How Bill Powell Challenged Me to Be a Better Tarheel
April 28, 1919 - April 10, 2015

It hardly seems possible that 40 years ago next month, I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and a reporter’s job awaiting me at The Messenger in Madison, NC. A “Navy brat” with no real hometown, I had made the decision to remain in the Tarheel state after arriving for college from Northern Virginia and being introduced to BBQ, sweet tea, Southern hospitality, and William S. Powell’s HIST 366 – the History of North Carolina to 1865.

A Statesville resident from the age of three and a proud graduate of what was then called Mitchell Junior College, Bill Powell made his way to Chapel Hill and received an undergraduate degree and served in the U.S. Army in World War II before earning a master’s degree, and then a few years later, landing a job in the University’s library. His own love of history led him to make use of the abundance of research available, and soon he was writing the more than 1,000 books and articles about the state that brought him the well-deserved-though-unofficial title “dean of North Carolina history.”

I knew nothing about Professor Powell’s illustrious background when I enrolled in his course, only that in deciding to live and work in North Carolina, I probably needed to know a bit about its history. While my maternal grandmother was born in North Carolina, and that line of my family goes all the way back to Jamestown, my knowledge consisted mainly of family stories, not facts and figures. That is what Professor Powell could provide.

For 50 minutes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday of Fall semester of my senior year, I listened to him lecture on North Carolina’s history, throwing out dates –the Halifax Resolves were signed April 12, 1776 – and tidbits, such as the names of the four busts found on the second floor rotunda of the state Capitol are John Motley Morehead, William A. Graham, Samuel Johnston and Matt Whitaker Ransom. The midterm and final exams were filled with the information he expected us to learn, as well as an essay question. On the mid-term I wrote, “I don’t know this answer, but here is what I do know,” then wrote an essay on that topic. I failed it, the final exam, and the course.

Never a failure, however, I registered again for HIST 366 -- Spring semester when I was to graduate and for a Pass/Fail grade. But the mid-term and final exams went no better the second time around, and while I can discuss the heck out of just about any topic, remembering those names, dates and places Professor Powell believed important wasn’t a skill I’d mastered, even after four years of college. In a week, I was due to graduate, but only if I passed HIST 366. My entire family was coming for the ceremony – Mom and Dad, and two sisters and four brothers who all were younger than I and expecting me to be the first of we seven to graduate from college. Though I did have that newspaper job waiting, not having a degree would not go over well with my dad.

In the days between exams ending and graduation, I called Professor Powell four times, in each call asking if I’d passed. Now, for the past 12 years, I’ve been an associate professor of English at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh. Any student who contacted me after exams wanting to know a final grade was told I’d send out email when grades were posted. Yet Professor Powell politely told me the first three times that he didn’t have the grades ready. The fourth call brought an exasperated “Yes, yes. You passed, you passed.” Had I really, or did he not want that fifth call? I’ll never know.

It wasn’t until years later when I began researching a book about a UNC family that I learned the extent of Professor Powell’s knowledge of North Carolina history. Time and again, queries directed me to his work. I discovered that he’d loved history from the time he was an elementary school student in Statesville, and that 40 years later, when he was to be named a UNC professor of North Carolina history, the appointment was scrutinized because he didn’t have a doctorate. After someone wheeled in a library cart overflowing with the books he’d written, the discussion ended, and when he retired in 1986, it was with the title “Professor Emeritus.”

I also learned that I was one of some-6,000 students passing through his courses during those teaching years that began in Fall 1973, just two years before my entry into HIST 366. Perhaps as a new professor, he hadn’t yet found the heart to tell students to wait for final grades to be posted!

Sometime in the early 1990s, when I called on him for research assistance with my book, and asked about the possibility of me writing an entry for the Encyclopedia of North Carolina he was compiling, he graciously said yes to both, and added that he recalled me as a student, but not the four phone calls. The Encyclopedia was finally published in 2006, nearly 30 years after its inception. It was a thrill to find my name alongside his and the 550 volunteer writers who produced more than 2000 entries and provided 400-plus photographs and maps. Its online version is an ongoing project and today boasts 6,842 entries and 7,134 images.

