Peggy Choate – The Town of Sparta

In 1965, despite operating for six years under a federal mandate to desegregate the public schools of Virginia,  over 223,000 of the 235,000 black students in Virginia still attended segregated schools. That year, Peggy Choate enrolled in the first grade in a school in Pulaski, Virginia.  She was the only black student in the entire school.  Peggy’s mother explained to her that, “Times are changing; it’s time we change too.”  Peggy’s father reinforced this notion of equality.  A minister, he often pointed out that regardless of a person’s background or skin color, “People are people.”

Respect for others; the fortitude to make the hard, right choice; the ability to adapt and change; and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves. Those values that formed the foundation of Peggy’s life.

Some years later, Peggy attended a church service with a friend.  She looked over the group and spied Alleghany County native, Jack Choate.  Peggy turned to her friend and said, “There is my future husband.”  Peggy and Jack were introduced and began dating.  After a brief courtship of a few months they were married and settled down in Alleghany County.

Peggy had graduated from New River Community College with a degree in secretarial science. In Alleghany, the job market was somewhat limited so she soon found herself working in a textile sewing plant.  Sometime later, she switched over to the Hanes plant where she continued to sew for eight years.

As the Hanes plant transitioned to new ownership under Sara Lee, Peggy was promoted to supervisor and team trainer.  She describes those years as ones of substantial professional development for her.  She learned the value of honest performance feedback and how to lead a team of diverse individuals toward accomplishing a common purpose.  She learned the principles of conflict resolution and problem solving.  And though there were sometimes personality conflicts that came into play, she recalled her father’s words to respect others because “people are people” regardless of their differences.

The plant underwent one final change when Spring Ford Industries took over the Sara Lee operations.  Peggy continued to climb through the supervisory ranks to become the plant manager.  The plant closed around 2000 and Peggy was offered a job in a Spring Ford plant in Mexico.  She turned down that opportunity – Alleghany County was home.

While working at Spring Ford, Peggy enrolled in Gardner Webb University’s GOAL (Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners) Program to study accounting.  Her layoff allowed her to focus on her studies and to spend time volunteering at Glade Creek Elementary School. She says the school provided a great educational experience for her two sons and she wanted “give back” to that community.

In 2002, Peggy was hired by the Blue Ridge Business Development Center.  Patrick Woodie was just getting the organization off the ground and brought Peggy on as the general manager.  In late 2005, she took her current position with the Town of Sparta as the clerk/finance officer.

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Conversation with Peggy seems to always circle back to her family.  She describes a trip a few years back when they took her 101 year old grandmother (she lived to 106) to Maine to visit her son – Peggy’s uncle.  She talks with pride about her husband Jack who is a self-employed building contractor.  And of course she is a proud mother and grandmother.

Family values, persistence when faced with adversity, and strong community ties.  Peggy Choate lives those values every day in a way that is Absolutely Alleghany.

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Winter on the Blue Ridge Parkway

When considering outdoors recreation in Alleghany County, most visitors tend to think in terms of warm weather activities: float trips down the New River; trout fishing in one of many high quality trout streams; golfing on premier mountain golf courses; or hiking on the miles of trail along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in Stone Mountain State Park.

But, for wintertime recreation, most thoughts shift to the ski slopes of Watauga County or even West Virginia.  That’s unfortunate, because winter sports can be enjoyed right here in Alleghany County. During inclement weather, the Blue Ridge Parkway closes to traffic from Milepost 234 to just beyond Doughton Park.  This presents nice opportunities to utilize the Parkway in nontraditional fashion.

Ski-parkway

from roanokeoutside.com

There is nothing as quiet as a snowy hike.  Whether it is simply a matter of pulling on a pair of warm boots or strapping on a set of snowshoes, the Parkway is the perfect place to enjoy the quiet and solitude of a recent snowfall.

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from highcountrync.com

Cross country skiing is another way to take advantage of gentle gains and decreases in elevation along the Parkway.  Away from the crowds on the slopes near Boone, it is possible to glide along the Parkway and encounter few other people.

ski-parkway-snowshoe

from smokymountainrider.com

Remember to dress in layers since temperatures can vary widely.  Also, when parking, be sure to not block gates or access roads.  Otherwise, have fun!

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TJ Worthington

This blog began as a way to communicate the essence of what it means to live and work in Alleghany County.  It is an effort to try and capture the values of the people who call this place home.  Though they come from various stations in life, and are a mixture of those with deep and swallow roots into these mountains, collectively they define Absolutely Alleghany.

