The Most Famous Roanokers: Here’s the List

Some of the stars come out at night in Roanoke, but not all of them.


When you think of famous Roanokers, the list almost always starts—these days anyway—with professional sports stars. But when we put a little thought into it, we come up with some truly instrumental national figures in the arts, sports, education, law, politics, journalism, music and finance.

First, let’s define “Roanoker” for the purposes of this story. It is anybody who was born in Roanoke or lived here at any time during their lives. Roanoke is a small city whose citizens are as often as not from somewhere else, so being called a “Roanoker” doesn’t necessarily designate a birth place.

Modern float-to-the-top choices are the sports stars (pro football players Tiki and Ronde Barber, pro basketball players J.J. Redick and George Lynch) and the authors (novelists Sharyn McCrumb and Rod Belcher and non-fiction stars Roland Lazenby, Beth Macy and Pulitzer winner Mary Bishop). But there is much beyond them.

With that said, here are a list of Roanokers of the past 100-plus years that you probably ought to know, beginning in 1884 with the birth of Oscar Micheaux. We’re not going all the way back to the Civil War (William Breckinridge) or the Revolution (William Fleming) or the distant history of a city that wasn’t even born yet.

I’m also boiling down Hollins University’s contribution to Annie Dillard, but it has produced four Pulitzer Prize winners, a poet laureate (Natasha Trethewey, who won one of the Pulitzers) and one writer of one of the most beloved children’s books n our history (Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown). Hollins also graduated internationally known photographer Sally Mann and popular author Lee Smith.

I left Booker T. Washington (suggested by two people) off the list because he lived in Franklin County, not Roanoke.

Here’s my list. You are welcome to add to it.

Stanley Abbott

Stanley W. Abbott, at 29 in 1933, became one of the primary designers of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs smack through Roanoke, where he lived for a time. He was an admirer of Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park and was enthusiastic about the “design with nature” concept of road construction. According to National Parks Traveler, Abbott “believed that the parkway should function as an outdoor museum of rural life, telling the story of the mountain folk, their agricultural pursuits, and the mountain retreats of the wealthy. The parkway would speak to the visitor about life and lifestyles in the mountains. It would celebrate the blending of nature and culture.”

Tiki and Ronde Barber

The Barber twins (Tiki and Ronde), pro football players, broadcasters who began their exploits at Cave Spring High and carried the football all the way to Charlottesville, where they played for the University of Virginia. Both were drafted by pro clubs (New York Giants for Tiki and Tampa Bay for Ronde). The twins each played his entire career for the club that drafted him, which is extremely unusual in today’s NFL.

R.S. Belcher

R.S. (Rod) Belcher is a nationally prominent science fiction/ fantasy author and Roanoke native, who still lives in the Star City. Among his best-selling books are The Shotgun Arcana, Nightwise, Brotherhood of the Wheel and The Six Gun Tarot from Tor Publishing. Movies and/or TV series are planned for several of his works. Belcher has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done master’s work in forensic science at George Washington University, and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.

Mary Bishop

Mary Bishop won a Pulitzer Prize at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was a finalist twice as a reporter for The Roanoke Times. She recently became a memoirist with the book Don’t You Ever; My Mother and Her Secret Son from HarperCollins publishing. She lives in Roanoke.

Carter Lane Burgess, a soldier, business executive and diplomat, was born in Roanoke in 1916 (died 2002).  The VMI graduate was an assistant to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower during World War II and served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Personnel in the mid-1950s. The Washington Post wrote, “He overhauled the armed forces reserve system to face Cold War threats and oversaw legislation to improve military benefits involving life insurance and medical treatment.” In the late 1950s, he was president of American Machine and Foundry (AMF) and

Carter Burgess

in 1968, he was appointed Ambassador to Argentina and served on the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. He rose from a claims adjuster to president of Trans-World Airlines and AMF, which makes bowling pin setters, among other things. He died in 2002.

Mark David Chapman

Mark David Chapman killed beloved singer/songwriter and former Beatle John Lennon in December of 1980. He lived on Crystal Spring Avenue in South Roanoke—a home that no longer exists; it is a church parking lot—in 1962, the seven-year-old son of a couple from Georgia. His father was transferred to Roanoke, working for Amoco. Chapman is serving a 20-years-to-life sentence and first came up for parole in 2005. He was denied parole for the 10th time. He is serving his sentence at the maximum security prison Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, N.Y.

