North Carolina has a long history as an agricultural state, whether it involves acre upon acre of commercial crops, or the kitchen gardens that offset the grocery bill, bringing home gardeners solace and pride.
For Pete Lane, large- and small-scale agriculture played meaningful roles in his life both personally and professionally as a state agricultural worker. For decades, he promoted grain production throughout North Carolina, but when off the clock, he tended fruit trees and berry bushes that enriched many an Apex table in the form of cake or cobbler.
Regardless of his task, loved ones marveled at the helping spirit he brought to all situations. It seemed that for Lane, being of service to others was the point, whether that meant inspecting grain silos, baking bread for his church, or holding the car door open for his wife.
Lane, 83, died this spring following a brief, but fierce battle with leukemia.
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Through his illness he maintained his optimistic spirit. But once he and his wife, Mary Sue Lane, celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in early April, it seemed he was ready to go.
Lane was given the moniker “Pete” by his grandfather, who thought Lane, as a child, wiggled his nose and mouth just like the storybook character Peter Rabbit. Lane was raised on a small family farm located off a still unpaved Six Forks Road. Though the farm did not supply his family’s central income, he embraced the work it required.
It was during the Great Depression, and his family often took in relatives unable to support themselves. Yet growing up with the stress of that economic downfall did not break Lane’s spirit.
“He had an optimistic view of life, which you wouldn't expect from that background,” marveled his younger son, Alan Lane.
When Lane was a college student his father died, and Lane became extra resourceful. He turned to the bounty from his family’s land to raise funds for tuition.
“(His father) really didn’t leave them much except the farm, so selling eggs was his way to make money,” Mary Sue Lane said.
After earning a degree in agricultural education from N.C. State University, Lane thought that working for the Boy Scouts of America would be a good way to use his love of nature, teaching degree, and interest in giving back. In his 20s he earned his Eagle Scout rank, the highest in the organization, and completed BSA training school. He was then employed in Charleston, S.C., but was disappointed when tasked with fundraising rather than working directly with youth.
Once again Lane turned to the land, working as a farm manager before joining the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
During his 30-year career with the state he worked primarily with the grain industry, rising to program administrator, working in marketing and with co-operatives. His efforts to further the state’s agricultural industry earned him one of the first Order of the Long Leaf Pine Awards from Gov. Dan Moore in 1966.
Lane started out inspecting grain for export in Morehead City, often coming home with the cuffs of his pants hiding soybeans. Transportation of farm products fell under his purview as well, and at one point there was a significant shortage of rail cars available during one of the busiest seasons for moving soybeans and corn. Lane attended public mediations to bring order to the situation.
“Pete had to be escorted by law enforcement officers into a room of angry people. An agreement was reached and most everyone went home in a happier mood,” Mary Sue Lane said.
Lane continued to volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, and also became very involved in his church communities over the years. It seemed in all he did, he managed to draw a link between the land, the food it yielded, and found a way to enrich the lives of others through both.
Lane brought his love of agriculture to his house in Apex, where he worked a three-quarter-acre “farm” of his own.
“I know as much as any suburban kid can ever know about agriculture,” Alan Lane said. It was Pete Lane, not Mary Sue, who cooked the family meals.
“I was in college before I realized most dads didn’t cook,” Alan Lane said.
Lane became known for his yeast bread, baking dozens of loaves each week over the years in his volunteer work at Apex Baptist Church, Pullen Memorial Church, and Woodhaven Baptist Church.
“The kids knew that almost as if it was brand — that was Pete’s bread,” said Jim Carroll, who worked side by side with Lane for years making the Wednesday night meal for the Woodhaven community.
Lane reveled in feeding others – cookies or cakes for someone having a rough day, or more institutional dishes for large groups.
“It is a commitment. You can’t put a sign on the door saying I didn’t feel like coming in today, go out for pizza. At 5 o’clock that food has got to be there every week,” Carroll said.
Loved ones appreciated his easy-going nature and generosity. He went more than 20 years without buying himself a new suit or dress shoes, yet helped family members with educational costs. He accepted his friends and family for who they were, and when something went wrong, was able to keep things in perspective.
“His favorite statement was, ‘Don’t worry, it won’t affect the plan of salvation,’” Carroll said. “There’ll never be another Pete.”
William “Pete” Earl Lane
Born July 14, 1931, in Raleigh.
Family: Marries Mary Sue Rankin Lane in 1960. They go on to have two sons, Paul and Alan, and four grandchildren.
Education: Earns degree in agricultural education from NCSU in 1955, later attending Shiff Training School for the Boy Scouts of America in New Jersey.
Career: Works in South Carolina as a Boy Scouts of America executive, then a farm manager, before joining the N.C. Department of Agriculture in 1958. He retires in 1988 as program administrator, working primarily with grain throughout his career. He later works at Convenient Food Mart in Apex.
Awards: Is given the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 1966 by Gov. Dan Moore for his work furthering agriculture.
Dies April 28 in Apex.