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Chatham loses 3 great citizens
by Kirk Ross
On the gray, chilly morning that followed a beautiful fall day, I woke to find that another of Chatham’s greats had left us – the third in three weeks. Our hearts go out to the families of these pillars, but we shed tears also for ourselves. We are the less for their departures, but our lives are much richer from the moments we shared.
Alec Dunn was a farmer from the day he was born to the day he died. He had a strong spirit tempered by a gentle manner and a kind, quiet way of speaking that put you at ease. He was worldly in a way that few attain – his knowledge derived from daily life on the family farm in Bonlee and many years behind the counter of his hardware store and post office. He and Nancy, his wife of 69 years, were an inseparable duo and proved the adage that “we two form a multitude.”
His son, Alvis, is one of the closest friends I’ve ever had and despite my being born a little farther north than was acceptable in many places in Chatham, I felt as welcome in the Dunns’ living room as I have anywhere. It was not a boisterous place – most times it was so quiet you could hear the clock tick. Mr. Dunn was not one for small talk. Sitting in his usual chair under a framed portrait of John Kennedy, he asked you real questions about what you thought about the issues of the day, be they national politics or Chatham land use.
He seemed a tireless man. I remember his son complaining to me once that he couldn’t hardly keep up with “Deddy” – then in his early 80s – when the two were out walking the land checking on fences.
He lost a step or two over the past few years, but his spirit was still there. And it was a joy to see him at 93 revel in the arrival of his first grandchild.
He left us with Nancy and his boys by his side and, I’m sure, a satisfied mind.
I first met Margaret Pollard over a Hardee’s chicken sandwich at the Democratic Party headquarters just outside of Pittsboro. It was Election Day 1992 and quite a few of us were exhausted from several weeks of work getting ready for the day. We ate and talked a little about the chances for the candidates. No matter what happens, she said, there would always be more work to do.
Over the years, she would prove willing to take on bigger and bigger challenges. She ran and won a seat on the board of commissioners. She would later become the first black woman to chair the board and, true to her word, even after she left that post, she didn’t stop putting in the hours on behalf of the voiceless and the needy of the place she called home.
Every now and again, we’d talk and she would remind me that there was still plenty to do; that, despite all the efforts, far too many were still in need of better health care, better education and a simple, fair shake out of life.
She departed far too soon, and I’m sure she would rather I not take this space to mourn, but to remind you to roll up your sleeves – for the work is unfinished and just as important as it ever was.
I used to joke with Margie Ellison about my political “baptism.” It was right there at the counter of the M&R Shopquick on U.S. 15-501. She asked me if I wanted to register to vote and I told her I didn’t believe in it – that no politician was going to look out for me. The sermon I got was not quite fire and brimstone, but stern persuasion – the kind of one-on-one politics that leads to a true conversion. Would that all of us learn the true meaning of the word “enfranchisement” from such a person.
She was a kind woman, and until then we’d always had pleasant conversations. But as I learned many times since, when she was talking politics and what needed to happen in the world, the state and, in particular, in Chatham, there was at her core a fierce determination and an unshakable belief in the power of the vote to change things.
Every time I mark a ballot, I think about her. At election time it is sad to know that she’s not around to straighten out the next generation of young cynics, but I’m ready and, thanks to Margie, able to give ’em what for.