Ernest M. “Bear” Knotts
Ernest M. “Bear” Knotts
November 27, 1924 – February 22, 2019
Ernest M. “Bear” Knotts was born in Ozark, Alabama on November 27th, 1924, the second of five children of Ernest Tindall and Ila Morgan Knotts. Thus began an incredible journey of hard work, perseverance, true love, and an admirable legacy.
Like many of his generation, his formative years were difficult as his family worked their way through the Depression.
Both parents were North Carolina natives, but they were in Alabama to earn a living in the lumbering industry. They moved back to North Carolina in the late 1920s, where Ila’s family opened Morgan Motor Company, a car dealership that existed into the 1990s.
Bear’s father had been exposed to mustard gas in the first World War and spent many years in hospitals through most of Bear’s childhood.
His family lived in various places in Albemarle, including an apartment over Morgan Motors.
Bear worked throughout his childhood to help his family, including in the garage and driving the tow truck at Morgan Motors and worked as a fireman living alone above the fire station to sound the first alarm. Because of his strength, he was the designated hose puller and often joked that he was Albemarle’s oldest living fireman!
But Bear’s first love was football, and his natural strength and determination quickly led him to excel. Although only 5’10” and 195 lbs., which pales by today’s standards, his quickness and ferocity made him stand out.
He played in a leather helmet in the day of two way football, playing “on both sides of the ball,” but his forte was as a pulling guard in the offensive line.
He was a high school star at Albemarle High, and was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl in 1942 along with Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and is a member of the All-Time Shrine Bowl Team.
Even in those days before media proliferation, Bear was pursued by many colleges on a national scale, including Notre Dame.
However, guided by his high school coach, Bear enrolled at Duke University, beginning a string of four brothers who all played football at Duke.
Bear played for Eddie Cameron at Duke, who was sitting in while Wallace Wade was at war. From 1943-46, Bear was a leader on Duke teams during their heyday.
The 1944 squad captured the Southern Conference crown (in the days before the ACC) and then defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 29-26.
Bear earned All-America honors in 1944 and 45, and All Southern Conference honors in 1945, when he was also team captain. Other than the Sugar Bowl game, one of Bear’s most memorable games was playing in 1945 at the old Polo Grounds in New York against Army and Glenn “Mr. Outside” Davis, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1946.
A newspaper article in 1944 described Bear as “fast and powerful, he’s a deadly downfield blocker, a hard man to take out, and a savage tackler.”
Bear played in several college all-star games and is in both the Duke University Sports Hall of Fame and the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame.
Bear was not just a football player at Duke, but also served as Vice President of the Student Government and member of Kappa Alpha fraternity and numerous honorary societies. He was a leader in the Navy ROTC (V-12) program at Duke.
From the program in the Duke-Army game at the Polo Grounds, four Duke players including Knotts “will leave Duke immediately after today’s game with commissions as Ensign in the US Naval Reserve.”
Graduating from Duke in 1946 just after the war ended, he never served active duty but cherished his time in the Navy including aboard a destroyer, the USS Columbia.
But in terms of importance, his most impactful experience at Duke was meeting the love of his life, the former Eleanor Winslow Brinn from Sanford, NC. Their romance was of storybook quality resulting in marriage in 1949, two beautiful daughters, and many great times and adventures until her unexpected death in 2016.
They were truly one person through sixty-seven years of marriage. They traveled the country and the world, but their shared passions were family times and following their beloved Duke Blue Devils, attending numerous regional and Final Four games throughout the country.
Bear was drafted by the Chicago Bears after college, but quickly realized that an NFL paycheck in those days could not support him and Eleanor. He worked for Southern Bell in Columbia, S.C. and Charlotte and played semi-pro football for the Charlotte Clippers for several years.
In 1950, he accepted a position with Morgan Insurance Agency back home in his beloved Albemarle.
Over the next 60 years, he acquired ownership of Morgan and several other agencies eventually becoming Bear Insurance, one of the most successful and respected agencies in the State of North Carolina. He worked long hours, nights and weekends, and often said that he was one of those fortunate people who truly loved what he did and never dreaded going to work. He was universally respected in his industry.
During his business life, Bear served his community in many capacities. He was a member of the Lions Club for over 55 years (served as President and Tailtwister and attended until his death), the Stanly County Development Corporation, now Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation, the Jaycees (President), the Board of First National Bank (later First Union), Chamber of Commerce (President), and was Santa Claus in the Albemarle Christmas Parade for many years!
Bear was a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Albemarle, served as a Deacon and Treasurer, and served on three building committees through the years, his last project being the planning and funding of the forthcoming columbarium. Bear and Eleanor endowed the Heritage Room at the Church in honor of his parents.
He served many terms on the Pfeiffer University Board and is an honorary alumnus.
Bear also helped his close friend Toby Webb coach several state champion football teams at his alma mater, Albemarle High School.
Bear was a member of the Iron Dukes, Stanly County Country Club, The Tower Club, a founding member of the Albemarle Investment Club, and the Cotillion Club.
As well as his parents, Bear was predeceased by his beloved wife, Eleanor, his four siblings, Ila Lee Moose, James T. Knotts, Don M. Knotts, and J. Douglas Knotts.
He is survived by his daughters, Brinn Knotts Smith (Jeff) of Albemarle, Bess Knotts Walker (Win) of Raleigh, grandchildren Lee Timberlake (Michele), Bill Timberlake, Ila Walker Bittner (Robbie), Locke Walker (Kallie), and Carr Walker, and three great grandchildren, Robert “Bear” Bittner, Talen Hinesley and Tendel Timberlake.
Step-grandchildren are Brian Smith (Jessica), Ben Smith (Brooks), Liz Adkisson (Patrick), and Katie Furr (Justin) and seven step-great grandchildren, Eli, Landon, Caroline, Ava, Emmett, Henry and Harrison.
Bear loved them all!
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a contribution to First Baptist Church (Knotts Family Columbarium or Capital Endowment Fund), Pfeiffer University (Knotts Student Endowment Fund), or the Iron Dukes.
The family would like to thank the staff at Trinity Place, and most especially Mary Howard, Ken Chambers, Anthony Hinson and Greg Haywood for their loving and devoted care. We also thank all our many friends for their outpouring of love and support.
Bear Knotts was a giant of a man, both physically and in character, but he always remained a humble Christian man. He often expressed his contentment with the life he was given. His family and friends will miss him greatly.
Visitation will be Wednesday, February 27th from 6-8 pm at Hartsell Funeral Home, 522 N. Second Street, Albemarle. Memorial Service on Thursday, February 28th at 2:00 pm at First Baptist Church of Albemarle, 202 N. Second Street, Albemarle, with a reception at the church following the service.
Hartsell Funeral Home of Albemarle is serving the Knotts family.
Online condolences may be made at www.hartsellfh.com