said, ‘I will work for you for free. Just let me learn.’” A shop in Winston-Salem took him up on the offer. After two years, he left in search of a paying job. Despite his experience, he still came up empty.

Not willing to give up, Wosinski decided it was time to attend an actual jeweler’s school and left for the now defunct Atlanta Jewelry Institute. Lo and behold, right after graduating, he landed his first paying jewelry job at a Greensboro store where he did repairs.

“But I wanted to make jewelry,” adds Wosinski.

Next stop? A shop in Winston-Salem, where he worked for six-and-a-half years.

“I made lots of awesome jewelry,” he says, “but it wasn’t my design.” At the same time, Wosinski worked on designing and creating jewelry at home, with plans to create wholesale pieces to sell to stores — both one-of-a-kind pieces as well as manufactured pieces that he could reproduce in mass. When he wasn’t at work, he was building his inventory in preparation of launching that business. In the meantime, he’d also gotten married to his wife, Liz, and had three young kids at home to consider.

“It was just too much,” he says. “I thought, ‘I will never see my family.’” Being the sole provider, he opted instead to look for a job where he could continue to hone his skills and offer design services while waiting for “a later date” to pursue a business of his own.

Armed with a collection of his designs, Wosinski went to an interview at a Chapel Hill jewelry store. “[The owner] actually bought $3,500 worth of jewelry at the interview!” Naturally, he was hired and the family relocated to Mebane to be closer to his job. While there, rings he designed won 10 American Gem Trade Association Spectrum Awards. But because it wasn’t his shop, his name was not on the awards.

After 10 years there, “a later date” had arrived. It was finally time to take a chance on his dream. He’d mentioned to his friend, Nate Hall, owner of Legacy Irons Tattoo Co. on McGee Street, that he was contemplating a move back to Greensboro and wrestling with the idea of finally opening his own place.

“He basically said, ‘Well, the jewelry store two doors down? I think they want out of their lease.’”

The landlord, Jeff Yetter, confirmed and put Wosinski in touch with the shop owners.

“We were at the grocery store on a Saturday night and I get a call,” he says. The jewelry store owners were heading out of town for six weeks and told him that if he wanted to come take a look, he could come now. Or he’d have to wait.

“We bought our groceries, went home, hopped in the car and drove to Greensboro.”

As luck would have it, the owners wanted to sell their jewelry cases and safe, items that would have been costly at startup. Everything was outfitted exactly as he’d need it.

He recruited his former Winston-Salem employer to come take a look at the shop and share her thoughts. Her response? “You need to do this.”

It felt as though it was meant to be, Wosinski muses. After working his last Friday in Chapel Hill, he opened the doors to Jacob Raymond Jewelry for the first time the following day and assumed his business, like that of his previous employers, would go “gangbusters from the beginning.”

And? “It didn’t go as planned,” he admits. “I don’t know anything about running a business.”

After a year of commuting from Mebane, the family moved to Greensboro, renting a home and using the equity from the sale of the previous house to survive. Bank accounts dwindling, Wosinski feared that his dream was over, that he was doomed to failure. What are we going to do echoed in his mind.

Liz had left behind her own job with the move and struggled to find employment in Greensboro, but still, she remained supportive.

“That kind of financial difficulty and hardship can make a couple draw apart or fight,” he says. “We just leaned into each other more. And we did a lot of praying.”

Wosinski admits that he holds a certain amount of pride in his natural talent and capabilities. And God was just taking him down a notch, saying to him, “You’re taking credit for things I have done.”

So that financial struggle? “God was just showing me, you may be great at this, but unless somebody comes in the door and buys it, you’re done.” It was, for Wosinski, a lesson in humility.

Slowly, organically, the business picked up steam. Liz now handles the company’s managerial tasks, such as shipping, accounting and banking. “Every year we’ve been here, we’ve grown.” While it’s not the growth he’d envisioned, his circle has widened and he enjoys the sense of community cultivated by downtown Greensboro business owners and regulars. And he’s able to do what he loves— create one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces. Award-winning one-of-a-kind pieces. Since opening his doors, he’s won two awards under his own name: the 2018 Platinum Innovation Award in the evening wear category and the 2020 Platinum Innovation Award in the bridal wear category.

No surprise there. His favorite pieces to create? Engagement rings. “That’s always like, this is for life,” he muses.

His designs begin, he says, in his design sketchbooks. He’s currently on his fourth. Inside, he loosely draws a plan just to get an idea out of his head and onto paper before it’s forgotten. “But then, every time I go to start making a ring,” he says, “other ideas pop into my head.” It’s very rare that a final product matches its original design. And most often, he notes, his pieces are “one and done” — no other in the world exists.

