‘The other’ Lonnie Poole has a message of hope

Lonnie Poole was surprised when he saw the brown envelope lying unseen on the closet shelf. He was on a step ladder, adjusting the folding closet doors so they wouldn’t scrape the carpet.

The envelope was lying flat and had been overlooked when he had cleared his late wife’s closet.

He cried when he opened it and saw the old corporate newsletter write up, the team picture and the poem. The memories of Diane Poole, his wife of 59 years, were not the sole source of his tears.

He cried because the envelope was a reminder of what has pretty much been his life story and epitomizes a message he wants everyone to hear.

Don’t ever give up.

On May 8, 1968, a local mortgage company played its first game in a Raleigh Parks and Recreation women’s industrial slow-pitch softball league game. The first-year team won, beating the defending league champion.

The mostly forgotten rec league game at Raleigh’s Lions Park has become part of the fabric of Poole’s life.

The victory was not significant, but the way it was achieved was.

A comeback

When Cameron Brown, which became First Union Mortgage, which became Wachovia Mortgage and now is a part of Wells Fargo, decided to field a softball team, 16 women, including Diane Poole, signed up.

They were paired in their first game against league power ITT, which seemed en route to an easy victory, leading 22-4 in the last inning.

“Our girls were having fun, but they were getting killed,” Lonnie Poole said. “Nobody was thinking much about winning. It was a dejected bunch.”

But then, improbably and inexplicably, Cameron Brown scored 19 runs without making an out.

“The way I look at it, the good Lord just made the ball fall where nobody could catch it,” Poole said.

Diane Poole hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and Judy Jarman added another grand slam. Brenda Eddins drove in the winning run.

Gay Gnagey, the team manager, was so inspired that he wrote a 12-verse poem that ends:

“Oh! Next day in this favored land the sun was shining bright,

Angels were singing up above, and all our hearts were light;

And all the group were laughing, and to each other did shout,

Cause there was much joy amongst them – not one had made an out!”

Not that Lonnie Poole

Poole is not the well-known philanthropist and founder of Waste Industries although he sometimes gets calls and solicitations from people who think he is.

The namesake of the Lonnie Poole Golf Course and the soon to be built Poole Family YMCA doesn’t have a telephone listing. The other Lonnie Poole does. When asked if he has ever used the confusion to his advantage, he laughs.

“Well, maybe I can get a few calls answered,” he said. “I say, ‘Tell them that Lonnie Poole is on the phone.’”

A Morehead City marina once called to ask Poole to move his boat because it was impairing navigation.

“I told them that my 12-foot john boat was on the trailer in the backyard and it wasn’t bothering anybody,” Poole said.

Poole is 84 years old now. He was born in Raleigh and lived in the Smoky Hollow section of town near the old ball park, Devereaux Meadow. He remembers jumping on the backs of trucks for free lifts until one driver rigged up a battery to the back to give the boys a big shock when they grabbed hold.

He had never ridden in a car until the day he was carried to the Eliada Orphanage near Asheville. He was 5 years old.

Nobody told him why he was being taken from his mother and being carried so far from home.

“I kept waiting for them to come back,” he said. “I cried when I realized nobody was coming.”

A waiting envelope

He returned to Raleigh to live with his grandmother when he was 15. He played the trombone and loved big band music.

Poole married Diane Best soon after graduating from Hugh Morson High in 1949. They met when a friend asked him to go to a party that needed more boys. “I went because I wanted to ride in a car,” he said. “I still hadn’t ridden in a car many times.”

He had several jobs before finding his niche. He retired in 1990 after 30 years with the Federal Aviation Administration at Raleigh Durham Airport. He said he was surprised the airport stayed open without him.

Diane died six years ago.

He had gone to the K&W cafeteria after church and had gotten some chicken pastry for their lunch. She had just opened a bottled Coco-Cola when she had a massive heart attack. The spilled soda already had dried on the linoleum when he came home and pushed the refrigerator door closed and saw his wife.

He administered CPR until the ambulance arrived.

In the years since, he often thought of the long-ago softball game. He had spent hours trying to find the article that he knew had been written.

Then there it was, on the top shelf, placed years ago, not forgotten, not misplaced, just waiting.

Poole knows there is a lot of hurt in life.

“I just want to tell everybody, don’t give up,” he said. “Those girls didn’t give up and they won. We can’t give up. No matter what happens, don’t give up.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910