For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings, and we are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.
“Based on an old R.E.M. poster, I once endeavored to sum up my entire college experience in four words: Laughed. Cried. Learned. Loved.”
April 8, 2021
I have been fortunate enough to come to Carolina three different times in my life, once as an undergrad, again as a law student and finally in an alumni capacity with this esteemed GAA Board. Each time has been filled with unique experiences, opportunities to learn, meet wonderful people and grow as a person.
My love for UNC started back in the fifth grade when a guy from my hometown of Gastonia visited my elementary school. He was the tallest human I had ever seen and looked like a giant standing in our swarm of well-wishers. My biggest memory of his visit was when our teachers got him to sign three or four of those mimeograph carbon papers so that they could “replicate” his autograph for the entire school.
That giant was James Worthy [’85], and he was a Tar Heel.
The following year, he and Sleepy Floyd put Gastonia on the sporting world map, as the Tar Heels brought home Dean Smith’s first national championship. Later that spring when the junior high band director visited our school to recruit sixth graders for band, he demonstrated the saxophone by playing the Carolina fight song. I considered that an omen, and I signed up on the spot.
From then on, I knew I wanted to be a Tar Heel and come to Chapel Hill. There was never really much consideration for any other school. I took one other campus visit to Wake Forest for a Reynolds Scholarship orientation during Brian Piccolo Weekend, and I thought it was pleasant. But not for me.
I remember C-TOPS confirming every dream I had about Carolina being the place for me and even made a couple of forever friends who are in my corner to this day. Even my 1988 orientation leader stopped by my home in Atlanta two years ago and spent an afternoon reminiscing — especially since she was the one who commanded me to the stage to dance in front of everyone to the song Da Butt. The memory made us smile 30 years later.
My freshman year was as amazing as you could expect. I loved dorm life and the idea of having so many diverse people gathered in one spot. I may not have been the most studious of students in Winston Dorm, but I was definitely the most interested in meeting and knowing everyone. I think my EQ out paces my IQ by a country mile, so it was nirvana to make new poker friends and sing along with the guitar players across the hall in our fourth-floor bathrooms because of the superior acoustics. My favorite activity was late-night talks and soaking up knowledge and varied points of view like a sponge.
Carolina — and Winston Dorm, specifically — introduced me to so many of the names in my iPhone and the souls in my heart. I met my first best friend at Carolina by doing one of those things that I always do — going with my gut and taking off without a fully formed plan.
“Melissa’s in there crying because she’s homesick. I don’t think you should go in there and bother her right now,” her roommate said. I knew what that felt like, having suffered a mini crisis of homesickness my first week. And I figured I could help. So I deftly slid by her roommate and sat beside a distraught homesick classmate and offered a compassionate ear and broad shoulders with an understanding hug that spoke volumes in the silence when my words failed me.
And from that day forward, she became my nightly Lenoir Dining Hall companion. And when we weren’t staying up watching Thirtysomething, we were making strawberry daiquiris and educating each other on life and music — listening to everything from Bob Seger to Modern English. She is someone who still is my person with whom I can mark life’s progress since she knew me best when I was still just unformed potential, full of wild dreams and crazy ideas. And she delights in reminding me that she isn’t surprised by any of the things I have accomplished in life.
On the last day of my freshman year, I said goodbye to my best friend after meeting her family and eating lunch at Swensen’s. I had probably never hugged anyone as tightly as I did wishing her well and saying goodbye. I recall sprinting up to my fourth-floor room, collapsing on my bed and just started ugly crying. That night, my roommate and I split a six-pack of Budweiser sitting in the cemetery next to Winston Dorm recalling the highlights of the year. For more than 20 years, I saved one of the cans from that evening.
The following day, I left campus. I was mentally and physically exhausted and ready to go home. And I couldn’t have gotten out of town faster. That was also the last time I was ever ready to leave Chapel Hill in a hurry. And that year cemented Carolina as my home.
My sophomore year was where I started to discover things about myself and establish what I called “new minimums.” New minimums, I reasoned, were a baseline once I reached a goal I had set for myself. And an internal challenge to prove to myself that I was capable of doing better and doing more.
As a volunteer with the Department of Student Affairs under the guidance of Dean [Rosalind] Fuse-Hall [’80], I took on the task of being a minority adviser to some freshmen on North Campus. The one mentee who stands out most was a shy, quiet guy named George who lived in Granville. We would meet on occasions and I thought he was nice. A couple of months after that initial meeting, my shy friend George revealed himself to the world when he took off outside of the lane and threw down a thundering dunk against Marathon Oil in a preseason Carolina basketball game.
My mentee was George Lynch [’93].
