One photograph, a thousand memories.
The original dominated one page in a special Junior League section of the Observer on Nov. 19, 1931. The headline: “Junior Grid Team Promises to Be Fast, Light.”
The photo’s charm is undeniable. Eleven husky toddlers – ready, set, hut – in football helmets and cloth diapers. These young darlings of Charlotte Junior Leaguers matured into heavyweights – doctors, lawyers, CEOs, developers, insurance brokers. Movers and shakers.
Men whose names 10 to 20 years ago were household words: Bill Lee, John Crosland, Bo Roddey, Peter McKay.
Bill Lee and three others are dead. The survivors are heading into their mid-80s. As a group, they were the sons and grandsons of prominent, civic-minded citizens who held onto, and passed along, a respect for education, tradition and old-fashioned manners.
More than that, they were and are friends, the long threads of shared memory binding them in time as little else does.
Trough of the Depression
The composite photo captures these boys at a particular time in Charlotte’s development.
As the city entered the 1930s, population a robust 82,000, it could boast a Carnegie Free Library, two colleges, two hospitals, a new courthouse on East Trade, a handful of good hotels and nearly a dozen banks.
Fewer than half those banks would survive the Depression.
“The year 1931 was the trough of the Depression here,” says historian Jack Claiborne. “The bank holiday had not been declared, but people were withdrawing their money in a hurry. Charlotte was worried, panicked.”
Over in Tarboro, Gibbon Pender’s father’s hardware store went under, prompting the family’s move to be near relatives in Charlotte. And John Crosland’s father’s real estate business here struggled to hold on.
But for most privileged folks – the parents and grandparents of these young boys – the Depression was more sensed than felt.
“No doubt we were a privileged group,” acknowledges Peter McKay. “But mostly privileged comparatively, and especially with the parents to whom we were born. They had friends who jumped out of buildings.”
Warm and vivid memories
Yet privilege rarely breeds sentiment, and, unbelievably, most of these men have held onto this photo for eight decades.
The glue? Long friendships and the warmth of shared memories.
These guys still remember each other’s quirks: John Crosland’s ruddy complexion. Bo Roddey’s default at Wimbledon due to mono. The stash of girlie magazines in Gibbon Pender’s treehouse. Louis Rose’s one-man soft-drink stand, stocked with chilled bottles of Orange Crush and Coca-Cola. Bill Lee’s motorized, miniature auto.
Joe Hamilton and Bill Garrison lived across the street from each other on Beverly Drive in Myers Park. Both moved away as preschoolers – Hamilton to Atlanta, Garrison to Gastonia. But they continued their friendship during summers, when their parents rented neighboring cottages at Myrtle Beach.
Most of the others stayed in Charlotte. They grew up in Myers Park and Eastover and attended neighborhood elementary schools. Several belonged to the Boys’ Athletic Association, organized by Bill Lee’s mother, who hired the YMCA youth director to coach the boys in sports at her house on Sherwood Avenue.
Paul Guthery painfully remembers the day their football team – dressed out in “football pants, shoulder pads, jerseys and helmets from Sears Roebuck” – went up against a team from North Charlotte.
“They were scruffy looking,” Guthery recalls. “We played down at what is now Freedom Park, and we thought, ‘Man, we’re going to cream them!’ They beat the pie out of us. They didn’t even have uniforms, but they could play football.”
Many of these boys joined the same Boy Scout troop (mostly Troop 55, based at Myers Park Presbyterian), slept in rustic cabins at Camp Steer, swam the Catawba River, waded Sugar Creek, biked to Morrison Farm, played basketball at the old wooden gym on the Queens College campus, pulled boyish pranks, attended the same churches (mostly Presbyterian) and the same country club (Charlotte).
They knew the warp and woof of each other’s lives – their backyards, their curfews, their physical and academic strengths and shortcomings. They knew the make of each family’s radio. They knew who could take teasing (Crosland) and who could not.
These days, they don’t see each other as often. Garrison and Hamilton try to visit twice a year in Atlanta or Blowing Rock, and they still maintain an intense rivalry (Duke vs. Carolina; McCallie vs. Baylor).
McKay and Roddey attend a weekly Bible study together at Myers Park Presbyterian. Every few weeks, the two also visit John Crosland Jr., who is ill with Parkinson’s disease.
Several are still on the roster of the Charlotte Country Club.
Leadership in their blood
As young men, they were bred to achieve. It was in their blood.
Bill Lee’s grandfather, William States Lee, had been chief engineer of the Catawba Co., a forerunner of Duke Energy. With his friend James B. Duke, he built and developed many of the hydroelectric resources in the South, thereby altering the economy of the Piedmont Carolinas.
Parks Dalton’s ancestor David Parks had by 1860 accumulated about 3,000 acres of land, from Trade and Tryon streets to Mallard Creek.
Gibbon Pender’s third great-grandfather, a Philadelphia physician, was nominated by President Andrew Jackson to be assayer of the branch U.S. Mint at Charlotte.