As with Professor Powell’s writing projects, mine was in the works for nearly 20 years. But nine years away from publication, I had enough information for what I hoped was an interesting presentation on former NC Governor and UNC President David L. Swain and his daughter’s marriage to a Union general at the end of the Civil War.

That first program was scheduled for a cold Valentine’s Day in 2000 to members of the Chapel Hill Historical Society. As I was introduced and approached the microphone, who did I spot in the middle of the last row but my former teacher. I knew I’d soon be laughed off the podium, for my facts would be inaccurate and Professor Powell would jump up and cry, “No! No! She’s wrong! She’s wrong!”

It never happened. Instead, I watched as he nodded approvingly time and again. My facts were correct. At program’s end, he congratulated me, and I was elated, feeling finally like the successful student I’d wanted to be so long ago.

Oftentimes Professor Powell and his wife Virginia were in the audience for my programs, and when Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General was finally published in 2009, it was he who I thanked in the Acknowledgments for instilling in me “an abiding love for North Carolina history.”

His death last Friday, April 10, leaves a void of anyone with immediate recall of names, facts, places or events about North Carolina. Anyone needing information on the state should look to his North Carolina: A History (1997) for general readers, North Carolina Through Four Centuries (1989), a well-used undergraduate text, or The North Carolina Gazeteer (1968), listing the names and founding dates and a short essay of every noteworthy place in the state.

I want to believe his leaving this earth on the day after the 150th anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Virginia to Union Gen. William T. Sherman has some sort of significance, for Professor William Stevens Powell from Iredell County was a true lover of North Carolina and Southern history.

Baking a Cake: Why it Took Four Pans for a One-Layer Cake

For more years than I care to count, the joke in my family has been that cakes are always served in the pan – frosted, but on top only. One birthday, Jen asked me for brownies, as they’re always better straight from the oven, sliced and taken right out of the pan. I complied.

While on sabbatical this semester, I’ve done more cooking than in the past 20 years, so as John’s birthday approached, I decided to bake a cake from scratch – one that came from a cookbook that would have special meaning for him. As angel food is his favorite, I first looked for that recipe, but 12 egg whites seemed like a lot for a cake that only three people would eat. Then I came across a one-layer sponge cake recipe, handwritten and saved in an envelope addressed to his great-grandmother, Emma Lavinia Elliott Borneman, and placed under the “cakes and pies” tab in his grandmother’s recipe box. This seemed the cake to make, and with just five ingredients, how difficult could it be?

The receipt – as it was spelled in the 1800s – called for 1 cup of sifted cake flour, 1 cup of granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar, 6 eggs, either vanilla or lemon extract for flavor, and a lemon or orange drizzle topping made with confectioner’s sugar, butter and milk.

“Success in this cake depends on beating after each ingredient is put in,” the receipt-writer instructed.

“I can do this,” I thought and got out all the ingredients -- measuring spoons and cups, several bowls, and the sifter. Because I had all-purpose flour, not cake, I researched what to substitute, discovering that replacing 2 tablespoons of the flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch would provide the added protein that makes cake flour different.

The first task was separating the egg yolks from the whites, something I wished I’d had a separator to do for me. Luckily only two tiny pieces of eggshell wound up in the whites, which were to be “beat until stiff” before the tartar was added, then both ingredients “beat lightly.” Sugar “sifted until fine grain – about four or five times” followed and the mixture was “beat again.” Next came the egg yolks – “well beaten” – and lastly, the sifted flour. “Beat again and flavor with lemon or vanilla extract.”

I did as instructed, making a powdery mess sifting the cornstarch into the flour and the sugar until it was a “fine grain.” But I felt good, proud of my undertaking. John was going to love this, and surely if I lightly oiled and floured the pan bottom, the cake would come out.