“As you can see, I’m all over the board,” he says, peering over his glass case filled with all sorts of bejeweled oddities. The artist in him appreciates — and designs — in a variety of aesthetics, from Art Deco to his “contemporary estate style. I love doing what I call my ancient style, which looks like something from the Middle Ages or Roman times.” A cuff bracelet looks like something that would have graced Cleopatra’s arm.

Wosinski loves working with sapphires because of their durability and the rainbow of colors they’re available in, but what really sparks him is fire agate. This rare opalescent stone shines in oranges, greens and purples, and is found in the American Southwest as well as northern Mexico. What appeals to him about this stone is exactly what appeals to customers about his jewelry: “Every one is different.”

Sparked by fire agate’s kaleidoscopic luster, Wosinski is determined to create a market for it. According to, fire agate is associated with passion and creativity and “is said to help one actualize their highest potential.”

These days, though most clients come to him locally, he serves several customers across the states — even across the globe. He recently completed two custom pieces for a doctor from the U.K. “He’s been following me on Instagram for years, threatening to have me do something for him,” Wosinski quips. Finally, the doctor made good on his promise and visited the United States, bringing with him a 44-carat lab-grown sapphire and a 22-carat lab-grown ruby. He dropped his gems off in November with plans for a March return and pickup.

With those gems, Wosinski crafted a pendant that resembles an amulet and a ring. The doctor’s reaction? “He was like ‘aaaah’ and I was like, ‘Is that a good aaaah or a bad aaaah?’” Palms sweating, Wosinski stood by with bated breath. “It was a good 30 seconds before I knew that he liked it!” After all these years, Wosinski admits that nerves strike when presenting custom orders.

Back on U.K. soil, the doctor sent Wosinski a message: “Thank you for making my dreams come true in jewelry form.”

As for his own dreams? He’s still taking it day-by-day. Since 2017, he’s had only one employee other than himself, and that’s his dad, who — much like he once did — works for free. “I pay him with pretzels and peanuts,” he says with a laugh.

He hopes that perhaps his own 23-year-old son will take an interest and join him down the road. No pressure, though: “We all have our path that we need to go,” he notes.

The ultimate goal is to have a team of employees who can work with clients on custom orders but also create pieces of their own design. He dreams of one day employing jewelers he can mentor, and yes, they’ll be allowed to label it with their own names.

But he’s not there yet. “I can still go two days and not have anybody walk in.”

Just then, the shop door chimes, announcing a customer.

“Hi there!” Wosinksi greets her. “What can I help you with?”

“I want you to make me a ring,” she answers. She tells him that her daughter, a client, says he’s the go-to guy to for custom work.

Woskinski’s face lights up at the opportunity to make her something, something beyond anything she could ever imagine.  OH



One and Done

In 2003, just before our wedding, my soon-to-be-husband, Chris, and I stepped into a tiny jewelry shop in New Orleans. Our mission? The rings, with which we’d wed.

As we perused the glass cases, Chris selected a simple, wide, gold band for him. And for me? I looked up and down that store, waiting for something to speak — no, sing — to me. After all, this was eternity we were talking about here!

In the end, under the pressure of time, I chose a $40 plain, gold band “for now” that was similar in width to the diamond ring that had been handed down from his grandmother and which I happily wore for years. It was made from simple, yellow gold, with a solitaire diamond. (I’m told her first ring was prettier, but she lost it in the ocean.)

For years, I was too busy raising kids to think about replacing my “for now” ring with my “forever” ring. Though I loved honoring tradition, truth be told, the diamond was constantly snagging on things and I was afraid I’d be responsible for losing Chris’ grandmother’s second diamond. Buying a third was not an option at the time, so I took it off.

When we moved to Greensboro in 2019, Liz Wosinski reached out to me via Instagram messenger to introduce herself. She’d been following me there and, as it turned out, lived in my neighborhood. She told me about her jeweler husband, Jake, whom she was very proud of, and I immediately followed him on Instagram, showing Chris his art.

Of course, shortly after that, the pandemic hit. Finally, in February 2022, 19 years after shopping in New Orleans, Chris and I walked into Jake’s McGee Street establishment. My wish? Something unique — anyone else an Enneagram 4 out there? — that would use the gold and diamond from my existing bands to create one wider ring. And this time, an organic style with mixed metals, because sometimes ya feel like silver and sometimes ya feel like gold. Plus, the diamond needed to be inset and snag-free.

