Through a Townie’s Lens

Remembering LeRoy Walker Jr., Airman, Mentor

When LeRoy Walker Jr. started talking about flying, a change came over the 78-year-old retired IBM executive from Durham. His voice dropped, his eyes glazed slightly and a contented smile wreathed his handsome face, as he described the sight of the…

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Home Alone, 2020

In our neighborhood this week, the Halloween skeletons are back in the closet (sorry, I couldn’t resist), the elections signs are down, mostly — and families are wrestling with how to handle the most bizarre Thanksgiving on record.


Balloons and Tunes: Thanks for the Memories

Somewhere midway through my photo class lecture on apertures and shutter speeds, there came a small but persistent tapping on the classroom door in Howell Hall. Then, without bidding, the door opened slightly, revealing a woman’s smiley face wearing a mischievous grin.


Grandmother Dinah Mae’s Pearls, 1925

A recent column focused on the documentary significance of the simple snapshot, the older the better. Cleaning out a desk drawer this week, I ran across another example that testifies dramatically to the emotional power of such seemingly innocent images.


50 Years On, ‘Still in the Fight’

Fifty years ago this past spring, four outstanding 18-year-old Black graduating high school seniors from a rural high school in Western North Carolina teamed up to express their gloves-off opinions…


Mask up, all you critters!

Since our poor fractious nation is suffering from LDD (Leadership Deficit Disorder), we get our guidance from where we can. Confoundingly, even the otherwise simple mandate of mask-wearing divides us into a cold civil war between Maskers and Anti-Maskers…


I Still Bleed Ink

Early one Saturday morning back in 1975 found me at the main street newspaper office in Forest City sweeping the front room, when an old farmer wearing faded overalls came through the front door (no keypad, no buzzer, no armed guard) wanting to see the editor.



It’s the Real Deal, Lucille

Scratch me, and you get a photographer. It was photography, not writing, that got me to the dance. So, it should come as no surprise that this column is photo-driven…


A Wingman’s Farewell

Perhaps you’ve seen him — this happy man zipping along the streets of Southern Village, his recumbent trike low and fast — a jaunty multi-colored pennant bobbing merrily in his windy wake.


In Praise of Losers and Suckers

Up until now, in this space I have avoided the temptation to say anything even vaguely political; but herein, I succumb. The latest outrage over service members being called “losers and suckers” is my tipping point.


On the Unintended Power of the Snapshot

Maybe you can’t hug a photograph — as “Data,” played by Jonathan Ke Quan, the adorable inventor kid, tells his father in the ‘80s classic feel-good film, “The Goonies.”


Confessions of a Former Hoarder

I love stuff. Old stuff — books, hats, cameras, typewriters, photographs, magazines, tools, odd-shaped rocks, broken mugs full of pens that I haven’t used in years.


Forgetting the Idiot Check

The Idiot Check. I forgot to do the Idiot Check. So, that makes — guess who — the idiot. It’s a vital travel tactic I learned from my rocker son, Jon, who taught me how after each gig…


A Little Good News

In this political and cultural inflection point in which we find ourselves as a nation, it is gratifying to be able to bring to our community “a little good news today.”              


They Thought it Was ‘The End o’ Time’

Last week’s earthquake up in the northwestern corner of North Carolina gave me a shake, too. Beginning in the summer of 1968, right out of college and green as grass, I served as editor…


Old Poops on Patrol!

Ask any college town “townie” what’s their favorite time of year — and many are likely to say, now. From Athens, GA, to Lawrence, KS; to State College, PA, to Chapel Hill-Carrboro, the start of the fall semester brings with it a wave of youthful energy, intellectual ferment and…


Back to Narnia

Sixty-four years ago, I went to Narnia, where I became a lion named Aslan. To get to that foreign land, I didn’t need a passport. But I did need a great teacher to open the magical door through the old wardrobe.



An Outbreak of Kindness

The bumper sticker on the back of the old pick-up truck outside of Carrboro caught my attention. It read, “Make America Kind Again.” Permit me to riff off a recent New York Times op-ed piece that opined thusly: that if there’s any silver lining to the double-whammy of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, it has to be our heightened awareness of our common humanity and mutual interdependence.


Jim Wallace: f/8 and Be There

“f/8 and be there!” — the old-school photojournalist’s equivalent cheer of “GO HEELS!” for Tar Heel fans — might as well have been created by James (Jim) H. Wallace Jr., fabled DTH civil rights photographer.


The Rocky States of America

Tiring of building dams in the mountain creek below the cabin, one day I spied a flat rock that had the distinct shape of North Carolina, only fatter. Picking up the husky N.C. rock, I began wondering, what other state-shaped stones might I find in the clear gurgling waters of Silver Creek?


A Photo-Haiku from the Beach

Dear Reader: This week the Townie is on vacation at the beach, having quarantined for two weeks prior, so he can hug his grandkids. Without apology, this week’s abbreviated Lens turns to haiku.


This One is for My Sub-Dads

Father’s Day, in the home in which I grew up, didn’t exist. The third Sunday in June was just another day. But I’m certain that wasn’t true for my heartbroken divorced mother, nor for my big brother, Nick, traumatized by the betrayal of his beloved dad. Father’s Day was a cruel reminder of abandonment. How does a 7-year-old boy grow up when he feels rejected by his own father?


The Talk: A Message for Our Times

Of late, there has been much talk about “the talk.” Now, a year and a half after a dramatic play by the same name debuted locally, a video version will begin streaming live and free for a month.


The Gospel According to Prof. Stone

This week especially we could all use something to celebrate about. To that end, I offer two stories that should help restore a little of our faith in the human race.


Taps for Joey

On Memorial Day, tens of thousands of buglers across the land stood out on balconies, porches and backyards and played “Taps” at precisely 3 p.m. — the brainchild of CBS “On the Road” host and Charles Kuralt protégé Steve Hartman.


Revisiting Walden, in the Time of Coronavirus

Henry David Thoreau knew a thing or two about social distancing. In 1845 he self-quarantined for two years and two months at a one-room cabin he built himself on the shores of Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Neither by edict nor necessity, but rather by intention, Thoreau wanted to “simplify, simplify.”


Why I Love My Hometown Newspaper

News coverage of recent college and high school graduation ceremonies reminds me of another commencement — one that changed this newsie’s life in a flash.


The Balloon Lady: She Was Me Mum

A true townie I am, too, having moved to Chapel Hill in 1947 when I was 2, bringing along my older brother and my mother. So, while I wasn’t actually born in Chapel Hill, I can claim to be a native — albeit with an asterisk.