The last step of pouring the batter into the pan seemed simple, until I looked at the receipt and realized it called for a funnel pan. We have square and round and heart-shaped and bundt pans, but I’d never baked in a funnel pan. Then I remembered that one of the “finds” John brought home as he and his brothers have sorted through their late mom’s belongings was an aluminum cake pan with a funnel insert. Though I’d pooh-poohed keeping it, he had washed, dried, and put it away, so out it came.

Now, I’d seen cakes baked in such a pan, but would the way the funnel fit into the base truly not leak? I poured the batter in, then thought I should check for leakage, and with that, I grabbed the funnel and lifted it before …. Duh! I’d broken the seal and batter was oozing out the bottom onto the counter and down the cabinet to the floor. Talk about a sticky mess.

Grabbing a round cake pan from the cabinet, I set the dripping funnel in it and poured the remainder of the batter into the pan, then set it on the counter. Now its bottom was sitting in batter. So I got another round pan, put it under the first, and carried everything to the stovetop. Carefully lifting the funnel and the first pan, I poured its contents into the second, and spilled yet more batter onto the stovetop and around the edges of the pan. Good grief. I reached for one more cake pan -- non-stick -- and again poured the batter. Done, but now my hands were sticky, too!

It’s lucky I was home alone, because my careful planning had quickly fallen apart, literally. If anyone had been there . . .

Finally I got the cake into the oven. I’d had to check the back of a prepared cake mix box for the proper temperature setting – 350 -- because the receipt called for an oven whose flame had been turned “comparatively low” immediately after lighting.

“Don’t open oven for 20 minutes,” admonished the receipt writer. “By this time cake should be well risen and turning brown. Lower flame and bake almost 15 min. longer.”

If you do any baking, you can probably imagine the rest. The 350 was too hot, the cake never rose, and at the end of 35 minutes, though it was golden brown, it was just a half-inch thick. The toothpick test revealed a done center, however, so out it came. I let it sit for 10 minutes, turned it upside down on a cake rack, and waited and waited and waited.

It did not fall.

With a knife, I carefully went around the edge of the cake until it was loosened enough from the side of the pan to -- finally -- pop out. Success!

That night, I served John his birthday cake, telling him the story of finding his great-grandmother’s recipe so it would be special. My nephew Jack rolled his eyes and John fought back laughter as I shared my baking adventure.

“It’s not much of a sponge cake,” I said, slicing into what was the consistency of a biscuit. “But it came out of the pan.”
"North Carolina coaching great Dean Smith dies at 83"

While many Tar Heels have expected this news for quite awhile, it still gives one reason to pause when it comes.

I can't remember a time when I didn't know about Dean Smith. He arrived in Chapel Hill in 1958, when I was 5. My mom - a former sports writer turned society page reporter (deemed acceptable for female journalists in the 1950s) - never lost her zeal for her alma mater and UNC sports. My dad, who often was "at sea" with the Navy, was just as true blue to Carolina. And so, I learned to cry "go to hell Dook" long before I understood what it meant! (At this point, my Southern manners require me to apologize to my Duke pals, tho I swear no ABC-er has ever apologized to me! Alas, I digress.)

And so it was that I carried on the family tradition as the first Maynard child to head to college. While at St. Mary's in Raleigh, I made a collect call to Dean Smith each time I arrived back in my dorm room following a visit home. If course, he never was there to accept the call! One Sunday night upon making that call, the operator asked, "Who?" When I repeated the name, she said, "Yeah, sure." But she put through the call.

Next stop was Chapel Hill and I've long bragged I never missed a home football or basketball game my senior year. That explains my final GPA!

It was tough being a Carolina fan while living in Frederick, Md, in the heart of Terp country in the 1980s, but when a 3-1/2 month-old Jen and I watched the Heels beat Georgetown on that memorable night in 1982, it was worth all the ragging! We repeated in 1993 against Michigan, knowing my mom, who died 2 years earlier, was smiling down from heaven.