I cannot claim even one iota of responsibility for any of his success, but our friendship continued throughout my college career, his professional playing career, and most recently when he was living in Atlanta as the head coach at Clark Atlanta. I recall one time bringing my younger sister with me to a Carolina football game. Ever the looker, she caught George’s eye and when he saw me, I was all too eager to introduce him to my sister. I envisioned getting to be the cool brother-in-law at NBA games while my sister was married to a superstar. I had it all planned out in my head in the mere minutes before my sister put a kibosh on my plans by totally ignoring George.
For years thereafter at every holiday or family gathering, I used to tease her by saying, “I could be sitting beside Jack Nicholson right now!”
A few times when George came to Charlotte to play the Hornets, I would make my way down to the lower level and camp out at the tunnel to say hello, earning a smile and a “What’s up, G?” In 2005, after I returned home from Chapel Hill on the Tuesday following our national championship win over Illinois, a friend took me as a guest to see George, who was in town to play the Hawks. I still smile at that pic of two old friends and me still wearing a Sean May [’09] jersey, my good luck charm from the Final Four.
A couple of years ago, I was able to invite George to sit in my seats at a Hawks game. While standing courtside before during warmups, Wayne Ellington [’10] darted out of his team’s tunnel and made a bee line to talk to George. Two standout national champions from different eras but the same family. And me, the biggest Tar Heel homer of them all.
Carolina was not always simply about meeting people and having brushes with greatness. It was a constant challenge that often kicked my ass and forced me to dig deep within to tap my potential. I was often intimidated and wracked with self-doubt — not paralyzing self-doubt — but concern that I was in over my head. Never was that more pronounced than in my favorite class in college, Honors 32.
I was literally NOT qualified to be in that Dr. Paul Brandes [’83 JD] class, because I ignored one detail during drop-add. In my defense, this was back in the old analog days, where getting your schedule more closely resembled Wall Street stock brokers on the trading floor. Thankfully, my room faced Woollen Gym, so I could gauge when to camp out looking to see when the queue started winding its way up Stadium Drive before I had to leave the warm confines of my room.
The thing I overlooked about the class was the prerequisite: must be pre-med or pre-law. At the time, as a second-semester sophomore, I was neither. My class had Morehead Scholars, brilliant students from Canada, folks who were actively involved in campus life and a lot of future doctors and lawyers. And me. Kind of like being on this board of GAA bad asses. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement.
After one of my speeches, however, Dr. Brandes asked me to walk back to campus with him from our meeting space in the Campus Y. He told me that he admired my speech and agreed with some of my points. His compassion and positive reinforcement was the perfect “atta boy” I needed in that moment. I stood a little taller that day and realized that mine was a valued voice.
And I never forgot it.
About halfway through the semester, Dr. Brandes passed away. I was crushed and felt that no one could replace him. Yet, one of his former students, a local attorney, stepped up to be our adjunct professor and the class pushed forward.
Later that summer when I was taking summer school classes, I contracted a bad case of sinusitis that required surgery and forced me to withdraw from summer school. Yet my replacement professor, Lee Lambert [’84 JD], showed up to the hospital with his personal VCR, some movies and snacks to help me pass the time. Five years later, Professor Lambert authored one of my two law school letters of recommendation.
As I matured at Carolina, I did like many of you and availed myself of all the activities on campus. I volunteered on committees that held my interest, I campaigned for floor president, wrote letters to the editor, fell in love, worked at the Student Union, got my heart broken, camped out for tickets, pulled all-nighters, snuck airplane bottles into Kenan, fell in love again, helped my roommate run for student body president. I had heroic feats on the intramural fields and formed friendships that still actively permeate my everyday life even now.
Based on an old R.E.M. poster, I once endeavored to sum up my entire college experience in four words:
Laughed. Cried. Learned. Loved.
When I thought about attending law school, I reached out to my former journalism professor. Dr. Tom Bowers. At that time, I was working as a claims adjuster back in Gastonia wearing braces, suspenders, like he did in class. So I sent him a Polaroid with me sporting his signature look, coupled with a photo of us from graduation three years earlier. I asked in my letter whether I could list him as a reference. Not only did he respond, but he said he remembered me and recalled meeting my folks at graduation. Our Carolina connection rekindled, Tom and I became fast friends and went to “Dook” games and ACC tournament games together. He even reached out and asked me to help acclimate his daughter’s best friend when she moved to Atlanta.
My infant son, Jacob, was the only kid, aside from his own grandson, allowed to attend his retirement celebration when he stepped down as dean of the journalism school in 2006. To this day, we keep in regular contact, especially after big news comes out of Chapel Hill.
