The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

October 24, 2013

Every road leads back to Stanly County

My meeting with Robert D. Raiford

Thursday, October 24, 2013 — “I have wined and dined with kings and queens and I’ve slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans.”

This quote made famous by WWE Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes could apply to the subject of my column this week.

The man I’m talking about has mingled with the rich and famous during his lengthy career in broadcasting, television (“Matlock,” anyone?) and film, yet he has also spoken to and about the common man.

He has lived the “American dream” ... at least, my American dream.

It’s funny how you meet people, and sometimes miss people.

If you recall, a few years ago I had the opportunity to dine with Mickey Rooney when he was in town. At the time, I didn’t think I would fit in with such a big film star, so I passed on the meal, believing I would get to meet him at his performance that weekend.

Well, nature called, and in just a few minutes of a trip to the bathroom, Mickey Rooney was gone.

The same thing happened a few weeks ago. I had a guest drop off some info for an article, yet I was gone to lunch.

I first thought it was a joke, since this person is known to hang out with some of the biggest comedians in the country.

I even had people ask if someone was pulling my leg.

Then I realized it was not a joke.

Robert D. Raiford had actually stopped in at the SNAP office wanting to share the story of his connection to Stanly County.

As I often have told new reporters, all roads do indeed lead to or from Stanly County.

J. Lee Crowell, Raiford’s grandfather, was born and raised at Tuckertown. Minnie Lee Mauney, his grandmother, was raised in New London. Valentine Mauney, her father, and his wife, Minnie, are buried in the cemetery in New London. Valentine, Raiford said, was in the state legislature for two terms.

When his grandparents married, they moved to Concord where Lee began a law practice and they started their family. Eleven of their 17 children survived.

In 1947, 19-year-old Robert D. Raiford took a temporary job as program director at WABZ in Albemarle.

I know the chances of his having a connection here are quite large since he grew up in Concord, but this is the first I had heard of these details.

I wondered why he did a voiceover on a Stanly County documentary the other year, and I guess that’s part of the reason.

We have long heard of the radio voices of Bob Harris and Woody Durham growing up here, but Raiford as program director?

It makes me wonder who else is from here or has a connection to Stanly County. Well, there’s an idea for a series. (Anyone have a direct line to Bruton Smith?)

In his correspondence, Raiford also shared of his love for stopping in at a few of the shops and restaurants in downtown Albemarle, he and his wife having their licenses renewed at the DMV and of meeting some of his friends around here.

But, as the late commentator Paul Harvey would say, “now, the rest of the story.”

As luck would have it, Raiford was kind enough to invite me to the “John Boy & Billy Big Show” studios for an interview a few weeks ago.

When I was going to West Stanly High, each morning on the way to school I would listen to John Boy & Billy for their comedy skits, interviews with comedians, television stars and wrestlers, and, of course, Robert D. Raiford.

In fact, some of my early columns for the SNAP were often in a style of Raiford or of that other Rooney, Andy. (Raiford likes him, too.)

At one time I had dreams of being a radio personality, since I already have the face for it. (Since Raiford didn’t get his current job until he was 60, I guess I have a little time left; that is, when my business is finished here at the SNAP. We can also thank his wife for encouraging him in the direction of radio again after his many years in television news.)

“The Big Show” is syndicated into numerous markets across the country and available online (the bigshow.com). While I did get the opportunity to see John Boy & Billy do their magic, the real assignment of the day was Raiford.

During our one-on-one chat, my videographer shot a couple video segments of the interview I conducted with Raiford, however, I do not know if they will ever be released to the public.

We worked without a full script, like any interview should be conducted, yet we wandered off topic on a few occasions, with a little lively language thrown in for good measure. (I’ll let you decide which of us contributed that.)

“I’d push the envelope,” Raiford explained.

“Not that they hadn’t already pushed the envelope a lot themselves, but maybe I tried to outpush them.”

Raiford’s business card labels him as “curmudgeon at large,” so I had to ask how one becomes a curmudgeon.

He read a few definitions, such as “an ill tempered churlish old man,” and “anyone who hates hypocracy and pretense ... anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner.”

So, do I have to wait until I’m 60 (when he began with John Boy & Billy) or 85 (his current age) to be a curmudgeon?

“Anybody can be a curmudgeon if they got it ’em, of course, to have it in you you gotta have a hide like a rhinosaurus because people are always going to be biting at you,” he said.

Some people say I have the traits of a different kind of animal, but I’ll bray away from that comment.

By the way, Raiford noticed how Albemarle was not a dry town anymore, with his favorite brand at the bar of a local restaurant.

While I don’t usually drink, I do extend the following invitation:

Raiford, when it’s time to wet your whistle, drive to Albemarle and park; we’ll meet up at 5 o’clock, and share your favorite ...  Maker’s Mark.

Who said that? I said that.

With a little help from Robert D. Raiford, of the “John Boy & Billy Show.”

B. J. Drye is editor of The Stanly News & Press. Write him at PO Box 488, Albemarle, NC 28002 or bj@stanly newspress.com.

 

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