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.
“I admittedly was fortunate to be born into a wonderful gene pool of an avid Tar Heel family.”
Oct. 14, 2017
When Doug called and asked me if I would share my Carolina story, I was a bit hesitant. To use Greg Parent’s analogy of a group of us on this board, we are the “Rudys” of the board, versus the stars who are U.S. or state senators, founders of companies, physicians saving lives, Tar Heel athletic stars, actresses in Hollywood and a myriad of others doing worldly good. But Doug convinced me that there’s a place for the stories of the Rudys, too. And just like Rudy was put in at the end of the game for his brief moment of fame, I’ve been thrust into the temporary spotlight towards the end of my time here on this board.
I admittedly was fortunate to be born into a wonderful gene pool of an avid Tar Heel family. Both of my parents are Carolina graduates, as are all of my siblings, and many other family members. “Many” is not an understatement. Here is a list of what I’ve been able to come up with of my family members that have attended UNC, going back into the 1800s. You can see that I’m merely one of many along the way. Two family members I’d like to point out are my uncle, Dail Holderness, and a distant cousin, Nelson Woodson, both of whom were president of this very alumni association board within three years of each other. My mother was a Woodson. We also have a Carolina Holderness, and that’s not a nickname. That’s commitment! Was there any doubt where she would go to college? I’m also now a proud parent of two UNC alums. You hear a lot about The Carolina Family. Well, we’re a big Carolina Family by ourselves!
I grew up coming to Chapel Hill for football and basketball games, and even after my father died when I was young, my mother remarried a couple of years later and my stepfather was both a Carolina and a State supporter. We spent many Saturdays going to UNC football games in the daytime then driving over to Raleigh for a night game there. This was back before the days of lights in Kenan Stadium. But although I went to some State games as part of a doubleheader, I was – and still am – unquestionably a Tar Heel to the very core, born and bred.
I went to an all-male high school, Woodberry Forest in Virginia, but I was so anxious to get to Chapel Hill that I set out to graduate a year early from Woodberry. Like Rudy, I was determined to get into my dream school. I knew it was the only place I wanted to go, and if getting in a year early wouldn’t work, I would just return to Woodberry for my senior year and try again.
There were some challenges, but it all worked out. I was accepted early decision, which gave me time to finish up all of my remaining Woodberry requirements in the spring trimester there to graduate that spring. I arrived on campus in Chapel Hill in August 1975 at the tender young age of 17, living in Granville Towers West with a randomly paired roommate from Lancaster, Penn.
I followed my brother’s footprints and joined Phi Gamma Delta, where I made many lifelong friends, including one who we all know here, Davy Davidson. Jordy Whichard, who was on the GAA board a few years back, even earlier than his wife, Ann, was one of my pledge brothers and my senior year roommate at Carolina Apartments, and Johnny Kirkland, who represented the medical school on this board two years ago, was a Phi Gam pledge when I was the pledge trainer. We had a lot of really good guys.
I had a job while in college to make some spending money. I was the campus rep for Time and a number of other magazines. I was the one who constantly put out the annoying postcards for you to sign up for various magazines for a discounted student rate. All of the cards had a personal code number for me, so I got a small commission off of each order. I’d put those cards everywhere. This job didn’t make me rich, but I was persistent with it and it generated enough income to give me some extra spending money, much of which went into the cash registers at either Ken’s Quickie Mart, The Shack or late-night fine dining at Roy Rogers and Breadmen’s.
My main mode of transportation at UNC was a small Honda 125 motorcycle, which other than being a near-invisible target for cars, was ideal for a crowded campus. A semester parking permit was $8 and I could literally park it almost anywhere. It also got about 60 mpg, which was easy on the budget and particularly nice to have during the ’70s gas shortage. Taking a Carolina girl out for a sunny afternoon ride on country roads on that Honda, with that small seat so she had to snuggle up tight behind me and wrap her arms around my waist to keep from falling off, that was the way to go. I always thought they could sell a lot more small motorcycles in college towns if they had marketed that benefit. I actually kept it through when I got married, hoping to re-live those nice snuggly moments with Cherie now behind me, but she was having none of riding on a small motorcycle, so I sold it to some lucky beneficiary.
My stepfather had passed away by this time, and my mom didn’t make it to many basketball games although she still had season tickets. And even if she came, she’d usually let me invite a date or friends. So my sister, who overlapped with me for a couple of years at UNC, and I were able to go to most home basketball games without having to go through the time-honored tradition in those days of camping out at Carmichael. I rarely missed a home basketball game and further developed the Heels hoops passion that I still have today.
I earned my private pilot’s license while at Carolina, taking lessons out at Horace Williams airstrip. I did my aviation ground school through a ROTC course at the University, which served double duty of taking an elective I enjoyed and getting to take ground school without having to pay for it. And it’s easy to study material when your life may depend on your mastering it.
UNC contributed to leading me to my future wife. I wasn’t sure exactly what career I wanted to pursue. I was a business major and always liked people and numbers, so I figured I’d enjoy banking and it would expose me to many different industries. I thought I would end up at one of the four major North Carolina banks at that time: NCNB, Wachovia, First Union or Northwestern Bank. But not wanting to be completely inexperienced for my first bank interview, I went to the UNC career placement offices, and I signed up for an on campus interview with the First National Bank of Atlanta, as a practice session. Lo and behold, after a good interview and being flown down to Atlanta for further interviews, they offered me a job, and I figured if I didn’t leave the state of North Carolina then, I likely never would. I accepted a job in Atlanta and moved down there in the spring of 1979 right after graduating. It was at First National that I met a Georgia peach from Albany, Ga., who had arrived in Atlanta one year before me after graduating from Auburn. We started dating about a year and a half later, after I finally convinced her that an interoffice romance was actually OK since we were in different departments.