Law school nearly broke me. I was overmatched. On one hand, I was class president, the student body vice president, the unofficial mayor and a member of the Honor Court. On the other, I didn’t love the combative nature of some of my classmates, and I did not come equipped with the kind of brain that was needed to master the study of archaic case law. I struggled to rise to the challenge that first year. During that difficult time, another professor helped me get by with a reassuring conversation full of compassion that spoke to me as a person, not some faceless One-L in the crowd.
That professor, Lou Bilionis [’79], and his wife, Ann Hubbard, were two of my favorite professors from law school. When they hosted the annual Public Interest In Law dinner for charity, I was part of an ever-changing rotation of people all three years who bid on and won the dinner. In 1995, bidding $410 for a dinner was big money and a record for the time. My second and third year I never had to bid that much again because people learned I was loyal to the married professors and just crazy enough to go to the mattresses if they ever tried to get into a bidding war.
UNC provided the connections that brought me to Atlanta, as the hiring partner at my first firm was a Tar Heel and the firm had five other partners and associates who were alums with strong ties to Chapel Hill. In fact, the reason I got the nod for a summer internship at the firm I ultimately began my career with was because another former freshman from when I was an orientation leader put in a good word for me.
I moved to Atlanta after finishing up at UNC Law in 1998. Less than a year later, I was one of three co-leaders of the Atlanta Carolina Club. And from 1999 to 2007, my involvement with the group provided me with amazing opportunities to meet Tar Heel legends like Phil Ford [’78] and Woody Durham [’63].
My favorite event that club leadership got to help with was the annual Admitted Students Reception each spring, where local alums got to meet the kids from our greater Atlanta area who were accepted at UNC but contemplating other top-tier universities. My best recruit ever was a cellist named Laura who was considering Notre Dame. After I spent time with her and her folks, she was sold on Carolina.
That fall, her mom called me out of the blue to say that her daughter was a little homesick and having a rough time acclimating to life in Chapel Hill. I never called her daughter by her name, choosing instead to honor her with the cello-appropriate nickname of “Yo-Yo Ma.” I called her up while she was walking across campus and I advised her to go to the steps of South Building. When she got there, I told her to look at Wilson Library and to orient herself so that the Bell Tower looked like a dunce cap on the Wilson dome. Apparently, I shared with her, the guy who commissioned the tower didn’t like the guy who built the library. She giggled. We kept talking that day and, thereafter, I checked in on her from time to time. We got through that rough patch together and she’s as proud a Tar Heel as you’ll ever meet.
I am living my best life right now. My success isn’t from doing everything right the first time. My success is dusting myself off, getting back in the saddle and trying not to make the same mistake again. Sometimes I discover new mistakes. Other times I find my groove.
And, friends, let me tell you — my career as a mediator might be the most Carolina Story of all. I used to envy people who loved their careers. I’ve always had jobs — lawn care company, Chick-fil-A, State Farm adjuster, defense attorney, in-house attorney and plaintiff’s attorney. Jobs, just jobs, every one of them. People who said they “never worked a day in their life” because they loved what they did used to annoy me.
But now I am like so many of you on this board. I have not had to work for the past 11 years, as I enjoy what I do for a living. I bring to it my passion for all things, but especially my love of all things Carolina. You have seen my tailored jackets that say TAR HEEL ONE. I almost always have on a UNC belt, Julian’s socks, light blue shirt or blue accents on my cuffs. I let them know where I come from, proudly challenge any other schools who want to talk trash, and incorporate the things we all hold dear as the Carolina Way.
It’s not just a fashion show.
I get to help people. I get the honor of being there to help bring resolution to what is often a family’s worst nightmare. Sometimes, it’s holding hands with a family and praying over a photo of their lost loved one before commencing the proceedings. Often, it’s a hug of gratitude much like that one in Winston dorm 32 years ago where a family is appreciative that the big lug in the Roy Williams [’72 (’73 MAT)] Carolina tie was compassionate enough to hang in there as they processed their grief through the mediation. Few things in my professional career — even my personal life — are as validating as when a grief-stricken mother collapses in your arms and thanks you for being there to honor her child.
As a mediator and a voice of reason, I also get to help model the right way to do things, whether it’s how you interact with opposing counsel in a manner that builds bridges, not walls, or delivering a well-timed joke to break the tension. It’s the nuanced delivery of sobering news in a manner that respects the dignity of the participants while offering the clarity of authority so that someone does not compound one bad incident with successive bad decisions.
My most recent return home to Chapel Hill started with a call from Dana Simpson [’96 (’00 JD)] advising me that I was up for consideration for the GAA Board. I asked him two questions:
- What do they do on this board; and
- Are you still married to the beautiful lady you dated in law school who looked like Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend?