Jen, nephew Joey, and I headed to Chapel Hill in April 2009 for that glorious win against Michigan State, and while Smith was no longer coaching, his spirit was there.

RIP, Coach Dean Smith. Your life was not all about wins and losses, for your influence on your players and those who knew and loved and respected you was far greater.

"Hark the sound of Tar Heel voices, ringing clear and true. Singing Carolina praises. Shouting NCU."


(Photo from

Remembering Pattie Brooks

For months after my sister Pattie died two years ago Jan. 15, Tuesday mornings were the most difficult. I had talked with her on Monday night about her excitement in going with Jack the next day on his class field trip. "Call and tell me all about it," I said. Instead it was Joseph who called to say something bad had happened to Mommy and they were at the hospital. Gail and Warren comforted me and Warren drive me to Louisburg.

Why, then, did Tuesday mornings get me? Because it was her last on this earth. We often chatted those mornings as I drove to Raleigh and now my rides were made in silence. She had no idea that Tuesday would be her last, her death so quick and unexpected as it was, yet I have had a future of Tuesday mornings.

I shared at her memorial service how we were 15 years apart, so we didn't become friends, and not just sisters, until we were adults.While I want to stay sad forever, I cannot. She left three smart, good-looking boys who need to know her always and that is the role I have as Aunt Suzy. So what do I share today when they are 14 and almost 9 and 13? Here goes:

~ We called her Precious Pretty Pattie and Bebopper Marshmallow
~ She was so tough as the last girl with 4 older brothers that she played soccer on a boys' team
~ She had a smile that could light up the world and she used it often. Everyone felt special when she smiled at them
~ She drove a red Ferraro and taught Jen to sing "Born in the USA" as they cruised Cary with the top down
~ She loved pink sweetheart roses and triple chocolate cheesecake and General Foods hazelnut coffee
~ Her manicures and pedicures were out of this world
~ She loved a bargain, especially when the store paid her
~ She loved her family with all her heart, and most of all, she loved her boys - her license plate read "PB & the J's"

There is so much more, yet so little space here.

However, my favorite Pattie picture of all time is from when she was about 4. As I recall, I was going somewhere with my high school boyfriend and she wanted to go, but couldn't. I don't know who captured her displeasure on camera, but it came in the form of a crying temper tantrum, right there in the front yard of our home in Vienna, VA. Her head is thrown back, her long blonde hair flying all around, and her arms flung out in disgust. In the photo's background is my boyfriend, leaning against his car, arms crossed and a grin on his face. Guess he knew no one could resist our Precious Pretty Pattie, and she soon be going wherever it was we were headed!

Love and miss you, PM.

Women and Writing and Adversity

My friend and colleague Jo Ann Mathews works hard at sharing information for and among and between writers. She recently featured me on that blog "Woman and Adversity." Here's what I shared:

I was 10 years old and in fifth grade when the class English assignment was to write a short story. They were to be judged by our teacher’s mother — award-winning children’s author Natalie Savage Carlson — and the winning stories read to younger children in other grades. Though in retrospect I see I took a fairy tale and retold/rewrote it, my story was selected. I still have the copy of it on which Mrs. Carlson wrote how much she’d enjoyed reading it.

That entire school year was spent in learning from our teacher, Julie Carlson, the different stylistic devices used in writing and incorporating them into our compositions. After I used personification and onomatopoeia in describing my dad’s old car named “Junior” and the many sounds it made when he started and drove it, Miss Carlson encouraged me to continue writing.