Ann Compton

Ann Compton was a long-time staple at ABC News, but she was educated at Hollins University and served as a young reporter at WDBJ, Channel 7 in Roanoke in 1968. She was a WDBJ intern as a Hollins junior and became its first female news reporter. She established the station’s Richmond bureau in 1973 and ABC hired her away to work in New York City. She became the first female TV reporter to cover the White House, beginning with Gerald Ford’s administration and was also one of the youngest reporters ever with that beat. She was on Air Force I with George Bush shortly after 9/11 and in 2000 was the chief Washington correspondent for ABC. She’s won a ton of professional awards but says the award most dear to heart was to be national Mother of the Year in 1988.

Adrian Cronauer

Adrian Cronauer, who died in the spring of 2018, gained his moment of national recognition in the Robin Williams film “Good Morning Vietnam,” which was very loosely based upon his experience as a DJ during that war. Cronauer was a Roanoke disc jockey, but there was far more to him than playing rock ‘n’ roll on the radio. He was an advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, represented the POW/MIA Office in a range of capacities, and earned the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. He did radio and TV commercials in New York and taught at the university level. But it was the misrepresentation of “Good Morning Vietnam” about an anti-war, liberal, wise-cracking DJ that made him famous, although he was a Bush Republican.

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard, who graduated from Hollins University and married Hollins Professor Richard Dillard, won the Pulitzer Prize for her first book, A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In 1975. Her forte has been narrative prose in fiction and non-fiction and she is credited with works of poetry, essays, prose, fiction, memoir and literary criticism. She has also taught at the college level.

Henry Fowler

Henry Fowler, who was born in Roanoke in 1908, the son of a locomotive engineer, served as Secretary of the Treasury under Lyndon Johnson. He graduated from Roanoke College (where the Fowler Lecture Series by internationally prominent people remain popular) and Yale Law School. He worked his way up to Assistant General Counsel of the Tennessee Valley Authority and worked on a number of governmental advisory commissions, while running a major law firm in D.C. He became a partner at Goldman Sachs.

Oliver Hill

Oliver Hill, who was born in 1907 and lived 100 years, was a civil rights lawyer partly responsible for the success of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the landmark case which integrated the nation’s schools. He was a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner (1999) and participated in a number of other important national legal cases, including equal pay for African-American teachers, access to school buses, voting rights, jury protection and employment protection. He practiced law for 60 years. Though a Richmond native, his early home in Roanoke’s Gainsboro section is a shrine. He graduated from Howard University Law School and began his practice of law in Roanoke (newly married to Beresenia Ann Walker, niece of Maggie Walker, after whom a Richmond High School is named). The Roanoke law practice was wobbly, and he moved to D.C. in 1936. He won his first civil rights case in 1940, working with Howard classmate Thurgood Marshall (a future Supreme Court justice), among others. His list of awards and honors is lengthy and in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, a street is named for him.

Linwood Holton

Linwood Holton was the first Republican Governor of Virginia and for a time was given consideration as a vice president when Richard Nixon had to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned under a cloud. Gerald Ford was selected and, of course, became president. Holton, a Big Stone Gap native, graduate of W&L and Harvard Law and a WWII submariner, married Roanoker Jinx Holton and they are parents of author/historian/educator Woody, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton Kaine (Sen. Tim Kaine’s wife), Tayloe and Dwight. During integration, Gov. Holton sent his children to integrated Richmond schools, causing something of a stir among some Virginians and when the Republican Party took a sharp rightward turn, he stayed in the center and began endorsing Democrats (including Mark Warner and his son-in-law). In 2017, Roanoke dedicated Holton Plaza and in 1999, Richmond named an elementary school for him.

David Huddleston

David Huddleston, Hollywood actor, who starred in “Santa Claus, the Movie” and who for many years was a noted character actor in major productions, is from Vinton originally. He was in 45 movies (including “Breakheart Pass,” “The Big Lebowski,” “The Producers,” “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “Blazing Saddles,” “The Klansman,” “Bad Company,” “Brian’s Song,” and “Rio Lobo” (with John Wayne). He also had nearly 60 TV credits.

