It was billed as “An Evening with Holden Thorp,” but some in attendance compared it to the excitement of New Year’s Eve – only more important.
Held at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, hometown of new UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86, the Oct. 6 GAA event drew more than 325 friends of the Thorp family, many showing up well before the official 5:30 p.m. start time.
“These people here tonight really are our friends,” said Holden Thorp’s mother, Olga Bernadin “Bo” Thorp ’56, who led efforts to rescue the failing building in 1962 and, as artistic director, turned it into one of the most respected theaters in the state. “This means so much to this community, which is known for that hometown feeling anyway, but the Fayetteville area has really embraced Holden and Patti, and I’m so proud and happy for them.”
Thorp and his wife, who met as kids at the theater, stood in a doorway that led to the hors d’oeuvres room and greeted everyone who entered, including well-known members of the Carolina family such as state Sen. Tony Rand ’61, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre ’78, basketball legends Rusty Clark ’69 and Joe Quigg ’57, former Fayetteville Observer editor Roy Parker ’52 and dozens of others who greeted the couple as if they had just gotten married.
A Carolina blue sign – “We are so proud of our Holden & Patti ‑ Welcome home” – greeted those entering the theater itself, where a three-piece band played on the stage while a slideshow of the guest of honor’s life ran continuously in the background.
The place quickly filled to near capacity as the couple continued to greet well-wishers standing in line in the lobby. With the crowd anxiously waiting, the couple came in from the receiving line to the band playing At Last as photos of their wedding faded in and out on the slideshow screen.
After the song, a member of the band shouted, “Is this some big-time stuff for a local boy or what?” The crowd roared its agreement.
GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 started the official proceedings by listing some of the well-known people from Fayetteville who came before Thorp, including Frank Porter Graham (class of 1909), who served as president of the University from 1930 to 1949, becoming the first president of the Consolidated University system. (When he got to the end of the list, several people yelled out, “And where is Doug Dibbert from?” Yes, he’s from Fayetteville, too.)
Fayetteville Mayor Anthony G. Chavonne ’77 presented Thorp with the key to the city, and the audience responded with the first of four standing ovations during the program.
During an introduction of Thorp, Rand said that “this is a special and unique opportunity tonight as we honor ourselves by honoring our native son.” He also paid tribute to Thorp’s mother and late father, Herbert Holden Thorp ’54, who was a law firm partner with Rand. He said that Thorp has great intellect but there is so much more to him, including a caring nature and compassion. “As he becomes the 10th chancellor, Holden is truly a man for his time,” Rand said.
When Thorp came to the podium, he said he was extremely honored by the turnout and was touched by what he jokingly said were uncharacteristically serious comments from Rand. Then he worked in a little humor to show that he wasn’t taking himself too seriously.
With his appointment, he told the crowd, “You finally get a chancellor that eats at the K&W.” And he told the tale of a recent shopping trip to look for a Carolina blue sport coat. The sales clerk shook his head a few times and said, “No, chancellor.” Thorp finally protested, “But Dean Smith wears one.” The clerk said simply, “Mr. Chancellor, you’re not Dean Smith.”
Thorp got serious when talking about his recent travels across the state, including visits to high schools where students expressed their love for and commitment to Carolina. He noted that 18 of the top 25 students at Asheville High School enrolled at UNC this school year.
He said he wants to make sure, in this highly competitive market, that the best N.C. high school students continue to come to UNC, adding that he wants to put a higher priority on merit scholarships. Thorp said he also wants to “dangle attractive packages in front of our faculty” to keep them in place, noting that he had reduced the number of faculty leaving the College of Arts and Sciences from 30 one year to just seven the next.
Thorp told the hometown crowd that he is committed to helping the region, the state and the local communities, saying the University should help with issues such as empty storefronts downtown, youth violence and campus security. Plus, he said he wants the University to involve and work with nervous neighbors who worry about UNC’s campus expansion.
After a loud standing ovation at the end of his remarks, Thorp went over to the keyboard and led the singing of Hark the Sound. He closed out the evening by switching over to the electric bass guitar and playing a couple of songs with the band.
As he and his wife packed up in the parking lot afterward, Thorp suddenly stopped and said, “You know, that was as fine an alumni event as I’ve ever been to.”
— Clifton Barnes ’82
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