From that point on, I knew some form of writing was what I wanted to do, and I began in earnest in high school when I joined the newspaper staff. By my senior year, I was co-editor and writing a column for our local weekly newspaper. As a college freshman, I again volunteered for the school newspaper. But I quickly found I had a lot to learn — and couldn’t always write in my own “style” — when I was put in my place by my freshman composition teacher. She insisted we begin all our essays with “In the beginning, I shall attempt to prove……” Well, I wasn’t going to write like that because I was a journalist. I earned D’s on all my essays until I followed her formula. Once it was mastered, she allowed us to write in styles that suited us!

Majoring in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill meant I also wrote for the college newspaper, and I loved it. But my classroom writing didn’t go as well, as once again, I was up against instructors who first wanted us to learn “their” way. Until I acquiesced, my rebellion only resulted in lower grades. But I finally earned decent grades in news, feature, and editorial writing — and was published during my semester-long internship at a daily newspaper — then graduated and found a reporting job on a small community newspaper. Once again, however, I had more to learn. Because our competition was a daily, the editor wanted our writing and headlines to entice the reader. When he asked me to begin a story about the discovery of a murder victim with these words — “The bloody, battered and bludgeoned body of Junior Metcalf was dragged from the bottom of the Dan River on Saturday…” — I drew the line. He wrote the lead, I wrote the story, and he put my name on it!

Every new reporting job had its challenges — both with editors and with my dad, who also had been a journalism major. Often he’d send me back my stories with red marks all over them, saying he was only trying to help me become a better writer. It didn’t matter that the stories had been published. He thought I could learn from his comments. Even in my miffed state of mind, I probably did.

Fast-forward 35 years when I had the manuscript for my first — and only — book rejected three times by the only publisher I sent it to. But the third time’s the charm, the old saying goes, and this rejection notice came with the suggestion of another publisher, who had already been contacted. Weeks later, I had a contract and a new editor. We sparred over wording and story order and what should stay and what should go. She won some of the battles; I won others. We made it through more writing and researching, lots of editing, and seemingly endless proofreading at breakneck speed — 6-months — and in July 2009, Undaunted Heart: The True Story of a Southern Belle & a Yankee General was published.

It’s amazing how suddenly I was “a writer,” though I’d made a living as a writer for my entire professional career. My dad had to remind me of that once when I wondered if I’d ever amount to anything! I was bemoaning that I’d never reached my goal of writing for The Washington Post — although I did write two obits that were published — so maybe, I told him, I hadn’t been successful. “Look what you’ve done,” he replied. “You’ve been paid to write ever since you graduated from college.”

Today, most of my writing is done on a part-time basis, for I am a full-time assistant professor of English at a local community college. And guess what? I require my students to write their introductions and essays in a certain format! And I also can finally see the forest for the trees. I feel extremely comfortable providing encouragement to current and former students that ANY writing is writing! Just do it and put it out there. It helps that there are so many places to publish — this blog, for instance — but wherever they do, others are certain to read and enjoy.

My biggest obstacle? Taking my own advice that ANY writing is writing and I need to simply do it, to take what’s in my head and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. The result is the same: I am a writer.

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It really has been a year

Although tomorrow, Jan. 15, is the first anniversary of my baby sister Pattie’s untimely death, that it was a Tuesday is what I always will remember. (Above, Pattie with her youngest, Jesse)

We had talked Monday night as I packed for my weekly trip to Raleigh, and she said she was excited about a field trip she was chaperoning the next day for Jack’s class. Crosscreek Charter, where all three boys were in school, was her sanctuary, a place where she felt needed and wanted, where she’d been volunteering since the summer of 2006 when Jack went to kindergarten. Jesse, who will turn 8 next week on Jan. 24, practically grew up there, as he was 6 months old when Jack started school; Joseph, who will be 12 on Jan. 22, went to kindergarten the following year. It was home away from home.

That night, she told me how the young men and women – the sixth graders – had to dress up for the event. Even Jack had agreed to wear a tie. With her excitement, I looked forward to hearing about it the next day. But that didn’t happen, for at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Joseph called to tell me Mommy had been taken to the hospital, and soon Warren, my friend Gail’s husband, was driving me to Louisburg. John was home in Harmony, but immediately found someone to take care of Cady the dog and was on his way.

