The Omnivorous Reader

The Omnivorous Reader

The Great Escape

Silver Alert is a bewitching joyride

By Anne Blythe

Lee Smith, a treasure of the North Carolina literary world, takes you on an unusual journey in her newest novel, Silver Alert. She’s predictably funny in her typically marvelous, unpredictable way. Her characters are beguilingly quirky. Yet amid all the humor and occasional madness in this tale about an octogenarian’s “one last joyride,” Smith plunges her readers into the depths of tough topics such as aging, sex trafficking, emotional abuse, poverty and wealth.

There are two protagonists. One is Herb Atlas, a curmudgeonly but ever so lovable retiree on his third marriage who we meet in his lovely — and very pink — Key West home. In his golden years now, Herb is perpetually mining for the gold he really didn’t know he had in his youth as he does his best to care for his once lively, artistic, adventurous and beautiful wife, Susan. He longs for the fancy and fast cars of his earlier years, alluring courtships and an escape from the dementia that has relegated Susan to a rattan chair by the bay window, where she remains lost in her own world.

The other central character, Dee Dee, or Renee, or whatever name the victimized but optimistic woman from Appalachia decides to use, is a young pedicurist fleeing hard-knock days. She is whip-smart, resourceful and endearing. Her parents died when she was a child. She bounced from household-to-household, man-to-man, lives in a bread-shaped trailer with a pink roof and fends for herself in a world in which those she encountered rarely had her best interest at heart.

Dee Dee is running from her past with hopes of a brighter future. Herb wants little to do with his future and yearns for the past. Their paths converge in Key West, a place with celebrated sunsets and a seize-the-day vibe.

Key West is a character in the novel, too. Smith takes her readers down Duval Street and its offshoots, into shops, cafes, Laundromats, and the nooks and crannies where people come to remake themselves, start anew or sometimes disappear.

Herb is in his home at 108 Washington Street, “a primo address,” as Smith describes it, wearing red-and-black plaid pajama pants, lime green crocs and a Hawaiian shirt covering his considerable gut, when he opens the door, and his life, to Dee Dee.

Using Renee, instead of her real name, Dee Dee has come to give Susan a pedicure. “She looks like a kid, with those wide brown eyes beneath the blond bangs, her high, shiny ponytail swinging as she steps forward in her white, white tennis shoes,” Herb thinks to himself. He gives her an earful as he walks her back to his wife’s quarters. Susan’s daughter, Maribeth, “the hippy one,” as Herb calls her, and her partner Pat DeVine, “the bossy one,” who arranged the appointment, have come down to help care for his wife.

Herb is unenthusiastic. “I never asked them, you understand. I don’t need them, this is a classy operation. But this Pat, you can’t tell her no, you can’t tell her nothing.”

Dee Dee, dressed in jeans, a pink tunic and carrying a big bag of nail polishes, clippers and salon tools, is not just a pedicurist, it turns out. She has a knack for dealing with Susan. The “crazy whisperer,” as Herb dubs her, can make his Susan laugh, smile and even seem happy with colorful markers, a tablet and easel from the Walmart children’s section. For hours at a time, Susan sits in the garden in front of her easel, using only one color on each sheet of paper, drawing “crazy art.”

The makeshift art corner delights Herb as he tries to ignore the signs of aging thrust at him — the living wills, the health care power of attorney, confounding medical forms and that humiliating clock he had to draw for the nurse, showing the hands set at 7:15, to assess his mental acuity. Then there’s his constant urge to pee — “Old age is all about urine, who knew?” Smith writes.

Smith takes on some of the difficult topics of aging as she introduces her readers to the cast of adult children in Susan and Herb’s world. She shows the push and pull, and the sometimes painful juxtaposition, as children take on the difficult roles of being parents for their parents.

Smith craftily explores the wealth dichotomy so prominent in Key West as readers follow Dee Dee, whose hardscrabble beginnings have left her with few nickels to scrape together. Her travels take her from the trailer park where drug trafficking sometimes pays the rent to the affluence of the Atlas house and the “tree house,” where she has a romance with a well-to-do graduate student taking a break from his scripted life to live like a Bohemian and write poetry.

