Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of my editor, Stephanie Crider, asking me to take on the role of Hope Mills correspondent for Up & Coming Weekly.
As I observe that milestone, I wanted to take a few minutes to share the backstory of my history with the town and why it is a special place to me.
Although I was born in and spent the early years of my Up & Coming Weekly life in Massey Hill — which everyone with any history in Cumberland County knows to be the natural rival of Hope Mills on the athletic field — Hope Mills has been important to me since my youth.
My late mother, Peggy Blount Vaughan, had many relatives in Hope Mills. As a girl, she’d catch the train in Fayetteville and ride out to Hope Mills on the weekends to spend time with her cousin, Mildred Starling.
I temporarily lost contact with Hope Mills, and the entire Fayetteville area, when my family moved away from here in the mid-1960s so my dad, Earl Vaughan Sr., could begin his training as a Presbyterian minister. It was not until I graduated from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in 1976 that I came back to Cumberland County.
During my days as a Seahawk, I met a guy who not only reconnected me with Hope Mills but showed me more about the town and its people than I had ever known. His name was Eddie Dees, and he became my best friend.
Eddie and I had a lot in common. We both loved sports, we were both interested in writing, and, for a time, we were on the same career path. As college students, we were both employed by Fayetteville Publishing Company as correspondents in the sports department, Eddie with The Fayetteville Times and me with The Fayetteville Observer.
He graduated college before I did and returned to Hope Mills as a teacher at South View High School. Months later, he would help me get an interim position as an English teacher at South View.
It was there our career paths diverged. Halfway into my three-month interim job at South View, a full-time position opened at The Fayetteville Observer in sports, where I had been working parttime since the summer of 1972. I took it and stayed there until September 2016.
Eddie remained at South View until eventually leaving and going to Gray’s Creek High School and later Freedom Christian Academy before contracting pancreatic cancer, which eventually took his life in June 2016, months before I retired from the newspaper.
You could not spend any amount of time around Eddie and not get a strong sense of his passion for the town of Hope Mills. He lived there all his life — from the house on the hill near the railroad bridge as a youth, to his home on South Main Street as an adult, to the dwelling of his final years at the corner of his beloved Hope Mills Lake with wife Susan and daughters Carey and Casey.
He would share his fondness for his town in a book he wrote, “Hope Mills Heritage,” a book I was honored to have a small part in helping him write.
He loved Hope Mills. He loved its people. And he especially loved its beautiful lake.
When the dam first failed and the town lost the lake, he was crushed. Restoring the lake was a primary factor in his decision to enter politics and successfully run for Hope Mills mayor.
We used to spend hours riding in his truck as I gave him political advice before and after his election. I viewed myself as a poor man’s James Carville, and any bad decisions he made as mayor can largely be blamed on me because I knew way more about high school sports than I did politics.
For any faults Eddie may have had, loving his hometown wasn’t among them.
I’ve tried to adopt the same approach in my coverage of Hope Mills for Up & Coming Weekly. I’ve tried to tell the stories of the town, good and bad, with honesty and frankness, while sharing deep appreciation and respect for the thousands of people who call it home.
I hope I’ve done that, and I plan to continue doing it. I want to thank everyone who’s worked with and supported both me and Up & Coming Weekly in our mission to cover Hope Mills the best way we know how.
Thanks for reading what we’ve had to share, and here’s to another year of telling the stories of Hope Mills.
Photo: Former Hope Mills Mayor Eddie Dees