JIM JENKINS: Greg Poole, a man in full

January 5, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: For 31 years, Jim Jenkins was deputy editorial page editor and a columnist for The News & Observer of Raleigh, where this column originally appeared.

Greg Poole called early that day eight or so months ago. I’d learn that was his way — to get started early, and to get to the point. I knew the name from the heavy equipment company in Raleigh, which he’d run for more than 30 years — it was founded by his father — and from his heroic efforts to establish Dorothea Dix Park. It had seemed improbable, but thanks to Poole and some more of Raleigh’s most influential citizens and Mayor Nancy McFarlane, the park was happening and Greg Poole was around to enjoy the happy results of realizing a dream.

While hearing of Greg’s death at 84 (on Dec 29, 2018) was a sad blow, there was comfort in a legacy both of accomplishment and a most happy life lived in full.

My own shared adventure with Greg involved something not about civic crusades: He had some old newspapers, and told me, “Frank Daniels (retired N&O publisher) told me to call you, and I just don’t know what to do with them, but I feel like some of them might be important.” I went to his home and it turned out that while some of his old News & Observers were from the Kennedy assassination and the Clinton impeachment — things a number of people had saved — Greg also had some World War II era newspapers, including an N&O from D-Day.

We thus began an adventure in trying to find a place for his D-Day edition, talking with Ken Howard, head of the N.C. Museum of History. “Our project,” Greg called it, grew beyond what we’d expected initially, and Greg got interested in finding out more about an uncle who was a WWII hero. Shortly before the holidays began this year, he sent me an exclamatory email saying we’d get back to “our project” once Christmas and New Year’s had passed.

Tall, silver-haired and with a calm, measured tone, Greg looked every bit the part of a member of Raleigh’s long-standing establishment, and he’d served on a number of boards for good causes. His family was connected through marriage and blood relation to other families across the state with familiar names — Rand and Kenan among them. These things, by the way, just came out in conversation over many months. Greg was proud, but not boastful.

But the phrase that came to mind when I heard that Greg had died was one sometimes used in eulogies: “He hoed to the end of the row.”

When I’d go to his house to set off on doing some research for “our project,” Greg would have to be back in time for a meeting about Dix, or get ready to head out of town with a piece of heavy machinery to help a friend with a building project, or to go to a board meeting with a civic group. As is often the case with busy people, he always wanted to drive — the better to guarantee a timely departure and return. He never seemed to tire — ever — or at least, never showed any sign of weariness.

And I watched how he interacted with people of all backgrounds. He had the characteristic of the most admirable of people — he treated everyone with the same courtesy and interest and attention. On one trip to the history museum, my grandson, Ayden, came along, and before we left, Greg handed him a dollar because he admired Ayden’s firm handshake. Ayden, without coaching but perhaps remembering what I’d told him about Greg’s support of all the city’s museums, waited a minute and put the dollar in the donation box nearby.

“I’m proud of you, Ayden,” Greg said.

Yes, that was Greg. A most gentle fellow he was, and gracious in that genuine, old-school way. The lovely obituary that ran in The N&O noted that he would be admired more for his “character and love of people” than for any professional achievements, and therein lies a memorial for which all should strive.

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