Herb and Dee Dee go about their business for much of the first half of the book at a pace that — like a child chomping at the bit to grow up — is not always as swift as desired.

Then Herb and Susan’s family stages an intervention and they can see their dreams unraveling. As the adult children talk about moving Herb into an assisted living facility in Del Ray with Susan, he fishes keys to his Porsche from his secret hiding place in a shoe and sets off with Dee Dee on a madcap adventure.

Herb’s last joyride is a joy for readers, as well. Even though there are cringing moments as the pair starts out along the streets of Key West, then on the highways north, eventually headed to Disney World, it’s difficult not to cheer them on.

Silver Alert will make you squirm over the wistfulness of aging, but it will leave you with a big smile from getting to know characters who worm their way into your heart.  OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades. She has covered city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

Simple Life

Simple Life

“The Birds of Paradise”

The bad news Birds help a tired journalist find good news

By Jim Dodson

I hear a voice and look up. The face is much older, the voice deeper. But both are so familiar.

“Hey, Coach,” says Peter Gay, giving me what I used to call his sly fastball grin.

I stand up and we hug.

“You grew up, buddy.”

“And you grew old, Coach.”

“Funny how that happens.”

We both laugh.

Forty years ago, Pete and his brothers, Fred and Rodney, and their friend, Alvin, were the invincible infield of an inner-city baseball team I coached for two spring seasons called the Highland Park Orioles. I nicknamed them the Birds of Paradise because most of the players came from a tough inner city neighborhood where, by agreement with their anxious parents and guardians, I dropped them off near a street named Paradise after every practice and game.

Atlanta, in those years, was anything but a paradise. Due to the infamous “Missing and Murdered” crisis that besieged the city between 1979 and 1981, in which 30 Black kids and young adults were abducted and murdered by an unknown person or persons, the city that declared itself “too busy to hate” earned the distinction of being the “Murder Capital of America” for several years running.

Looking back, going out at my editor’s suggestion to write a sweet little feature story about the hopefulness of spring baseball tryouts in my Midtown neighborhood and getting strong-armed by a frantic league director to take on a wild bunch of Orioles whose coach never bothered to show up was one of the most fortunate things that ever happened to me.

In the spring of 1982, I was the senior writer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday Magazine, the oldest Sunday magazine in the nation, where Margaret Mitchell worked when she wrote Gone with the Wind. During my six years there, I’d written about everything from unrepentant Klansmen to corrupt politicians, presidential campaigns to repo kings, a constant stream of violence and social mayhem. Upon reaching age 30, I decided that I was rapidly becoming a career burn out case. In a nutshell, I’d had enough of covering the sorrows of my native South.

An early tipping point came while working on a story about Atlanta’s famed medical examiner, Dr. Robert Stivers — reportedly the inspiration for the hit TV show, Quincy — when I actually saw my next-door neighbor, a med student, gunned down in his darkened backyard doorway by an assailant. The young man died as his hysterical girlfriend and I waited for the EMTs and cops to arrive. The cops took their own sweet time, shrugging it off as just another drug deal gone sideways. I followed the ambulance hauling my neighbor’s body downtown to the ME’s office to await his autopsy. Talk about art imitating life’s worst moments.

My editor, a charming true-blue Atlantan named Andy Sparks, who’d been on the magazine since the days of Margaret Mitchell, had spotted my brewing crisis and suggested I write about “lighter” subjects for a time. So I went over to the rutted ball field with pen and pad and not a lot of hope in hand.

Our first practice was chaos. The team horsed around and barely paid attention as I placed them into tentative playing positions. Somehow, I managed to get the four best players into key spots. Pete and Alvin would rotate between pitching and playing third; Fred at first base, and Rodney catching.

On the way home, I stopped at a popular neighborhood joint called Woody’s just two blocks from the ball field, foolishly thinking that if I bought them a milkshake and got to know them better, the four best players on the team might help me whip the Birds into shape. Instead, they hooted and hollered and made such a rude ruckus that the owners tossed us out and warned us not to come back unless we could learn to behave.