John Crosland Jr.’s paternal grandfather, a Richmond County native, had been the second-largest cotton planter in the state. His son, John Crosland Sr., founded the John Crosland homebuilding company.
Peter McKay’s father, Hamilton McKay, and his uncle Robert McKay were prominent kidney surgeons who helped create Charlotte Memorial Hospital, the forerunner of Carolinas HealthCare System.
Louis Rose’s father, Louis Rose Sr., through Southern Real Estate Co., helped shape major Charlotte institutions, including assembling the land for the Bank of America Tower, the Observer building and the campuses for UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.
Bill Garrison’s maternal grandfather, J. Luther Snyder, once traveled Charlotte streets in a one-horse wagon selling bottled Cokes to merchants. Eventually, he was known as the “Coca-Cola King of the Carolinas.”
These boys’ parents believed in education, and they often sent their sons to boarding school, in hopes of snagging a first-rate college.
After Alexander Graham Junior High, nine of the 11 went off – to McCallie and Baylor in Tennessee, Woodberry Forest and Episcopal High in Virginia, Culver Military Academy in Indiana.
“We were encouraged – no, it was demanded of us – that we’d do our lessons and do well in school,” says Pender.
“We had privileges,” says Bo Roddey. “And we knew we better take advantage of them.”
To a man, the 11 went on to college: Two to Princeton; four to Davidson; two to N.C. State; one to Duke, one to UNC Chapel Hill, and one to the University of Georgia.
Perks and expectations
Born too late for World War II and too soon for Vietnam, a few of these men saw action in Korea after college. Others toured the world upon graduation.
In 1949, Peter McKay and Bill Lee sailed for Europe together. McKay remembers how Lee insisted on climbing the mighty Matterhorn (nearly 15,000 feet) in Switzerland, while the more cautious McKay took off for Paris. Lee did climb the Matterhorn, and he still beat McKay to Paris. “He was a once-in-a-lifetime person,” McKay says.
After college or travel or service, the young men married and often served as groomsmen in each other’s weddings.
Not only were they expected to marry “well,” (John Crosland’s first wife was the fourth great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson), but Bill Garrison, who lives in Blowing Rock, says those expectations often followed them into marriage.
“We were expected to produce pretty children, who were successful,” he says. “Marry a pretty girl, who stayed home. Drive a nice car. Make money. Join a country club. Play golf. Have a lot of friends. Party on Saturday night. Usher on Sunday morning. Stay home on Sunday afternoon and mow the lawn.”
Garrison wonders if privilege and success didn’t provide them a too-soft cushion.
“We sort of lived our lives around the country club,” he says. “We didn’t think too much about anything. We never thought about the government. We were not very democratic. We lived in a cocoon.”
Garrison pays close attention to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and is impressed by their keen awareness of what’s going on in the world. “I reflect on how they perceive the world now, at their age, and how I perceived the world in 1953. It’s entirely different. They’re a lot smarter than I was. A lot more serious.”
Roddey agrees. He says his family moved here from Charleston when he was 2 and brought with them their black housekeeper. “She left her home and everything to come with us. Now I think how hard that must have been for her. We didn’t know any different. That’s the way it was back then.
“Unfortunately, I would’ve said I was very liberal among my age group. Looking back, I was very much the other way because that’s what I was used to.”
The question of legacies
Joe Hamilton of Atlanta calls these men “a remarkably fortunate group.”
“All of them, without any exception,” he says, “have been good citizens and good parents and good members of the community.”
Born into a small-town, segregated world, many will die in an integrated, major Southern city. There are no heroes of the “big wars” among them. They did not suffer the brunt of the Depression as their parents did. And, for the most part, they were not in the forefront of sweeping social change, such as the fight for civil rights or women’s equality.
What exactly will their legacy be?
“Their legacy is that they brought something we don’t have today,” says Claiborne, “which is a sense of community and a respect for it. So many people who are in Charlotte today believe nothing happened until they got here, and nothing will be important after they leave. They are just ‘renters.’
“But these guys inherited from their families and from their families’ families a sense of belonging, a sense of community and a sense of responsibility to the whole community.”
Of course, as they age, many are feeling a sense of loss. What they retain, however, is something rare: a sense of place, and their own place in that place.
Members of this elite team – the sons of Charlotte Junior Leaguers in the early 1930s – included children who went on to great achievements. On the squad: 1. Louis Rose; 2. Gibbon Pender; 3. Paul Guthery; 4. Ed Moon; 5. John Crosland Jr.; 6. Bill Garrison; 7. Peter McKay; 8. Joe Hamilton; 9. Parks Dalton; 10. Bo Roddey; 11. Bill Lee. "We weren’t lazy," says Gibbon Pender, "and obesity wasn’t such a problem. And there was never any question about whether we’d go to church." Perhaps we were also more respectful of our elders"
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