Just eight weeks later inside the walls of Jacob Raymond Jewelry, Chris slipped a work of art onto my finger. The diamond, encircled in gold, sparkled along with the silver of the band. It hasn’t once gotten snagged on anything. But the best part? Knowing that my ring, as well as my marriage, is “one and done,” as Jake says.
— Cassie Bustamante

Poem June 2024

Poem June 2024


This came before Hip Hop

This plants street crops

Won’t stop for red octagons

This thing sings songs

Prolongs life after death

Moves in stealth

Improves the quality of your life

Flows through pipes to irrigate land and turn grass green

This thing steams the wrinkles out of my daily

Therefore you’ve got to pay me

For this is Poetry

And. I never realized the power of my voice in this world

The power of this ink merged with this paper

And each day I laugh at my countless attempts to make sense of this gift

And each day it lifts me higher

Lights my soul on fire

And I wire these words like a telegraph to anyone that will listen

And some that won’t, so please don’t test me

Because this is dangerous

It’s like skin to me, it’s like kin to me

This thing befriends me when all else seems lost

I’ve paid my way by showing a way to the lost

And it came before Hip Hop

This plants street crops

Won’t stop for red octagons

This thing sings songs

Prolongs life after death

Moves in stealth

Improves the quality of your life

Flows through pipes to irrigate land and turn grass green

This thing steams the wrinkles out of my daily

Therefore you’ve got to pay me

For this is Poetry

                  — Josephus Thompson III

Greensboro’s first poet laureate, Josephus Thompson III, has created both a
song and a book out of this poem. The book,
Poetry Is Life, can be found here:; the song can be found here: youtube/91K-WmDcMpQ.

Wooden It Be Nice?

Wooden It Be Nice?

With Gary Lowell at the helm, weathered vessels take on the waters again

By Billy Ingram  

Photographs by Mark Wagoner

There’s a cautionary, oft-shared adage among well-healed seafarers that I’ve heard more than once: “You don’t own a boat; the boat owns you.” That commonly refers to those unwieldy, 130-foot floating hotels with which few of us will ever be financially burdened. But it may also be true, albeit in a much different sense, when it comes to smaller, vintage, wooden watercrafts, where ownership manifests itself as more of an emotional, familial connection.

There’s an unmistakable allure to those magnificent American-made maritime machines of the 20th century — the bold contours and fanciful interior chrome accents of a 1958 Century Arabian; the elegant simplicity associated with a 1949 Chris-Craft Racing Runabout; the playful luxury that defines a 1941 Gar Wood Flagship Streamliner; the distinctive shark-like fin of the 1955 Chris-Craft Cobra, a genuine aquatic hot rod, powered by a 331 Hemi Chrysler Marine Engine; or consider the aerodynamic sleekness of a Glastron GT-150, which James Bond piloted (on land, sea and air!) across the Louisiana bayou in Live and Let Die.

It’s been 30 years since Gary Lowell dropped anchor on a career restoring — in many cases, resuscitating — these highly sought after collectors items, having discovered his love of vintage boats at an early age. “When I was about 10 years old, my dad bought his first wooden boat and I just got into them then,” Lowell says of that initial spark. “My first job right out of high school was in television. I was the director of The Good Morning Show at WFMY and a puppeteer for The Old Rebel Show.” On weekends, Lowell would make a run for the coast to haul back some old wrecked vessel in an effort to make it seaworthy once again.

Emblematic of one’s personal style and appreciation for the finer things in life, any boat from a bygone era is sure to attract attention and spark lively conversations. And ones crafted from wood almost universally are regarded as the most impressive in any harbor, partly because each plank is meticulously handcrafted and laid. These veritable works of art are imbued with a singular personality not merely reflected in their appearance but also in the idiomatic sensations its skipper feels when breaking through choppy waters, rocking to rest in a slip or quietly cruising placid waterways.

Those salvaged boats he dragged home to restore? Inevitably, “Somebody would say to me, ‘That’s nice. Let me buy it from you.’” That pattern continued until Lowell realized he’d unknowingly stumbled upon his true calling. “I started working in my backyard and then I got a little shop — and then a bigger one.”

Lowell expanded his operation from 1,800 square feet to his present day cavernous 18,000-square-foot studio on Blue Bell Road, where dozens of boats are dry docked or hanging from the rafters in various stages of completion. While he has clients here in the Gate City, “the regional lakes like Lake Norman, Lake Gaston, Kerr Lake and Smith Mountain are where a lot of my customers come from.”