“I remember how you gave us a lecture about being gentlemen in public places,” Pete says as we sit together at Woody’s 40 years later. The place is now owned by a Black couple. Its milkshakes and steak-and-cheese sandwiches are better than ever.

Peter Gay is 53 today, a hard-working father of three grown children, and a popular volunteer football coach and recruiter for Booker T. Washington High in the center city. He’s dressed in the bright blue colors of the Washington Bulldogs.

Two years ago, he called me out of the Bulldog blue. 

“I remembered the story you wrote for the Reader’s Digest about us,” he explained on the phone that afternoon. “And I remembered that you left Atlanta to write books. That’s how I found you on the internet.”

“Tell me,” I said. “Is Woody’s still there?”

A day later, Pete sent me a photo of himself in front of the Woody’s sign. We made a plan to meet there when I came to Atlanta for my latest book research.

That first season, the Birds of Paradise never lost a game. Or if we did, I don’t recall it. We often won by football scores. Pete had a lethal fast ball. Alvin’s curve was unhittable. Rodney was an awesome catcher and Fred played first base like a pro. Even better, the Birds calmed down and became true gentlemen on and off the field, though I spent a small fortune on milkshakes once the other members of the team learned about my gambit and got in on the post-game treat.

“You kind of bribed us to behave with milkshakes,” says Coach Pete Gay today. “But I get that now. It really worked.”

Because of the Birds, I stayed for one more spring in Atlanta. In year two we went undefeated. A coach from the all-White northern suburbs even proposed a “Metro” championship game at his team’s immaculate facility north of the city. We set a date for the game, and I went out and purchased new orange jerseys with my own money. A few days before the match-up, however, my opposing coach called back to say that some of his parents were concerned that my kids might feel “intimidated about playing in such a nice facility.”

I assured him the Birds wouldn’t be intimidated. We both knew the meaning of his code words.

“Well,” he said uneasily, “maybe . . . next year.”

There was no next year.

After the season, the owners of Woody’s threw us a party and I left Atlanta for Vermont, where I learned to fly-fish, knocked the rust off my golf game and found a whole new career — and happiness — writing about people and subjects that enrich life. 

I also realized that the Birds of Paradise gave me a gift those final two years — a healing glimpse of what real happiness is like.

As another spring dawns, I’ve seen Pete and Fred several times and even attended the beautiful wedding of Pete’s daughter, Petera, last summer. Very soon, on my next trip to Atlanta, I’m planning to take my entire infield to a very nice, grown-up dinner, with or without milkshakes. OH

Jim Dodson is the founding editor of O.Henry.



A Happy Discovery

The Google machine reveals all

By Tony Rothwell

Our son Max, down from Washington, D.C., for a visit, pointed to a large portrait in a gorgeous gold frame hanging near the fireplace and asked, “Who is that anyway?” I said we had no idea, that we just liked it when we saw it in an antique show years ago and bought it. When people ask, we usually say it’s the Fifth Earl of Rothwell. With this he took out his phone, went to Google and took a picture.

“Looks like it’s William Pitt the Younger,” he said, in the blink of a facial recognition app.

“You must be joking,” I said. “Let me have a look.”

Sure enough, there was “our” portrait with the William Pitt caption, going on to detail his years, 1759-1806. The portrait was practically identical to one by George Romney, who painted many contemporary notables.

We were amazed to suddenly find ourselves in the presence of one of Britain’s most famous prime ministers. Comparing the two pictures, the facial expression of quiet confidence, the hair, the stock at the neck, the high-collared coat, yellow waistcoat and buttons were all virtually identical, but the Romney was a little more finished and showed more of the body.

This, however, did not lessen our excitement. William Pitt the Younger was so-called because his father was also named William Pitt and had been prime minister in the 1760s. The Younger became prime minister of Great Britain at the age of 24, the youngest ever to do so, before or since.

