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Hampton Lefler Jr. ’59 – My Carolina Story

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. As our Carolina family seeks ways to stay connected during these challenging times, board members are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.


“My four years at Carolina taught me that you don’t have to be the brightest guy on the block but you do have to work hard to succeed. “

June 13, 2009

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This talk should be titled “Thanks, Mom.” I am an ophthalmologist from Hickory, N.C., and I grew up in Newton-Conover. I would like to commend Doug and his staff of the GAA for their hard work in making our weekend a success and so much fun. As I have been sitting in these board meetings for the past two years listening to the exciting and interesting stories by Eric Montross, David Royle, Don Curtis, Randy Jones and others, my main thought has been I hope Doug doesn’t ask me to share my Carolina experience. Compared to those other stories, mine is dull and boring, and I am not a good public speaker. I will admit that this task has made me review my early years and how Carolina influenced the rest of my life.

First, let me tell you about my parents who in retrospect shaped my life. My dad was a lawyer and professional baseball player. While at Trinity College in Durham for both undergraduate and law school, he played for the Baltimore Orioles in the International League. He was a catcher, and one of his pitchers was Lefty Grove, who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dad was a good hitter and led the league in hitting one year, barely beating out a guy named Lou Gehrig. In 1924, he was called up to the Washington Senators for the pennant race with Boston. He got in a pinch hit double that drove in the run which clinched the pennant. Some of you die-hard baseball fans will remember Walter Johnson, the great pitcher, who was on that Washington team. He eventually settled down and practiced law in Newton for the rest of his life.

My mother got her college degree in 1924 at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. She majored in medical technology and became a laboratory technician in Memphis. In college, she was captain of her basketball team and while working in Memphis, won the city tennis championship.

Both my parents were good athletes and interested in sports – all sports. The first 18 years of my life were consumed in sports. I lived one block from my elementary school and two blocks from my high school, where most sports took place. I spent my summers playing baseball, softball, tennis, ping pong, volleyball, horseshoes, etc., at the city recreation playgrounds until I was about 14 and started having a summer job. For two summers, I worked for the city of Newton maintenance department digging water and sewer lines and telephone pole holes, painting street markers, using a jack hammer and doing other hard, dirty jobs. Those summers taught me that I did not want to do hard labor the rest of my life.

At Newton-Conover High School in the ‘50s, we had four sports: football, basketball, baseball and tennis. Since we were a small school, anyone with a shred of athletic ability could play. I played all four sports and won our senior award for “most athletic.” That doesn’t mean “best” athlete; it simply meant no one else in my class played all four sports. I loved sports.

My mother was in charge at home – period. She was strict and demanded full effort and did not spare the rod or spoil the child. If I made a grade less than an A on my report card, she was unhappy and she made me unhappy. Consequently, I made good grades.

My senior year, my mother demanded I enter the North Carolina Oratorical Contest sponsored by the American Legion; not something I wanted to do. She called Mary Catherine Shivers, our infamous strict senior English teacher, to coach me. We soon found out I had no aptitude for extemporaneous public speaking. In the contest, I had to write and deliver a 12-minute speech on something related to the American Constitution and then speak extemporaneously for six minutes on an Article of the Constitution pulled out of a hat on the day on the contest. So what I did was write a three-minute introduction, which I could use on all the Articles of the Constitution, and then I wrote and memorized a three-minute closing on each of the Articles of the Constitution. It did not matter to me which article was pulled; I had it all memorized. Thanks to Miss Shivers’ coaching me on every gesture and inflection of my voice and my memorization of every word, I won the National Carolina American Legion Oratorical Contest.

Shortly following this, I was chosen to attend Boy’s State at Chapel Hill. I had been to Chapel Hill several times to visit my Uncle Hugh and his family, who lived here. This was my first time to experience the campus, and I fell in love with this place. As it turned out, I was nominated for governor of Boy’s State. My running mate for lieutenant governor was a boy from Rocky Mount named Jim Hunt, later to be our real governor. Our opponents were Herman Godwin from Dunn and Lawrence Kouri from Shelby. They won the election. Herman later became a Morehead Scholar and then roomed with me in medical school. I still believe we lost that election because of my inability to speak extemporaneously which we were required to do. I didn’t have time to write and memorize what I needed to say and clearly did not do a very good job.

I applied only to Carolina because this was the only school I wanted to go to. Ed French in the admissions department visited my high school and assured me my chances of getting admitted were good. Arriving in Chapel Hill in the fall of 1955, I was scared to death. My mother convinced me to aim toward medical school and in order to get in I had to have straight A’s or close to it. I was assigned to the fourth floor of Joyner dormitory, and my roommate was Billy McLester from Lumberton, who was also premed. He was also from a small high school and was unsure of how he would do in college. We both studied most of the time and found it challenging, but we both made good grades.

My spring semester, I tried out for the freshman baseball team. I made the squad but spent most of the time on the bench. I was very proud to wear the Tar Heel uniform and represent the University. The next spring, I did not try out for varsity. I told everyone I had too many chemistry labs although the truth was I knew I was not good enough to make the team.

My sophomore year was very busy and tough. I was into my hardest premed courses. Billy and I moved to Old East dormitory, which allowed us to get up a little later for our 8 o’clock classes. Our basketball team won 32 games in a row and a national championship, which was very exciting. I pledged Kappa Alpha fraternity, which definitely improved my social life.

By my junior year, I was taking the last of my required premed courses and starting on my English major courses. I always liked to read and loved my courses in literature, history, philosophy and archaeology. I also was involved in campus politics and was elected junior class president in a close race against basketball player, Danny Lotz.

My senior year was the most fun year of my life. I had completed almost all of my tough, required courses. I had not afternoon labs and I took interesting courses, which were not as time-consuming. The only serious endeavor that year was serving on the Men’s Honor Council. That was a big responsibility, and I took it very seriously. My roommate at the KA House was Bill King, who was the sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel. He is a very funny guy. and we have stayed good friends all these years. Together, we searched the campus for good looking girls and later decided we had dated all the ADPi’s except two, one of whom didn’t meet our good looks criteria and the other was Katty Davis, who was booked up, and I don’t think we met her criteria. The next year when I was in med school, she and two other Carolina coeds came to Winston-Salem to do their practice teaching and moved into an apartment close to ours. I finally got a date with Katty, and to make a long story short, we got married toward the end of my second year of medical school. This past April we celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary.

As things worked out, my mother’s demands and hopes that I would make straight A’s at Carolina didn’t happen. I made a few B’s but never made a C, which made my mother very proud. This resulted in a six-year Reynolds’ Scholarship for medical school at Wake Forest. This made my dad very happy because he had also paid to send my two sisters to college, one of whom also graduated from Carolina.

My four years at Carolina taught me that you don’t have to be the brightest guy on the block, but you do have to work hard to succeed. I still can’t talk to a crowd without memorizing or reading what I want to say so I have learned to try not to get into that predicament. I am glad Doug gave me enough time to write this talk!

Thank you.