The golden age of compact wooden boats is considered to be 1948 through about 1959, which tracks with the rise of automobile ownership in America. “Some of those boats actually took on the look of cars,” Lowell notes of the time when molded fiberglass chassis offered a viable alternative to wood, allowing for more extravagant body types. “Especially in the ʼ50s with the tail fins, cars loaded with chrome and big ornate steering wheels.” Indeed, from 1956 into the early-1960s, independent manufacturers began using more sculptural fiberglass to create outboard motorboats that mimicked the streamlined modernity of automobiles.

For vacationers seeking motorized symmetry, a tail-finned 1959 Chevrolet Impala land yacht could be paired with a virtually indistinguishable (from the rear) Reinell Jet Flight runabout. A ’57 DeSoto (“Tell ‘em Groucho sent you!”) might have been cruising that year over one of the nation’s brand new interstate highways in tandem with its Hurters Flying Fish doppelgänger. The iconic red-and-white 1957 Corvette convertible sporting a powerful, 265 cubic-inch V8 under the hood could easily tow behind it a matching two-toned, Fiber-Glassic Lone Star Meteor speedboat — the ultimate in after-market automotive accessories. But those once-fashionable hybrids are of little interest to Lowell, who focuses his efforts exclusively on refurbishing mahogany- and oak-framed watercraft.

Every classic boat comes with a backstory, having weathered the elements for a half-century or more. Gesturing to a gas-powered Sea Skiff designed to ferry a dozen or so revelers, Lowell explains, “A teacher over in Wake County bought this because he used to spend a lot of time on the lakes up in upstate New York.” After stripping away the paint on both sides, “We found carved into it the name ‘Canoe Island Lodge.’ We looked it up and [that resort] is still in operation. So I contacted them and sent them a picture of it, and they sent me a photo from a 1958 brochure that showed people on their lake in this very boat.” The boat’s owner told Lowell his grandfather used to vacation at Canoe Island Lodge. “By coincidence, he’d bought a boat that his grandfather had actually ridden in.”

Naturally, what every client wants to know up front is: how much is it going to cost and how long is it going to take? It’s a great deal more complicated estimating how much time and effort will go into reconstructing a craft that spends most of its life in the water, which lends itself to harboring unseen damage that doesn’t come to light until peeling back the lower layers. That’s why, as an investment, the return is not going to be a financial one. “It will cost more to restore a boat than the resale value,” Lowell says. “You have a boat that you might be able to sell for $25,000 but we’re going to have to put $75,000 into it. But if it’s your grandfather’s boat and you want to fix it up for your grandkids, which some of these projects are, then it’s worth it.” Sentimental value? Priceless.

While an automotive “barn find” is unusual, it does occasionally still happen; the maritime equivalent might more likely be uncovering a watercraft that’s been sleeping with the fishes. “I had one project we called the ‘Fish Boat,’” Lowell recalls. “It belonged to an older couple, one of whom had a grandfather who kept a boat on Lake Norman.” To their dismay, the couple discovered the boathouse had structurally collapsed, causing the boat inside to become fully submerged for an extended period. “When we hauled it up, it was full of fish, hundreds of them. It stunk for months so we kept it outside here, ripped it apart, hosed it down and restored it. It’s just a gorgeous boat that’s now on the show circuit going around the country.”

While he’s taken in fixer-uppers from as far away as the West Coast and New England, most of Lowell’s clientele reside in the mid-Atlantic area. “This is the typical boat that we do today. This one is in for a touchup,” he says, pointing to a compact Chris-Craft runabout. In the past, he’d already worked maritime magic on this very boat. “We ripped everything off, flipped the boat over, replaced the broken framing, then installed an all new bottom on it.”

Utilizing tools and techniques boatbuilders have employed for hundreds of years, there’s very little that can’t be accomplished under this studio’s towering roof. “The engines, if it’s minor, like the external workings and regular tuning up and all of that, we do in-house,” Lowell says. Many of those old boat motors were originally installed in tractors, tanks, and landing craft during World War II. “So there’s a lot of that left over, but the actual mechanical parts are sometimes hard to find.” As for the seat coverings, some higher-end boats are appointed in marine leather, others covered in a marine vinyl with a faux leather texture. These can be repaired using remnants on site. “In a lot of older boats, you’ll find the upholstery is in good shape. If it needs all new foam and cushions we have vendors that specialize in that.” Lowell turns to a local artist for the calligraphic flourishes that spell out the often clever nicknames inscribed across these crafts. “There’s a guy in town I use, Mike Gregson, who does all the gold leaf on the county’s fire trucks.” Lowell insists one of his hardest tasks was coming up with names for his personal vessels. “Most powerboat names are tacky or even crude,” he says referring to double entendres often based on the term “wood.” “The best are ones that are named after someone’s grandmother, such as Lena, Maren, Mozel or Amelia Jean.”