He was an outstanding administrator and surrounded himself with competent ministers. In all, he held the position for 18 years (38 percent of his life!), during which time he reformed the Tory Party, dealt with the war against Napoleon and the French, re-established trade with America after independence, and reduced the national debt. Although somewhat colorless, he was seen as a minister who was determined to cut out corruption in politics and was nicknamed “Honest Billy” by the general public. He worked extremely hard but found solace in port wine. Indeed, he became known as “a three bottle man,” but the combination of port and hard work did little for his health, and he died in office at the age of 47.

The irony of finding out who was in the painting was that for years it had been hanging over our large book of 18th century prints by the famous English caricaturist James Gillray, over 80 of which featured the self-same William Pitt. We didn’t tie them together, probably because Romney was kind to his sitter when he painted him. Pitt had a long, sharp nose which, while blunted in the portrait, was a signature feature exaggerated — as caricaturists are wont to do — in Gillray’s prints.

Was our portrait a trial run by Romney or a copy by another artist done in his style? We may never know. But the painting, still hovering over Gillray, has taken on a whole new meaning. So much for the Fifth Earl of Rothwell. Alas, we hardly knew ye.  PS

Tony Rothwell, a Brit, moved to Pinehurst in 2017, exchanging the mind-numbing traffic of Washington, D.C., for better weather and the vagaries of golf. He writes short stories, collects caricatures, sings in the Moore County Choral Society, and with his wife, Camilla, enjoys their many friends in the Sandhills.

In the Spirit

In the Spirit

Tips and Tricks

Arsenal for your cocktail Rolodex

By Tony Cross

I love to learn new tricks when it comes to making drinks. Whether it’s from a cocktail book or a YouTube post by a bartender, some of these tips have become mainstays in how I construct a cocktail. Though I could write a year’s worth of columns on everything from “washing spirits” to “how to make your own bitters,” like Sesame Street, I’ll begin with the letter S —  from syrups to saline — and finish at the “bitter” end. Relatively easy to make, these tips go a long way if you love making cocktails at home.

Rice Water Simple Syrup

Before you say “Eww, gross!” hear me out on this one. I was intrigued when I first heard about this for two reasons. First, I meal prep every Sunday and make a ton of rice. Second, I love velvety textures in shaken drinks (one of the main reasons I usually make a simple syrup with a 2:1 ratio). If you have any concerns about rice being a flavor in your syrup, don’t fret — any notes from the starch will be masked by the sugar.

To make: Soak your rice in water until cloudy. Measure 1 cup of starchy water and put it in a saucepan while adding 1 cup of sugar. You can use white sugar, you can use turbinado (I use cane) — it doesn’t matter. Let the mixture simmer, or stir quickly until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and bottle. Holds for two weeks.

Super Juice

Super juice will save you money and time. By taking the peels from lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit, and adding acids, water and just a little bit of juice from the peeled fruit, you’ll be able to multiply your juice margins tenfold. Even better, it’ll last weeks. Say goodbye to daily juicing.

To make lemon super juice: Weigh lemon peels on scale (start off with the peels from 3 lemons). Use the same amount of citric acid by weight (if you have 40 grams lemon peel, use 40 grams citric acid). Multiply the weight of the lemon peels by 16.66 to determine the amount of water. Combine citric acid with peels in a container. Seal, shake to coat peels with acid, and let sit for 2-3 hours. A sludgy/oily substance will fill the bottom of the container. Put everything from the container into a blender and use the water to get out the rest of the oils in the blender. (You can use an immersion blender, if you’d like.) Blend water, oils and peels together. Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Juice the peeled citrus, strain it, and add to oleo citrate. Stir, and refrigerate. You’ll notice that lemon will last the longest before tasting any subtleties with the flavor profile. The juice will start to taste a bit metallic and bitter as the weeks go on, but all juices will be great for the first week. Make sure to taste before using/serving.

Salt Solution

This one is a no-brainer. Salt makes food taste better, whether it’s chocolate, soup or fruit. The same applies to cocktails. Try making a daiquiri with a pinch of salt — it’ll make the flavors pop. Or, you can make a simple saline solution. One or two drops will make all the difference.

To make: 20 grams salt mixed with 80 grams of water. That’s it. Put it in a tiny glass dropper bottle and you’re good to go.