Wayne LaPierre

Wayne LaPierre, easily the most controversial figure on this list, was born in New York, but moved to Roanoke when his father transferred to the GE plant here. LaPierre is generally credited (or blamed) for moving the emphasis of the National Rifle Association, which he has led since 1991, away from a gun safety instruction organization to a gun manufacturers’ lobby with heavy political influence. He worked as a legislative aide to state delegate Vic Thomas of Roanoke, a Democrat and ardent supporter of gun rights. He has a master’s degree in government and politics.

Roland Lazenby

Roland Lazenby has written more than 60 books, concentrating on the NBA in recent years, and has been a college professor, noted newspaper reporter and mentor for writers in the Roanoke region. His books on NBA stars Ralph Sampson, Jerry West, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have had large national and international audiences. He was the faculty advisor (essentially editor) of Virginia Tech’s student newspaper during the mass murders of April 2007 and guided that young group to award-winning reporting of the event.

George Lynch

George Lynch, UNC and pro basketball player, attended Patrick Henry High, where he won a state title (1988 as a junior, transferring to Flint Hill Academy as a senior) and UNC, where he won a national championship. He finished UNC as its 14th leading scorer (1,273 points) and third-leading rebounder (1,097) in UNC history. He ranks second in steals (241). He played for five teams from 1993-2005 in the NBA, a total of 774 games. He was an assistant basketball coach for six years at SMU and is now head coach at Clark Atlanta University.

Beth Macy

Beth Macy is a former newspaper reporter whose first book, Factory Man, became a New York Times bestseller and who has written two popular non-fiction books since. Options for the books to become movies have been sold. She is a native of Ohio, but lives in Roanoke now, as she has for decades. She is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.

Rene Marie

Rene (Croan) Marie is a Grammy Award-nominated (2015) jazz singer who changed her last name a few years ago when she became nationally prominent. She was born in Warrenton in 1955 and her family moved to Roanoke when she was 9. She is noted for her smooth, lovely delivery and has a good-sized, national following. Before gaining a jazz following, she was a janitor, fast food employee, grocery clerk and banker in Roanoke. Critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune called Marie’s talent the “most expressive jazz singing one might hope to hear. … give her a stage to herself and an opportunity to shape an evening her way, and she clearly can make a statement that uses every inch of her vocal prowess and balletic grace.” She changed her name from Croan to Marie a few years ago at the behest of her management. Her early recordings were done in Salem at Flat Five Studios. She occasionally performs with her son, Michael. She was given an ultimatum by her former husband (23 years) to give up music or him. She chose the music.

Sharyn McCrumb

Sharyn McCrumb is a North Carolina native and former librarian at Virginia Tech, whose books—especially her ballad novels—have always been major sellers nationally. She has written more than 25 novels and two collections of short stories. McCrumb lives in Catawba and continues to regularly turn out novels. She has lived in Roanoke County for years.

Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux was an African-American movie-maker who lived 1884-1951 and made 44 films. He was an author, writing several novels, and director of an independent film company, running the Lincoln Motion Picture Company—the first film company owned and controlled by African-Americans. He is generally regarded as the first major African-American filmmaker, producing both silent and sound movies (most called “race films). His movies are now considered classics. He was the inspiration for Roanoke movie-maker April Marcel to become a playwright, director and actor. She works with Tim Burton’s studio in Norfolk. Roanoke erected an historical marker honoring his work in 2010 and the Post Office issued a Micheaux stamp as part of its Black Heritage series. According to a Virginia History bio in African American Trail Blazers, “in 1922 he established a corporate office in the Gainsboro neighborhood’s Strand Theatre, where he made at least six films over the next three years. Micheaux often filmed scenes in Roanoke and one movie, ‘The house Behind the Cedars (1927), of which no print survives, included a brief appearance by Oliver W. Hill, who later became an important civil rights attorney” and who is profiled earlier in this article

John Mulheren

John Mulheren was an investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, who graduated from Roanoke College (he was from Brooklyn) in 1971 and became a major benefactor to the Salem school. He was a significant part of a successful trading group in the 1980s who made millions of dollars, but he fell into trouble as part of an insider trading scandal (linked to the notorious Ivan Boesky). His charges were later overturned. He moved to management and again became quite successful. He died at 54 in 2003 and was remembered at Roanoke College as a student of legendary status as a prankster. He was a major supporter of the college for many years and his widow, Nancy Mulheren, continues as a major fundraiser.