It didn’t matter.

An embolism has a funny way of taking someone immediately. No time to say what needs to be said. No time to say goodbye. No time to hear about a field trip. Time simply stops as a life comes to an end.

Tuesdays -- the day I drive 2-1/5 hours to Raleigh to teach -- are my times to remember. I do my morning stretches and think about how a Tuesday was her last day on this earth. I head down the road and miss the morning chats we had while I was driving. If Crosscreek was tracked out and the boys were home, they could be heard in the background – often arguing, as boys tend to do -- but we’d keep on talking, discussing their plans for the day, her dreams for them, our next time together, anything and everything.

Because she was 5 when I went to college, we got to know one another and become friends as adults. It was a friendship I cherished.

. . .

The other morning I awoke about 5 o’clock from a dream: Jesse and I were walking back into the house from somewhere we had been, and as I glanced down the hallway, I saw a large brown, lumpy mound. Before I had a chance to investigate, the mound jumped up.

From under it emerged Jack, Joseph, and Pattie.

“Surprise,” yelled Pattie, a huge smile on her face.

It was my sign. I am so sad that she is gone, yet I know she is safe and happy and with us, always.

Governor Swain’s Last Days

by Suzy Barile

When David L. Swain arrived for the first time in Chapel Hill at the start of the University of North Carolina’s 1822 spring term, he was a young man with focus and determination. He knew he wanted to study the law. Older at twenty-one than the typical freshman, he enrolled at the university to pursue that dream.

What he found, he wrote to his father George Swain back in his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, were classmates who were not serious about their studies.

Disenchanted and eager to achieve his goal, David Swain left school and moved to Raleigh to study under Judge John Louis Taylor, a state Supreme Court justice. If he attended lectures and completed the prescribed readings, he explained to his father, Taylor “has no doubt but that he can … prepare me” for a career in the law.

George Swain was initially unhappy with his son’s decision, reminding him of all he could learn from the formal education the university offered. But by mid-July, “after having time to read your letter leisurely, and weigh your arguments,” the elder Swain agreed to David’s plan.

“I don’t however blame you for changing your mind.”

David Swain’s decision proved to be the right one. A year later, in 1823, he passed the bar exam and returned home to Buncombe County to practice law. In 1824, he was elected to the N.C. House of Commons. So exemplary was his service that he was re-elected four times, and in 1832, he became North Carolina’s twenty-sixth and at age thirty-one, its youngest governor, a position he held until late 1835, when he was named to the helm of the university following the death of its first president, Joseph Caldwell.

For the next thirty-three years, Swain led the university, even succeeding in keeping it open during the four long years of the Civil War, when fewer than twenty students were enrolled by its end in April 1865.

But it is the actions of his youngest daughter, Ella, for which Swain often has been remembered. At twenty-two, Ella fell in love with and wed the Union general whose soldiers occupied Chapel Hill that spring. Though the marriage was scandalous to family friends and neighbors, a victorious U.S. Gen. William T. Sherman gave Swain a horse and buggy as a congratulatory gift upon learning that one of his men was to marry the UNC president's daughter.

A few years later, ironically, it was in that very buggy pulled by that very horse that Swain was riding on August 11, 1868, when he was critically injured in an accident. Carried across the university’s campus on a stretcher to his home, he appeared to improve over the next two weeks. Yet on August 27, while visiting with Professor Charles Phillips, he suddenly became weak and asked to be helped back to bed. He died twenty minutes later.

As was the custom, following the August 29 funeral at his home, former Governor and University of North Carolina President David L. Swain was buried in the family’s backyard in Chapel Hill. His remains later were removed to Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh under a marble obelisk erected by Eleanor Swain, his wife of nearly forty years.

(Editor's Note: David L. Swain was my 3rd-great-grandfather.)