Barkin

He seeks fame, for others

Staff WriterJuly 8, 2009 

When we last left Robert Poole Jr., he was trying to get his idea for a N.C. Hall of Fame off the pad. Ruth Sheehan, who normally occupies this space, wrote about his effort in 2007.

It was a tough sell for Poole two years ago; imagine what it's like to look for corporate or state funding today. But at least he's getting in the door; he has a meeting coming up (Poole asked me not to say with whom); and he's still working nights and weekends in a lonely quest to honor notable Tar Heels.

I say nights and weekends, because his day job is up at Louisburg College in Franklin County. He's the concerts and auditorium manager, which means he books acts, takes care of the box office and does a lot of technical work, such as the lighting and setup for events.

In his spare time, he builds his database of biographies, 115 so far. And he goes around talking to anyone who'll listen about something that could first be a Web site and eventually a bricks-and-mortar facility highlighting the lives of such folks as Stuart Cramer.

Around a hundred years ago, this textile engineer from Charlotte coined the term "air conditioning." Now maybe there's a bust of Cramer in the Air Conditioning Hall of Fame, but I hadn't heard about him until Poole told me that he'd been doing research into his life. (I don't know if Cramer gets in a future North Carolina hall on the first ballot, up against the likes of, say, Billy Graham and Daniel Boone.)

Poole, who grew up in Elizabeth City, is an Air Force veteran with an undergraduate degree from ECU and a master's from N.C. State. He got bitten by the idea of a hall when he was working at the N.C. Museum of History, before moving to Louisburg. Poole says he's met with Ken Howard, museum director, "about three times" to get support for the project.

And Howard said Tuesday he agrees with Poole's idea in concept. One problem, beyond how to fund it, is who decides who will be in it. "That's one of the big dilemmas. Who chooses?"

But Howard said that one idea floating around would be to use the museum's Web site to feature notable North Carolinians. Another would be to have an interactive database accessible as part of a permanent exhibit tracing our state's history.

There are any number of halls of fame in North Carolina dealing with specific niches, such as sports, business and literature. Poole thinks we need one overarching hall, and not just for the educational value. He thinks it would be good for the state's image.

He's got a point. Every time the Hurricanes go deep into the playoffs, the smart-alecky sports columnists in Detroit or Boston delight in making references to that distinguished personage from North Carolina's past, Gomer Pyle. Not a mention of the Rev. Graham.

Sort of like what New Jersey has had to deal with since its pre-eminent historical figure ceased being Woodrow Wilson (president of Princeton, governor, League of Nations) and started being Anthony J. Soprano Sr. (waste management consultant). The Garden State has struck back. If you want to see what a nifty online Hall of Fame looks like, go to New Jersey's at njhalloffame.org .

"This is more like what I had in mind," says Poole. And, he says, without help, "This is more than I could do."

Senior editor Dan Barkin is filling in for Ruth Sheehan. dan.barkin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4562

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