William Grant Nabore

William Grant Naboré (formerly Nabors) is classical pianist born 1941 in Roanoke. He studied here under Kathleen Coxe, a noted Roanoke piano teacher. A cross was once burned on Coxe’s lawn because she taught Naboré, an African-American. She ignored it. As a youngster, he was accepted at Hollins College to be taught more piano. Naboré moved to Rome in 1958 to study. He won the Premier Prix de la Virtuosité and the Prix Paderewski from the Conservatoire de Musique de Geneve. He holds the “Theo Lieven” chair for advanced studies in piano and chamber music performance at the University of Music of the Lugano Conservatory.

Wayne Newton

Wayne Newton is a Las Vegas singer with the child’s voice who became famous for his hit “Danke Schoen,” recorded in 1963 and later used in the seminal film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  He was a Vegas headliner for years and reported to be the most popular entertainer ever in Vegas. Newton was often called The Midnight Idol, Mr. Las Vegas and Mr. Entertainment. His mother and father were both native Americans and during World War II, while his father was in the Navy, Newton’s mother and he lived in Roanoke. He learned to play the piano, guitar and steel guitar by the age of six, singing all the while. He left Roanoke for New Jersey while still a child.

John Payne

John Payne was a Hollywood actor with an extraordinary physique who starred in the classic Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street” alongside a young Natalie Wood in 1947. He appeared in 59 movies during his career and helped dedicate the Roanoke star in the late 1940s.

J.J. Reddick

J.J. Redick is a pro basketball player who led Roanoke’s Cave Spring High School to a state title and Duke to a national championship. He is still a professional player (with Philadelphia, his fifth team). He has played in more than 760 pro games to this point.

Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds was Hollywood royalty when she married Roanoke real estate developer Richard Hamlett and from 1984-1996 she lived in Roanoke. They were divorced in the 1990s. She was the mother of Carrie Fisher, who portrayed Princess Leia in “Star Wars.” Fisher’s father was singer Eddie Fisher. Reynolds was an actor and singer for nearly 70 years (1948-2016), reaching her peak popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Her song “Tammy” was No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1957, the same year she made the movie “Tammy and the Bachelor,” from which the song was taken. She died in 2016 at 84.

Pat Robertson is another controversial Roanoker, his contribution coming in conservative religion  and politics. He

Pat Robertson

lived in Old Southwest Roanoke as a child (though he was born in Lexington) and these days serves as chancellor and CEO of Regent University and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network. He is also a minister with a national TV show. He ran for president of the U.S. as a Republican in 1988 but lost in the primaries. He is the son of former Senator Willis Robertson.  *   *   *

(The following luminaries were missed by me on the first go-around, but sharp-eyed Facebook followers [I link my blog there] came up with some great additions.)

Nelson Bond

Nelson Bond, a science fiction writer of considerable stature, died in Roanoke in 2006 at the age of 97. He began his career writing sports and made his first science fiction sale in 1937. He wrote extensively for radio shows when radio produced serials and drama. One of his plays, “Mr. Mergenthwirker’s Lobblies,” became the first full-length play to be produced on television. He had his own ad agency in the late 1950s and sold antique books at one point. His wife, Betty, had a show on WSLS TV in Roanoke.

Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise Brown was a Hollins grad who wrote, among other popular books, the classic Goodnight Moon. I have some first-hand experience with this book, having put together an interpretation of Goodnight Moon by some of the region’s writers a few years ago at Hollins.

Gene Elders

Gene Elders, according to well-known Roanoke musician Tommy Holcomb, is perhaps Roanoke’s most famous musician, especially among other musicians. “He played fiddle in several bands here including  Woodsmoke, has been George Strait’s fiddle player in his Ace in the Hole band for about 35 years. He also played with Lyle Lovett and Joan Baez. Allison Krauss once told him that she had studied his playing in her formative years.”

