On a list of people who most influenced my life, Haywood County and Bethel native Charles Frazier, is near the top. His name was Charles, but I always knew him as Mr. Frazier, my school principal in Andrews.
I don’t know why Mr. Frazier took an interest in me. Perhaps he felt sorry for the shy boy in brogans and overalls. He always treated me with kindness.
When we passed in the hallway, he would pat me on the back, and if time permitted, ask how I was doing. Sometimes he pulled me aside for a chat, wanting to know how my grades were, what book I was reading, and whether I needed anything.
Our conversations were one-sided, mostly in Mr. Frazier’s favor. But I gradually loosened up until I could finally say more than, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.” The relationship with Mr. Frazier continued through my school years.
When he sought me out one day in the Frosty Bar, the teenage hangout in Andrews, I didn’t know why he’d come at first. He approached, looking as out-of-place as sunshine at midnight.
“I hear you got a job at that Franklin radio station,” he said.
From an early age, I’d been fascinated by radio. When I was 10, I’d created a make-believe radio station in a corner of our barn and spent hours reading newspapers and magazines into a big coffee can.
Shortly after I turned 16, WFSC in Franklin, the first North Carolina radio station west of Waynesville, announced they were looking for a local person interested in broadcasting, I hitchhiked there and auditioned. Danged if I didn’t get the job!
I’ll never forget the station manager’s question after my audition, “You sure you’ve never done this before?” I didn’t tell him about all those hours talking into that coffee can.
“Yes, I got a job,” I told Mr. Frazier.
“I’m very concerned,” he replied. “Please tell me you’re not quitting school.”
I assured him the station was planning my schedule so I could continue high school in Franklin.
After getting some broadcast experience, I later landed a job in Asheville. Mr. Frazier contacted me, said he was coming to Asheville, and invited me to lunch. He quizzed me about my work and said I’d come a long way since elementary school.
We had a number of such lunches, and after I made a trip to the then Soviet Union, Mr. Frazier, who’d become principal of Franklin High, invited me to Macon County twice to talk to groups about my trip.
When work took me to Tennessee for several years, I had little contact with Mr. Frazier. Then when I returned to Asheville in the 1990s, our friendship resumed.
One day in 1997, I received a call from him. This was the only time I ever heard him speak in an agitated manner. “Dave, I hope you can do me a favor. My son Charles has written a book called ‘Cold Mountain.’ Newspapers around the country have written reviews. All but the Citizen-Times. Do you know anyone there you can call to see if they’ll run a review so Charles can get some publicity here in the mountains where he grew up?”
I’d read about his son’s book in an out-of-town paper and agreed to call the Citizen-Times. When I spoke to someone there, I was told a review was already planned.
Not long afterwards, young Charles Frazier had a ‘Cold Mountain’ book signing and reading at Malaprop’s Bookstore. Mr. Frazier was there, and I had the pleasure of introducing the father of the author to the large crowd. That was the last time I saw Mr. Frazier. He died in 2001.
I still think of him often. Children—even after they’re grown—always remember those who are kind to them.