I exposed her to my Carolina Fever when, in the fall of 1980, Carolina was to play at Clemson in a big football game, but all that was on in Atlanta was Georgia football. I called around and found the closest city that would be carrying Carolina-Clemson, which was Anderson, S.C. A group of about 10 of us rented a hotel room, did a road trip for the day and used the room simply to watch the game before heading back to Atlanta. We were dating, so Cherie went along and saw a glimpse of what it meant to be a Tar Heel loyalist.
One year later, heading up to Chapel Hill for a big game, coincidentally against Clemson again, that was the weekend I chose to propose to her. This was a huge game at that time, with Clemson undefeated and ranked second nationally and UNC being ranked eighth nationally. Carolina lost that game 10-8 to the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers, but we won the rest of our games and still finished No. 9 in the country in the final polls. Those were the days. But regardless that the Tar Heels lost on the field that weekend, I was the big winner since Cherie said yes.
As a UNC sophomore in 1977, I went to Atlanta to watch the banged-up Phil Ford-led Tar Heels lose a heartbreaker to Al Maguire and Marquette in the Final Four. Since then, I’ve been to every final four that Carolina has been in, and a few others as well, totaling 22 Final Four trips in all. Most of these recent trips in the last 15 years have become a tradition with three of my fellow UNC Phi Gam friends, including Davy. College friendships are truly not for college days alone, and the four of us have had many good times together, including a golf and football game trip just two weeks ago, although the four of us are spread out over Greensboro, Atlanta and Birmingham.
I have a number of Tar Heel memorabilia items, including a special one from the 1995 Southeastern Regional Finals in Birmingham. That Carolina team featured a quartet of powerful sophomores: Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Jeff McInnis and our very own Charlie McNairy. They beat Georgetown and Allen Iverson in the Sweet 16 and then upset a Rick Pitino-coached Kentucky team that was the overwhelming favorite to cut down the nets in Seattle. But after the Heels won, the team notably left the nets on the rims, saying that the only nets they wanted to cut down were the ones from Seattle. I noticed that and got to work immediately, and within hours I had both of the nets and a certification letter from the auditorium manager. I gave one to the basketball museum here at UNC and kept one for myself. (Unfortunately, UCLA ended up cutting down the Seattle nets, not Carolina). Charlie, here it is if you want to put it around your neck to bring back those great memories once again.
One other funny story related to UNC basketball and my time at Chapel Hill demonstrates how even somewhat smart kids can do really stupid things. I mentioned that freshman year I lived in Granville Towers West, the all-male dorm. My roommate, who had a bit of a wild side, and I lived on the fourth floor, while right below us on the third floor was the UNC men’s basketball team. One night, after I am sure an earlier visit to Kens Quickie Mart to satisfy our thirst — and also impair our good judgment — my roommate had a great idea that it would be fun to mess with Dave Hanners of the basketball team, a senior who didn’t get a lot of playing time. We weren’t going to mess with one of the stars but decided Hanners seemed to be an OK target to have a little fun with. Granville Towers has outdoor stairwells running the entire height of the building. I positioned myself on the landing halfway between the third and fourth floors, with a trash can filled with water. My roommate pounded on Hanners’ dorm door, aggravating him enough to chase him down the hall and out the door. As soon as my roommate rushed by me, I dumped the entire trashcan of water on Dave and took off, with his momentarily being stunned but still in hot pursuit. We barely got in our room and shut the door before he was turning the doorknob to get in there, shouting all sorts of expletives at us to open the locked door. As cocky, and likely inebriated, freshman, we felt safe on our side of the door. And he eventually left.
But a few minutes later we heard someone at the door again. My roommate immediately bailed out and ran through the shared bathroom to the other room of the Granville suite. I was foolishly confident that he could not get in a locked door, just thinking he was turning the doorknob, so I was startled when he came through the door, still really soaking wet and still very angry. I was shriveling up on my bed as he towered over me, seemingly ready to punch me and threatening to whip my behind, or colorful words to that effect. Quick survivalist thinking allowed me to come up with something along the lines of: “Don’t hit me. I’ll tell Coach Smith!” and although it was assuredly a cowardly thing to say, it perhaps saved me from getting struck, since Dave’s senior year playing time on the court was more important to him than striking a stupid young freshman. So he sulked away ,and that was seemingly the end of that. Thank goodness for the powerful influence of Coach Smith.
The postscript of that story, which happened in 1976, after the Heels won the championship in New Orleans in 1993, many of us were in the team hotel for the celebration afterwards. Dave Hanners was then an assistant coach on the team, and I decided to come clean. I approached him and introduced myself and finally got around to telling him that I was the one who had dumped that water on him that night at Granville Towers, which he certainly remembered. He was still under Coach Smith’s supervision, since he was part of the coaching staff, so I figured he would not hit me then either, and he didn’t. I bought him a beer, and we shared a laugh and a handshake as we celebrated the Tar Heels’ victory over Michigan.
I’ve always loved UNC and have served where I could through the years. It’s been a pleasure to serve on the GAA board, and I treasure the new friends that I have made through the experience – I’m only sorry that I have just two meetings left after this one.
Thanks to all for the opportunity to share my Carolina story. While my story certainly isn’t enthralling enough to earn movie production like Rudy’s, I hope it’s at least been an entertaining 10 minutes for each of you. The game clock hasn’t run out on me yet, though, with two more meetings left for me, so I’m glad the experience continues. This board is the winning team that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, for the best University in the land, and we knowingly all take pride in that. I appreciate all of you as my teammates in this regard, and Go Heels.