Combining Bitters

While I won’t break out the specs on making your own bitters from scratch, I will share a quick and easy tip that I learned from my first Death & Company book way back when. It’s the recipe for their house orange bitters. It wasn’t the first time I’d combined bitters — I previously used Employee’s Only’s recipe for Absinthe bitters — however, the recipe for this orange bitters is much easier. What I love about this simple trick is how you get the sweetness from the Fee Brothers orange bitters, the spices of angostura’s bitters, and the bitterness of Regans. This is a great balance. Try a few dashes in your next old fashioned.

Death & Co.’s House Orange Bitters: Take 100 grams Fee Brothers West Indian orange bitters; 100 grams Angostura orange bitters; 100 grams Regans orange bitters, transfer to an empty glass bottle, seal, and shake. Keep at room temperature; the bitters will hold for one year.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Change this heading to match Post Title


(March 21 – April 19)

Life gives us what we need even if we don’t have the RAM to ask for it. In your case: lessons in patience. While you’ve been through the wringer this year in more ways than one, trust that it’s not been in vain. The big picture begins to clarify this month — you’ll see — and when Jupiter enters your sign on April 22, it may well inspire some monetary gain. Things are looking up. Never mind that you’ve got a spending habit to match your fiery temper.

Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)

Cash in your chips.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Beware of the Freudian slip.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

Open a window.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Embrace the liminal space.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Two words: Tupperware upgrade.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Keep a light on for grace.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

The silence will tell you everything.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Mind where the roots run deep.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Loosen your grip.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

The tension is palpable.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Consider a digital detox.   PS

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla. 

April Bookshelf

April Bookshelf


Homecoming, by Kate Morton

The highly anticipated new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a sweeping saga with a thrilling mystery at its heart tracing a shocking crime whose effects echo across continents and generations. On Christmas Eve, 1959, a local delivery man makes a terrible discovery. A police investigation is called and the small town of Tumbeela becomes embroiled in one of the most shocking and perplexing murder cases in the history of South Australia. Sixty years later, Jess is a journalist in search of a story. Having lived and worked in London for almost 20 years, she now finds herself laid off from her full-time job and struggling to make ends meet. A phone call summons her back to Sydney, where her beloved grandmother, Stella, who raised Jess when her mother could not, has suffered a fall and been raced to the hospital. When Jess visits her in the hospital she learns Stella had been distracted in the weeks before her accident, and that she fell on the steps to the attic — the one place Jess was forbidden from playing when she was small. At loose ends in Stella’s house, Jess does some digging of her own. She discovers a true crime book, chronicling the police investigation into a long-buried tragedy: the Turner Family Tragedy of Christmas Eve, 1959. It is only when Jess skims through the book that she finds a shocking connection between her own family and this once-infamous crime — a crime that has never been resolved satisfactorily. For a journalist without a story, a cold case is the best distraction of all.

Symphony of Secrets, by Brendan Slocumb

From the author of The Violin Conspiracy comes a gripping page-turner about a professor who uncovers a shocking secret about the most famous American composer of all time — that his music was stolen from a young Black composer named Josephine Reed. Determined to uncover the truth and right history’s wrongs, Bern Hendricks will stop at nothing to finally give Josephine the recognition she deserves. As one of the world’s preeminent experts on the famed 20th-century composer Frederick Delaney, Hendricks knows everything there is to know about the man behind the music. When Mallory Roberts, a board member of the distinguished Delaney Foundation and a direct descendant of the man himself, asks for Hendrick’s help authenticating a newly discovered piece, he jumps at the chance. With the help of his tech-savvy acquaintance Eboni, Hendricks soon discovers that the truth is far more complicated than history would have them believe. In Manhattan of the 1920s, Josephine Reed is living on the streets and frequenting jazz clubs when she meets the struggling musician Fred Delaney. She’s a natural prodigy who hears beautiful music in the sounds of the world around her. With Josephine as his silent partner, Delaney’s career takes off — but who is the real genius? In the present day, Bern and Eboni begin to uncover clues that indicate Delaney may have had help in composing his most successful work. Armed with more questions than answers they move heaven and earth in a dogged quest to right history’s wrongs.