Mahogany and oak are the main boat-building materials so, with Greensboro’s proximity to the furniture capital of the world, there are ample avenues for acquiring hardwoods. Currently, Lowell is restoring several mid- to late-1950s, 18-foot and 23-foot Chris-Craft Continentals, an almost iconic mid-sized model adorned in dark mahogany siding with white pin striping up top. “Just a fluke that we’ve got all of these Continentals in at the same time,” he quips. He’s also putting the finishing touches on a 1954, 18-foot Riviera, which connoisseurs regard as the “quintessential 1950s Chris-Craft runabout.”

Some of the more unusual water crafts Lowell and his crew have on deck are a fleet of small electric models from 1934 and 1935. “They reside at a lake up in the North Carolina mountains,” Lowell says. “Most people don’t realize there are electric boats that old.”

While it wasn’t uncommon for manufacturers to install easily attainable automobile steering wheels in their boats, customized chrome ornaments, frames, and dial casings can be difficult to come by at times. “Even with a rare car, they still made thousands of them. Some of these boats, they maybe only made two of some models.” Making such a limited number wouldn’t have been the plan but, “if they made a 16-footer in 1953, but everybody bought the 18- or 20-foot versions, the next model year they’re not going to make the 16 anymore. You end up with a rare 16-footer you can’t find parts for, so you have to recreate them yourself.”

When it comes to bending those long mahogany planks to conform with a boat’s outline, Lowell explains, “They go into a big box that we hook up to a beer keg with a burner under it to boil water and we steam the wood for about an hour or so. When it’s ready, we pull it out and fold it around a mold or sometimes directly on the boat so it takes in not only the curve but the twists as well. That’s kind of a fun process.”

While he and his precision-oriented crew will take on any type of boat as long as it’s wooden, sailboats are Gary Lowell’s true passion. What’s their “it” factor? “Something about the mast and the rigging that I like better than the mechanical power.” Not to go all Christopher Cross here, but there is a majestic quality to the art of sailing where sun, wind, canvas, punctuated by the ocean’s salty spray, induces an unparalleled level of serenity that, for thousands of years, sailors and adventurers have continued to chase.

“It wasn’t until years later that I came to find out that I’m part of a famous Lowell boat-building tradition that dates back to 1793.” Distant relative Simeon Lowell is credited for producing the earliest shallow-draft American Dory fishing vessels, for which his shop became famous. Positioned alongside the lower Merrimack River shore in Massachusetts, Lowell’s Boat Shop, the nation’s oldest, still operating, remains dedicated to the art of “preserving and perpetuating the art and craft of wooden boat building.” Lowells are still building watercraft in Maine and throughout the rest of New England.

Born in Greensboro but raised in Maine, Lowell returns to The Pine Tree State every summer to visit family and to teach restoration, marine painting and varnishing techniques at the prestigious Wooden Boat School in Brookline, which he’s done for 25 years. Closer to home, he’s conducted seminars at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Plus, one of his crew is a graduate of Cape Fear Community College, where a degree in traditional woodworking skills and precise joinery techniques required for assembling wooden boats is offered, as well as a diploma in composite boat manufacturing and service.

Lowell also invites interns and school groups to drop by the shop. “With one intern, we’re making several oars to be donated to Greensboro Parks and Recreation to use on row boats they rent.” He’s also a part of TWSBA, Teaching with Small Boats Alliance, an international organization of boat builders educating young people on subjects related to boating, such as geometry.

Wooden boat shows, like their classic car counterparts, are always a big draw, where 40 or 50 antique crafts will be gawked over by thousands of boating enthusiasts converging from around the country. In September, Smith Mountain Lake will host one of these festivals, where you’re bound to encounter an array of Lowell’s cultured pearls-of-the-sea. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the water, so to speak, the 34th annual Georgetown Wooden Boat Show in South Carolina will be held in October, an event that kicks off with the Goat Island Regatta Auction. Bring your checkbook, but leave room for plenty of zeros.

Perhaps one of these gatherings will ignite your own infatuation for navigating cool waters in a vintage custom-crafted wooden boat, unleashing your inner James (or Jane) Bond.  OH