Editor’s note: This is the first in a five-part series counting down McDowell’s top stories of 2011. It will be followed next Sunday by a month-by-month roundup.
For years, folks in Marion have talked about the possibility of him being a native son. Many suspected he might have been born at the old hospital on James Drive. Biographies, websites and other sources that usually listed Spruce Pine or Asheville as his hometown only added to the speculation.
But under a beautiful Carolina blue sky on the morning of Monday, July 18, legendary UNC Men’s Basketball Coach Roy Williams made it official by helping to dedicate a marker stating that he was indeed born in Marion.
“I don’t mind having it up – especially if it ticks off some Duke fans,” said Williams to the cheering crowd in front of the Marion City Hall.
The Basketball Hall of Famer’s visit and participation in the marker dedication ceremony came in at No. 5 on the top stories of McDowell for 2011.
The Marion City Council authorized the marker in 2009, after Williams wrote a letter to then-Mayor Everette Clark. In the letter, Williams confirmed he was born in Marion and granted his permission for the city to place the marker. He signed his name in Carolina blue ink. The letter is now on display at City Hall.
“Marion is where I was born in Western North Carolina and that area will always be my home,” reads the May 2009 letter from Williams. “From my cousins playing at North Cove to Dot’s Dario down towards Pleasant Gardens, that area always brings back fond memories. You can do as you wish, but please do not feel obligated to do anything. Marion will always be spoken of with great feelings by me. Thanks again.”
Williams, who twice coached the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to national championships, was born Aug. 1, 1950 at the former Marion General Hospital on James Drive. The old hospital is now an apartment building. The marker was placed in front of the City Hall because of its proximity to the birthplace.
The cost for the historic marker was $3,937 and it was all paid for with private donations. No city money was used. The marker has a Carolina blue background and also has a separate plaque listing the major donors.
At the dedication ceremony, Williams told the crowd of cheering Tar Heel fans and local officials, many of whom wore Carolina blue, that if they find any tomatoes or something else splattered on the marker some morning, then they can arrest the Duke Blue Devil fans in town.
“To me, this is always coming home,” he added. “Marion will always be special to me.”
City officials had the section of Main Street in front of City Hall blocked off for the ceremony. Mayor Pro Tem Lloyd Cuthbertson welcomed the crowd. Clark and other local officials said they are proud to call Williams a native son. Register of Deeds Jane McGee presented the coach with a certified copy of his birth certificate.
Then, Williams, with the help of city officials, removed the tarp covering the Carolina blue marker.
“I am flattered and I am being honest about it,” he said of the marker.
Williams, who would soon turn 61, was joined by his wife, Wanda, and some of his relatives from Marion, Spruce Pine and Rutherfordton for Monday’s dedication. Cousins Larry Williams, Steve Williams, Glenna Williams McCracken, Samantha Pyatte, Jeanette Greene and Sharon Date were some of the family members present for the ceremony.
“It’s an honor,” said McCracken.
“We watch him on TV every chance we get,” said Greene.
Then after the ceremony, the legendary coach spent time signing autographs and posing for lots of pictures.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” he added.
Tuesday: The No. 4 top story of the year.