Tom T. Hall

Tom T. Hall was a journeyman country singer who graduated from Roanoke College and wrote the fun song “Ode to Half a Pound of Ground Round,” which had the line, “Let me tell you about the time I nearly starved to death in Roanoke, Virginia.” He worked in radio here (under the legendary King Edward Smith, whom he credited with keeping him from starving). He wrote 12 No. 1 songs (including “Harper Valley PTA”) and 26 Top 10 tunes.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks is far, far more famous in death than she was in life. She was a tiny (5 feet tall) tobacco farmer, born in 1920 as Loretta Pleasant, who died in 1951 of cancer. Her cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research history.

Sally Mann

Sally Mann is another Hollins grad who achieved international acclaim. Her focus is photography and she is often considered one of the world’s best at it. She lives in Lexington.

John McAfee

John McAfee founded McAfee and Associates and ran it until 1994. It was the first anti-virus software for computers. McAfee, an Englishman by birth, went to Roanoke College. He has founded several companies since McAfee and at one time his fortune was estimated at $100 million.

John Nash

John Nash is the man with the “Beautiful Mind,” recreated in a recent Academy Award-winning movie. He was a mathematician, who was a paranoid schizophrenic and winner of the Nobel Prize. He lived in Roanoke periodically with his mother. He died in here in 2007 at 72.

George Preas

George Preas was a Baltimore Colts lineman 1955-1965 who played at Jefferson High in Roanoke and Virginia Tech. He played during a vital age when the NFL reached TV and became the most popular sport in the U.S. Among his teammates was the legendary Johnny Unitas. Preas became a restaurant owner in Roanoke (I used to eat at his very good Red Lion).

Billy Sample

Billy Sample is a Salem native who played three sports at Andrew Lewis High and went on to stardom in football and baseball at James Madison. He became a superb professional player (1978-1986) for the Rangers, Braves and Yankees. In high school, he played for the high school team that faced “Remember the Titans” T.C. Williams High in the state final, though Lewis was not mentioned in the movie. He became a long-time broadcaster.

Bob Slaughter

Bob Slaughter was the World War II veteran who spearheaded the construction of the D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Slaughter, who at 6-foot-5 was one of the more noticeable targets during the invasion, survived D-Day and fought in Europe for the duration of the war. The Washington Post wrote, ““Bob Slaughter was once described as perhaps the best-known D-Day veteran in America. National media outlets turned to him when they needed a first-person account of the Normandy invasion. … he was an imposing presence as he led President Bill Clinton across a windswept Omaha Beach during a 50th anniversary commemoration in 1994.
And by all accounts, the National D-Day Memorial … would never have been built if not for Mr. Slaughter’s efforts.” (Personal note: I worked with Bob when I was a young sports writer and he the composing room foreman at The Roanoke Times in the 1970s.)

Lee Smith

Lee Smith is one of the nation’s most beloved authors and is a Hollins graduate (and former commencement speaker). One of my favorite works by her is Oral History, a portion of which became a play (“Earrings”) at Lexington’s Lime Kiln Theatre. She is also a co-writer of the truly funny play “Good Ole Girls,” which had a national run. She and Pulitzer winner Annie Dillard became go-go dancers for an all-girl rock band, the Virginia Woolfs, while at Hollins together.

Curtis Turner

Early NASCAR driver Curtis Turner (born in Floyd in 1924) who lived in Roanoke for a time. He was the classic moonshiner-to-racer story, but he also became a wealthy timber salesman. He raced cars from 1949 to 1965, winning a lot of races and helping to invent NASCAR. He died in a plane crash in 1970 on the way to Roanoke.

(NOTE: My good friend Dan Casey wrote his Sunday Roanoke Times column about this list today. It’s a good read. Here you go.)


Celebrating Roanoke’s History: Award Night

Ariel Clark photographs her mom, Susan, and award-winning dad, Mark Clark at the ceremony.

The Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation gave its annual awards last night at the Culinary Institute, one of the recipients, and, as always, it was a lively and well-fed crowd that appreciated the work done in saving our local history.

Chloe Shelton

The even was capped with the showing of one of two films by young Chloe Shelton of the Grandin Theatre Laboratory.

Chloe was honored for Heritage Education. She is a home-schooled student who wrote and directed films based on local history. “Til I Come Home,” brings to life a collection of letters between Robert Whitescarver, a young World War I soldier, and his family. “Cotton Clouds: is a film about a girl who worked at Roanoke Cotton Mill in the Norwich section in 1912.

Other award winners include:

Mark Clark and Bob Clement chat.