Two days ago, as I considered a new post, I ran through a mental list of possible subjects.  I made a phone call to one and we set up an appointment for next week.  I emailed a man who had been suggested to me.  So, there were two possibilities.

Then I thought that maybe I should write about TJ Worthington.

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TJ Worthington

After all, I had known TJ for 14 or 15 years.  I knew his “story” or at least the basics.  And spending time with him was always enjoyable.  But, TJ would always be around so I pushed the thought back and figured to save him for another day.

Then, I heard yesterday that TJ died.

As I considered that previous line, I wondered how TJ would like his death referenced.  I could have went with, “TJ has passed” or that “He is no longer with us” – both held some possibility. “He has crossed over” or “Gone on” both have that element of journey that captures how TJ approached life.  Surely he would have liked a musical metaphor that he is now “resting high on that mountain.”  Those descriptors help soften the impact of his unexpected loss.  I believe TJ would say, “Keep it simple and get to the point.”

TJ died.

That struggle for phrasing may sum up the dichotomy of TJ’s life.  He managed to simultaneously live an extremely simple and basic life while being one of the most intensely intellectual and creative people I have ever known.  He loved traditional mountain and punk rock music (TJ once told me that old-time music was the original punk rock) – he posted videos of both on his YouTube channel.  He watched foreign films and read poetry and watched NASCAR racing on Sunday afternoons.  He was a painter who continually experimented with color and mediums.  At first glance at his paintings seem minimal and simplistic – closer examination reveals texture and depth and life springing from those “simple” images.  He posted to his blog, Waterfall Road, almost daily though he shrugged off most of life’s structure.  He was something of a hermit who loved people.

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Tom Pruitt by TJ Worthington

I had many conversations with TJ over the years.  He told me about growing up in Kansas, a stint in the Navy, college, life in Charleston, a marriage that didn’t work, numerous jobs, moving to Whitehead, and his thoughts on painting and writing.  There were holes or gaps in his stories.  Real life is like that – some things should be forgotten or laid to rest.  He suggested books for me to read – not in a “You need to read this” kind of way.  It was more along the lines of, “This may give you a different perspective.”

We disagreed on a number of topics.  We offered differing viewpoints on political, social, and spirtual issues.  Those times when we disagreed seemed to be the most enjoyable conversations.  Those conversations were never debates – we accepted the different points of view without feeling a need to try and convince the other that their opinion was wrong.  It was okay to have differences with TJ.

TJ experienced life more deeply than most.  His painting and writing reflected raw emotion.  He described being at a punk rock concert and how he “felt the energy” of the music and the crowd.  He “felt” his paintings more than he saw them.  Mountain music moved him because “felt” the emotion of the musician.  This emotional component was especially evident in his relationships with others.

TJ loved the mountains.  It may be more accurate to say he loved the people of the mountains.  He loved the independent yet interdependent nature of his neighbors.  He recognized that his Whitehead friends, whom he described as some of the most intelligent people he had ever known, owed that knowledge to life rather than formal education.  He credited folks like Tom Pruitt with getting him through his early years on the county.  He would often tell how Junior Maxwell taught him more about life and how to live than any other single person.

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The Little River Boys – Junior Maxwell on banjo – by TJ Worthington

Maybe TJ himself summed up his life philosophy best in a blog post on 12/31/15:

“Throughout my life I have attempted to understand people not me, from foreigners to everyone I know. I am my own political correctness cop open to understanding others the best I’m able, receiving every individual in my life as he or she is within themselves. Another way of saying I go in peace. I don’t use any of the disrespectful names, except for the humor of irony with close friends who understand where I’m coming from. Like you. And this comes from a basic ethic to regard others with respect if I want respect in turn. Respect boomerangs. Disrespect boomerangs. It’s my choice in every moment of every day.”

2015 in review

I have steered clear of writing Absolutely Alleghany in the first person.  My concern is one of objectivity, or at least the perception that people can be written about in an objective manner.  The honest fact is that our perceptions – my perceptions – are always filtered through bias.

This blog began as a way to showcase the interesting people that call Alleghany County, North Carolina home.  People here travel myriad life paths, but all seem to reach a place that satisfies their personal longings. Over the holidays a reader from out of state told me, “Those people you write about seem truly fascinating.  When I read the blog it makes me want to come out hang out with them.”

I grow more convinced each day that everyone has a story that needs to be told.  Yet, like the question asked in many different forms, are the stories really told if no one reads them?  Fortunately, many of the 2015 Absolutely Alleghany stories were read.  Below is a 2015 annual report prepared by WordPress for this blog. Thank you all for reading and sharing these posts.

Now, on to 2016. There are more stories to tell.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.