Tuesday, 11 January 2022
Written by D.G. Martin
Who is the most famous North Carolinian today?
If you check the latest edition of the World Almanac as I do this time every year, you will find a list of “Famous North Carolinians.”
That list includes the following people but not today’s most famous person from our state.
Read over the names on the World Almanac list and then I will tell you today’s most famous person: David Brinkley, Shirley Caesar, John Coltrane, Stephen Curry, Rick Dees, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Dale Earnhardt Sr., John Edwards, Ava Gardner, Richard Jordan Gatling, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, O. Henry, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Michael Jordan, William Rufus King, Charles Kuralt, Meadowlark Lemon, Dolley Madison, Thelonious Monk, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Petty, James K. Polk, Charlie Rose, Carl Sandburg, Enos Slaughter, Dean Smith, James Taylor, Thomas Wolfe.
But that list does not include the North Carolinian most talked about across the world these past few days: a man who grew up in the Tally Ho community of Granville County.
On Christmas Day a $10 billion giant telescope to replace the aging Hubble scope was launched from French Guiana. So far, the launch has been successful. The device is already preparing to begin its observations by unfolding its antenna, mirror, and tennis-court-sized sunshield, as it moves toward a final orbit.
The Hubble, at work for more than 30 years, was named for Edwin Powell Hubble, an American astronomer who died in 1953. He was an important astronomer whose work provided evidence that the universe is expanding.
The new observatory-telescope will be about 100 times more sensitive than the Hubble. As described by Dennis Overbye in the October 20, 2021, edition of The New York Times, “Orbiting the sun a million miles from Earth, it will be capable of bringing into focus the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe and closely inspecting the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for signs of life or habitability.”
So, what does all this have to do with Granville County and the most talked-about North Carolinian?
The new telescope is named the James Webb Space Telescope. Like the Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, or Webb Telescope, or simply the Webb, will be in almost every news story about space exploration for many years. Every young person studying astronomy or reading about space will see his name. It will be everywhere.
Why is this critical device named for Webb?
Lewis Bowling, who, like Webb grew up working in the tobacco fields and barns of Granville County, explained in his column in the December 30, 2021, edition of the Oxford Public Ledger, Granville County’s twice-weekly newspaper.
“James Webb, who grew up in the sticks like me, surrounded by great big fields of tobacco was the man most responsible for leading us to the moon. Let me clarify something: James Webb was born in Tally Ho near Stem, so he was a country boy like me, but obviously a lot smarter. Webb knew and worked for several presidents and was the National Aeronautics and Space Administration director under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. As North Carolina Congressman L. H. Fountain once said, ‘for the first time since the beginning of the world there are now footprints on the moon, and the major share of credit goes to a distinguished son of Granville County, James E. Webb.’”
I would make a bet that there will be a new entry in the 2023 World Almanac’s list of “Famous North Carolinians.”
James Webb from Tally Ho.
Tuesday, 11 January 2022
Written by Pitt Dickey
Unaccustomed to tooting my own horn, today’s column is full bore tooting. If reading another bragging Christmas letter is not your thing, kindly turn the page. Do not go any further.
Spoiler alert, this column will make both my readers feel inadequate.
Until this Christmas past, I did not realize that Christmas was a contest.
My youngest son, Will, pointed out that I had won Christmas this year.
How you might inquire, did I win Christmas? Funny, you should ask. Allow me to retort.
I accomplished something Dads, and Husbands face every Yuletide Season. I purchased an item that warned, “Some assembly required.”
These are words that strike fear into the hearts of men across the fruited plains. After my wife and I retired, the Rona arrived full force.
For over a year, we left the house only to purchase supplies. To deal with the prospect of massive boredom and to avoid having to talk to me 24 hours a day, my wife Lani took up painting.
Before Rona, she had been a painter but only painted Agreeable Gray on apartment walls. After Rona, she took up painting pictures, took art courses and turned a little-used room into an art studio.
It turns out she is an excellent painter. She had hidden her artist talents under a bushel for the forty-plus years we have been married. But enough about her, this column is about me.
Painting is a hobby similar to photography in that there are an almost infinite number of things you can buy to pursue your dreams of artistic immortality.
We acquired an easel and the usual widgets.
Lately, she had been sitting on the floor to paint, which was fine until the time came to get up off the floor.
We had not purchased a skyhook, so her rising was a bit more challenging than sitting down. Being observant for once, it occurred to me that if she had some sort of art desk/easel contraption, she might be a bit more comfortable sitting during painting sessions.
At a local art supply store, I found something called the Art and Crafts Creative Center, a fancy desk and stool.
It came in a box all the way from China with literally 97 pieces to be assembled.
The package was so heavy that I used a hand truck to haul it into the house. The 20-page instruction book was diagrams only. No words of comfort to encourage the would-be assembler. Just inscrutable diagrams with 17 easy steps to assemble the beast.
My favorite diagram, Step 9, illustrates this column.
To say I have few mechanical abilities would be to far overstate my skills in putting things together.
Flipping the correct switch on the breaker box exceeds my level of accomplishment.
Yet here I was, the day after Christmas confronting a seemingly impossible task. I was armed only with a screwdriver and a fatalistic determination to get the Creative Center assembled or die trying.
The magnitude of the task facing me was more daunting than the challenge faced by the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae. As you no doubt recall, way back in 480 BC, 300 Spartan warriors under King Leonidas fought 10,000 Persians under King Xerxes.
The 300 Spartans, against overwhelming odds, managed to delay the Persians long enough for the rest of the Greek army to get into position, and they ultimately defeated the Persians.
The bravery and stubbornness of the Spartans saved Western civilization.
As I faced the overwhelming odds of assembling the now unboxed artistic monster, I called upon the spirit of Leonidas to give me strength.
For three hours without a break, I valiantly did my best to assemble the mighty beast. Steps 1 and 2 were inscrutable as the diagram did not remotely resemble the legs that came with the box.
The actual legs were far different from those shown. Alas and Alack!
Trying to make sense of the incomprehensible instructions, I felt like the narrator in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, who almost said: “Once upon an afternoon dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten diagrams.”
A lesser man would have quit in disgust.
But the spirit of Leonidas was with me. I persevered and innovated with the misbegotten legs. Conquering the first two steps gave me the confidence to move on to the next 15 steps.
Displaying an almost inhuman resolve to complete the task, I only cursed once during the entire process.
It was a relatively mild curse that Rhett Butler might have issued when he left Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone with the Wind.
Surprising my whole family and mostly myself, I constructed the artsy desk in one sweat-soaked afternoon with only three pieces left over. Lani was delighted with the desk. My son Will awarded me the Winner of Christmas Award.
Life was good. A picture of the desk with her latest artwork is attached above.
Moral of this story: When confronted with a difficult task, may the determination of King Leonidas be with you.