Dana, to his credit, tried to explain it — and this kills Doug — but I still don’t know what we do. I absolutely love, however, that I have had the honor of doing it for the past four years.
My realization that I, perhaps, belonged on this board occurred at the conclusion of my first nominating committee meeting. Tony Rand [’61 (’64 LLBJD)] was holding court with Tom Lambeth [’57] and one other gentleman. As I listened in, I could tell they were fired up about the latest Carolina basketball game. I looked at them quizzically because they looked to be well beyond retirement age yet they talked and spoke like me and my lunatic fanatical friends.
So I leaned in and interrupted them and just asked, do you get more relaxed and at peace with being a fan when you get older? Tony looked at me quizzically with the look I’ve only seen one other time from him — the time I asked him whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. And he said something to the effect of, “Son, are you crazy — it gets worse!” And Tom and the others nodded in agreement. And I knew I was with my people.
When I talk of this board to mere mortals back home, I often describe it like the Superfriends at the Hall of Justice, where each of us is a superhero in our standalone movie or community back home. But when we gather together, we are just regular people hanging out, and we don’t have to take on all challengers to Carolina or worry about explaining our superstitions during UNC sporting events.
I have been blessed and enriched with new numbers in my phone and souls in my heart ever since I started my term on the board and then completed my extra lap as the vice chair. My best contribution might be the moniker of “Rudy” to all of us regular schmoes who feel privileged to rub elbows with Carolina’s finest.
My board wife, [Bobbie-Jean] BJ [Price ’95], and I have a bond that’s going to last ’til one of us is worm food. I defy you to find a more beautiful soul. Mike Priddy [’70 (’75 Med, ’81 EdD)] is a hybrid with the wisdom of Yoda, the compassion of clergy and just enough untapped potential mischief to be a perfect wing man for pre-meeting lunch, post-dinner drinks and early-morning breakfast without missing a beat. Hayes Holderness [’79] makes retirement and playing golf, in between Carolina basketball games and spoiling new grandkids, look like an admirable life goal.
Sharon Lawrence [’73] and I have had so many meals in Atlanta that I can’t keep up with whose turn it is to buy. By the way, when your fellow Rudy is also your parents’ favorite actor AND she comes to the house when they are in town visiting, you earn Son of the Year without even trying.
Tom Tillett [’74] will come to Atlanta for work or to see his Eagles. But if it’s an Eagles game, he may just call. You need a work junket to get him to commit to a meal.
My brother Dave Hanners [’76 (’82 MAT)] hasn’t made it to Atlanta, but he came to Gastonia on Black Friday a couple of years ago and brought my mom a bottle of wine, as if he were on a recruiting trip for a power forward out of Ashbrook High School. He might be the nicest and most generous soul on the planet, but do not anger him by trying to pay the bill. Just like when playing chess with a Wookie, you let the coach win. And just say, thank you.
If you ever have the pleasure of arriving in an airport and a stunning former lacrosse player named Brooke [Crawford Record ’99] is there holding a sign welcoming you as you deplane and enter the concourse, give her a ride in your rental car — and know that you’re going to have a great weekend!
Every time my trainer shouts at me on Zoom to hold my form while planking, I think of Rich Leonard [’71 (’73 Med)] and marvel at how he has this family’s record at holding a plank for 10 minutes plus. I’m only about eight and a half minutes behind you, Dean Leonard.
The backbone for our organization is the wonderful staff. For a while, we had the Strudys, the staff Rudys. My first day back seeing Tanea, Dave, Roger, and Steve felt like wrapping up in a familiar warm blanket fresh out of the dryer. And then I got to meet Stephanie, Diana, Regina, and Paula, and it quickly felt like a family reunion every time we arrived on campus during GAA weekends.
Doug, thank you for giving validation to someone like me who — with all due respect to Roy — has always been the biggest self-proclaimed Tar Heel anywhere I go. For four years, I got to brag that I was legitimately recognized as being among the biggest Tar Heels anywhere. I don’t know if I could ever find the words to properly thank you enough for this opportunity and the enrichment it has had on my life these past four years. I used to get mad that you wouldn’t sit me next to BJ at dinner or Hayes at the Saturday morning meeting. But then I got to meet all of the other dynamic superstars on this board, and I realized you must have had a plan. My dinner companions were outstanding. I felt like I always ended up getting graced with the cool kids table.
If you ever call me because the Bell Tower is listing one way or the other, you won’t have to worry about whether I will heed the call, but rather who among these beautiful people I’ll scoop along the way to help us out.
Love you guys.
Miss you guys.
Thank you for your friendship and for letting me share a little bit of me with you.
I hope I made you proud.
My name is Greg Parent.
And I’m a Tar Heel.