Mark Clark: Lifetime Achievement in Historic Restoration. As the owner of Southwest Restoration, Clark has a legacy of work on the Chaplain’s House and windows at VMI, store fronts in Bassett, historic building surveys for three Southwest Virginia towns, preservation planning for Marion, a log building at Elliston and a current project on a building at Monterey in Salem. He had a long career of restoration in Northern Virginia before he came to Roanoke 17 years ago. (His daughter, Ariel, is working with him on the Monterey building.)

Kay Dunkley of the Higher Education Center.

Culinary Institute: Heritage Education. The Roanoke Higher Education Center worked with Virginia Western Community College to expand the Culinary Institute on Henry Street in 2016. They asked the community to help develop interpretive pieces for Henry Street and the historic Strand Theater nearby. Gainsboro History Panels on Wells Avenue were developed by a History Walk Committee to tell the story of Henry Street, once a cultural and business center for African-Americans.

Roanoke College’s LBGTQ research, led by Dr. Gregory Rosenthal, was honored.

Stone House: Preservation. Michael Grosso and his son, Joseph Grosso, used stone from the old Roanoke post office to build a big house on 13th Street. After it was purchased in 2003 by Black Dog Salvage Properties, next door, it was rehabilitated into a guest house.

Southwest Virginia LGBTQ History Project: Heritage Education: Students at Roanoke College, led by Dr. Gregory Rosenthal, established an archive of regional material, developed a digital website, conducted 33 oral histories, developed free walking tours and published online exhibitions, all on the LGBTQ community

Bob Clement.

Bob Clement: Historic Neighborhood Advocacy. Clement is the retired neighborhood coordinator for Roanoke, widely credited with changing the way neighborhoods relate to city government, building relationships and engaging citizens in information about issues.

David Perry, executive director, and Megan Cupka, assistant director, of Blue Ridge Land Conservancy: Environmental Preservation. Perry and Cupka led the Conservancy in protecting over 1,100 acres through 10 conservation easements in Southwest Virginia in the past year, making a total of 20,000 acres of land, 60 miles of streams covered by easements held by the Conservancy.

Nelson Harris: Publications and Speaking. Former Roanoke Mayor Harris, president of the Historical Society of Western Virginia, has written 10 books, mainly focused on early photographs of Roanoke Valley and the region.

Historian/Writer Nelson Harris.

Light Well Lofts: Adaptive Reuse. The 1910-era Renaissance Revival building at 105 Campbell Ave., (damaged in the flood of 1985) was vacant for nearly 30 years. In 2015, ACR Investments purchased the building to renovate as apartments.

Alam Design provided architectural and engineering services and Family Builders was the contractor for the $1 million project. The building has 12 apartments and a new store front, based on historic photographs.

Will Heron of Alum Design.
David Perry.

Huff-Rutrough House: Bulldozer Award. Robert A. Gilmer and his family lived there until it was rented, then abandoned and razed this past spring. The Greek Revival building was one of only two left in Southeast Roanoke.

Anne Beckett (left) took over the Preservation Foundation’s presidency last night from Allison Blanton.
Whitney Leeson, Ruth Doan, Kay Dunkley enjoy the festivities.
Mark Clark and his proud daughter, Ariel.

George Kegley: Perfect Model

I attended the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation’s annual awards event tonight at the Claude Moore Center downtown and took a bunch of photos, none of which is better than the one above of George Kegley.

George is an old (90) friend and colleague who has been the spearhead of the foundation for years (he even put me on the board at one point). He is also one of the best photo subjects I’ve ever had. I love the shot at the top, as well as the less stylistic one above.

George and I worked together at the old Roanoke Times in the days when a newspaper was just that. George was one of the best business reporters I ever knew.


Fox News: A Loud, But Small Voice

Those of you wringing your hands (and I’m one) about the consistent distortions and flat lies that are Fox News can calm down now. Here are the most recent AdWeek ratings for TV network news:

• Total Viewers:  9,251,000 8,973,000 6,600,000
• A25-54:  1,980,000 2,033,000  1,434,000



You’ll note some very large numbers among the three major networks, none of which is Fox News, which has about three million viewers in prime time, half that of CBS and a third of ABC’s. A survey by the Pew organization found several years ago that  “significant portions of the Fox News and MSNBC audiences spend time watching both channels.”


