Three giants pass into the night

Published 8:12 pm Monday, May 5, 2014

It’s been said that bad/sad news travels in threes. That was indeed the case last week.

In a span of only five days, the Roanoke-Chowan area learned of the deaths of three pillars of the local society – Dr. Thomas Washington Vinson, Jr. and Dr. B. Franklin Lowe Jr. both passed away on April 26, followed by the loss of Richard Murray on May 1.

These three men touched the lives of many local citizens, including yours truly, over the course of their amazing time here on Earth.

While I was never a patient of Dr. Vinson, his family and mine were close. He grew up on the family farm along Vinson Mill Road in Hertford County…..perhaps about three miles (as the crow flies) from where I was raised on Pinetops Road in the eastern edge of Northampton County.

What was so amazing about Dr. Vinson’s life was how he supported his family prior to becoming a dentist….one that practiced 50 years.

He initially worked at Norfolk Naval Shipyard where his hands were among those that built the USS Alabama. Dr. Vinson then felt the need to serve his country as a pilot in the Army Air Corps from 1943-1945.

Most men, by the age of 30, have settled in on a certain career. Not Dr. Vinson. His desire was to become a dentist and he set off on a quest to fulfill that wish, eventually graduating from the UNC School of Dentistry, graduating in 1963. He, his wife and son returned to Murfreesboro to establish his dental practice. There he served his community faithfully for 50 years until his retirement in 2013.

Dr. Lowe was the Academic Dean of Students at Chowan University from 1968-2001. That period included my two years at Chowan (1971-73) and he had a most appreciative impact on my life.

Not only did Dean Lowe know his way around collegiate academics, he was a wise man. When I went to him for advice on whether or not to continue my quest to earn a degree in Graphic Arts (I felt I didn’t fit in because so many of my classmates had a head start on me because of their high schools offered printing technology), he encouraged me to “stay the course” and believe in myself.

That advice has now led me to celebrate 40 years in this business. He believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself….and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

And he wasn’t just an “office stiff” as he served as Professor of Religion from 1964 until his retirement in 2001. Afterwards, he continued as an adjunct in the Department of Religion and Philosophy until 2013, meaning he was one year shy of 50 total years of service to Chowan.

While I never played football or baseball for Murray, he was my “coach” in life. We shared a great professional relationship through his role of Athletic Director and mine as the Sports Editor of this newspaper, but more importantly we were friends.

I shared his joy as his children, Johnny and Joanna, grew, found their life mates, and blessed he and his wife, Bettye Jo, with grandchildren. Richard was first and foremost a great family man, a leader in his church (Union Baptist), and a molder of young men through his immense ability to coach football and baseball.

As the Athletic Director at Hertford County High School (and at Ahoskie High before consolation with Murfreesboro in 1988), Richard was the brainchild behind the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Holiday Classic. That event turns 25 years old next year….and it’s time for a name change to the Richard Murray Classic.

And speaking of naming rights, I will once again implore the Hertford County Board of Education to honor Richard and his life-long coaching buddy, the late Daryl Allen, by placing their respective names on the baseball and football stadiums at HCHS.

How does one judge the impact Richard Murray had on the thousands of athletes that passed through the doors of Ahoskie High and HCHS? My friend Gattis Hodges of Woodland summed it up the best as he and I chatted following Richard’s funeral on Sunday…“If there was a Mt.Rushmore of Hertford County athletics, Richard Murray’s face would be front and center.”

Amen, brother!

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207. 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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