BJ’s: Where Are the Bargains?

I will not make a joke about the store’s name.*

OK, so I’m a good shopper. Maybe bordering on great, if you ask my favorite ex-wife who used to call me “Mr. Shopping Man.” I know where the buys are and often purchase stuff because it’s a bargain, not because I need it. It is a distinct character failure of mine because I wind up with a lot of waste, negating the bargain nature of the buy. I mean, who else–other than a hoarder of some sort–has four lawn mowers, seven cameras, two internet security contracts, four computers?

So, imagine my chagrin when I joined BJ’s on faith (and a suggestion from a friend), only to find that this Sam’s Club/Costco knockoff isn’t what I expected: a bargain basement. BJ’s opened recently about a mile from my house in Northwest Roanoke (and less than a mile from Sam’s Club) and I resisted the temptation to immediately join because of its $110 annual membership fee. I don’t like the idea of paying a fee to go into a store and buy stuff. It just doesn’t fit my perception of shopping, in a fair sense.

The BJ’s deal–I was to understand–was this: buy a year’s membership for $35 and get a $20 gift certificate for anything in the store. The deal turned out to be this: buy a year’s membership for $55 and get a $19.99 gift certificate for Tide laundry detergent. At the end of the year, BJ’s would hit my credit card for the full price to renew. I went for it, anyway, thinking, “Hell’s bells, this place looks full of bargains.”

I didn’t have time to do a recon at the moment (I was headed for a hike), so I went back the next day to inspect the store. I walked the entirety of the the huge building with an oversized rolling basket and found nothing to buy. Not a damn thing. No bargains. There was nothing that I saw I couldn’t get elsewhere less expensively or of better quality. I bought the Tide, but discovered it cost a little more than $25 for 200 ounces, so I was out $5 instead of nothing. $25 for Tide is about triple what I normally pay for the same amount of detergent of nearly equal quality (Xtra is 250 ounces for about $9 at Big Lots, a mile and a half away).

Groceries looked pretty good, but the prices were often higher than Kroger, Walmart or Aldi’s (all within a mile of BJ’s, and Aldi’s just feet away), and rarely lower. For nearly everything else, there are also good alternatives within a mile’s drive, and, of course, there is the internet.

I’ve paid my money and I’ll accept the defeat, but I won’t go quietly.

(* No I won’t joke about it because I used to edit the respected Blue Ridge Business Journal, which we affectionately called ‘The BJ.’)



A Peaceful Post-Thanksgiving Hike to North Mt.

This shot has “McAfee’s Knob” written all over it, but it’s North Mountain.
Me shooting, Eileen posing.

My new hiking bud Eileen Rowan and I trooped up to North Mountain in Rockbridge County yesterday, not quite knowing what to expect with the weather and the usually spectacular views. We got an eyeful, though not an earful, which Eileen, a birder, would have liked.

We didn’t hear a single bird on the entire trip. And, though I saw a small bird, Eileen didn’t see any. Still, the trip was a North Mountain treat with views on each side of the ridge line of a gorgeous valley and spectacular mountains.

Here’s some of the serenity that’s yours for the hiking.

My favorite hiking position.
The valley still holds some color.
Eileen soaks up the view.
Here’s a great hiking hat
Much of the day was misty below.



Pampa’s Day: Spreading Photographer Seeds

Irony: I took this shot of Madeline and her new Leica with my cheap cell phone.

One of my great joys in life is helping a young pup learn a new skill, one that will serve well for years. Thanksgiving Day was a day for me to sow a few photographer seeds.

I presented my grandgirl, Maddie, with a Leica 35mm  SLR, and asked her to go shoot. She was thrilled–which I didn’t know she would be because 13-year-olds heavily depend on their iPhones for photography–and almost everything else. She has a good eye, one I’ve seen on a number of occasions with her phone photos, so I thought it was time.

Did the same thing a few years ago when I noted my daughter’s natural skill at capturing the photographic moment, one in which she had developed a distinctive style–with her phone. I mean, what could she do with a nice Nikon? (Better, I discovered.)

I picked up the Leica a couple of years ago, not because I needed another camera (I definitely didn’t), but because it was a Leica, the legendary camera artists and journalists have preferred for many, many years. The camera has been out of my price range for all those years, but I found this little baby within my range and scooped it up. I have used it very little, except as something to look at and dream over. It is a good camera, though, one that will serve Madeline well.

This looks like something I would have taken in 1880, using a Nikon F1 and Tri-X film. I shot it yesterday with my phone.

Here’s a little background on digital photography:

InfoTrends says people took 1.2 trillion (that’s trillion) photos in 2017, 10.3 percent of them with a traditional camera, 4.7 percent with a tablet, and 85 percent with a smartphone. My friend Anne Sampson and I took most of the 10.3 percent, I suspect. One survey I found says that 90 percent of all people in the world who have taken photos have only used phones for them. Now, I won’t back the veracity of that survey, but it sounds pretty close to me, judging from the eye test.

The first commercial digital camera was available in 1990 (as  Dycam Model 1 and Logitech Fotoman, same camera, different name). Nikon had invented the digital camera in 1986. By 2000, the digital technology had made its way into phones, so phone photography is only 18 years old and my guess is that there have been more photos taken in the last 18 years than ever before, cumulatively. I think that’s a safe bet.

The website lists these reasons you should give a real camera a shot (so to speak): it has a real zoom feature (unless you use fixed lenses and almost nobody–except moi–does any longer); it is far better in low light and it shoots great at night; the iPhone is less adaptable and the battery life is relatively short; the difference in image quality–alone–is enough for me.

I’m old, so I’ll stick with the SLR camera. Maddie’s young. I hope she does, too.





It’s Christmas, Sharpen Your Teeth

OK, boys and girls, Christmas season begins tomorrow and Pampa is all set. It begins with Thanksgiving din-din with my family (my son’s posse is coming in from Memphis) and continues Friday with a hike up North Mountain. Then, we descend into an orgy of shopping (mostly local, I hope).

So, sharpen your teeth (you’ll note I already sharpened mine–above) and get ready for the sleigh to take off.


My Pal’s New Book: First Signed Copy!

The lunch at Roanoke College was–as always–dazzling. (Mary’s signing as I selfie–to create a verb.)
This is Mary’s first signed copy and it’s for my grandgirl. Yay!

Just had lunch with Mary Crockett Hill, one of my favorite people and a new member of the exclusive Roanoke First-Line Authors Club with her new book How She Died, How I Lived.

This is Mary’s second novel (the first co-written) and it’s a far more serious effort than the first. She says it’s for the older end of the Young Adult reading public.

The exclusive club (which I just created) includes Roanoke Valley writers–born here or live here–like Sharyn McCrumb, Roland Lazenby, Liza Mundy, Beth Macy, CeCe Bell, Rod Belcher, David Baldacci, Mary Bishop and probably a couple I’m leaving out, especially when you consider the size of the Roanoke Valley. This is categorized as a “rural” area. I’m glad to see Mary break into it.

She’s a fine writer (poetry and young adult fiction) who is teaching college kids at Roanoke College to write.

This, I think, is a breakout book for Mary, and I got her to sign a copy for my grandgirl, Madeline, for Christmas (the first copy Mary has signed, she said).

Incidentally, Mary’s poetry–which is adult–is written under her full married name, Mary Crockett Hill, while her YA signature is Mary Crockett. She says the adult stuff might be a bit risque for kids, so she differentiates.

Lunch at Roanoke College was–as always–superb. One of the best college lunch rooms on the planet. In fact our region has several of the best college lunch rooms in existence: Hollins, Virginia Tech, Roanoke College and James Madison are all famous for their food.


Work Can Sometimes Be Entertaining.

Fascinating day of work today. I got to sit in–as a fly on the wall–a meeting where a major international company was negotiating with an international supplier. The back and forth was riveting.

Before that meeting, I had lunch at a craft beer maker (I don’t drink, so my lunch was not liquid; it was a nice salad) with a CEO, a Volkswagen buyer and an engineer. They were–in order–Italian, Mexican and Turkish. The young Mexican talked briefly about never having seen–nor driven in–snow and shared his concern, since it is forecast. The Turk with a completely unpronounceable name is an engineer who handles the quality control for company with the factory here. She is from a city of 4 million people, so our little town is pretty much a village to her. The CEO is a fascinating man who was doing a lot of first-person negotiating, very skillfully.

I don’t know if I learned anything, but I was certainly entertained.