Without Children, by Peggy O’Donnell Heffington

In an era of falling births, it’s often said that millennials invented the idea of not having kids. But history is full of women without children: some who chose childless lives, others who wanted children but never had them, and still others — the vast majority, then and now — who fell somewhere in-between. Modern women considering how and if children fit into their lives are products of their political, ecological, and cultural moment. History also tells them that they are not alone. Drawing on deep research and her own experience as a woman without children, Heffington shows that many of the reasons women are not having children today are ones they share with women in the past: a lack of support, their jobs or finances, environmental concerns, infertility, and the desire to live different kinds of lives. Understanding this history — how normal it has always been to not have children, and how hard society has worked to make it seem abnormal — is key, she writes, to rebuilding kinship between mothers and non-mothers, and to building a better world for us all.


Hard Boiled Eggs for Breakfast, by Jack Prelutsky

April is poetry month and what better way to celebrate than with some silliness by a poetry master? From tree-sitting cows to antelopes with fans, these fun poems, with illustrations by Ruth Chan, will delight and inspire young poets to create some of their own silliness. (Ages 5-10.)

Peek-A-Boo Haiku, by Danna Smith

This adorable board book is filled with haiku about hidden woodland animals with lift-the-flap illustrations on each page. It’s the perfect way to celebrate poetry month with little ones. (Ages 1-3.)

Twenty Questions, by Mac Barnett

What’s on the other side of the door? Who committed the dastardly deed? What happened here? These and other ponderances are presented in this fun book of questions from the Caldecott Award-winning team of Barnett and Christian Robinson. (Ages 5-adult.)

Slow Down and Be Here Now: More Nature Stories to Make You Stop, Look, and Be Amazed by the Tiniest Things, by Laura Brand

Frog tongues, dandelion puffs, snowflakes — all wonders of the world and all worth an extra minute of time in your day. This charming giftable nature guide/storybook encourages readers to slow down and enjoy all the amazing things in the natural world. (Ages 4-10.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally.

The Master of the Sandhills

The Master of the Sandhills

Horton Smith and his abbreviated Pinehurst employment

By Bill Case     Photographs from the Tufts Archives

An above-the-fold headline in The Pinehurst Outlook on May 30, 1941, screamed, “HORTON SMITH SIGNS PINEHURST CONTRACT.” Smith, regarded as one of the brightest stars in professional golf’s galaxy, would soon be making his way to the Sandhills to work in a promotional capacity for the Pinehurst Country Club. He was coming in hot, having won one official and two unofficial events, all in the South, earlier that year. By accepting the position, he immediately became the highest profile employee in the club’s history with the exception of his new supervisor, Donald Ross, the club’s manager.

“There will be plenty for Horton to do here,” said the venerable Ross. “He will have what might be termed a roving assignment to aid us in making our golfing friends enjoy their visits in Pinehurst.” This meant the 33-year-old native of Joplin, Missouri, would primarily be golfing and hobnobbing with resort guests and playing occasional exhibition matches.

Smith would not be giving lessons. “That assignment,” Ross explained, “will be handled by Harold Callaway and Bert Nichols, who have been here for many years.”

Horton and his wife of three years, Barbara Bourne Smith, had committed to making Pinehurst their “permanent” home from November until May — the months the resort was then open for business. For the 1941-42 winter season the couple resided at the Carolina Hotel. In the immediate wake of their newfound affiliation, Smith would continue to play on the PGA circuit, where the man nicknamed the “Joplin Ghost” would be introduced as representing Pinehurst Country Club.

Although the article made no mention of his involvement, it is certain that Bob Harlow, the owner and editor of The Outlook, played a key role in orchestrating the relationship. A born salesman and promotor, Harlow had previously managed the PGA’s rather loosely organized “tour” and served as business agent for several top pro golfers, most notably Walter Hagen. Though busy running The Outlook, Harlow kept his hand firmly in the promotional game as the director of publicity for the Pinehurst club and resort.

Harlow and Smith first encountered one another in 1929, when Horton, only 21, won an eye-popping nine tournaments — eight PGA tour titles and the French Open — just three years after turning professional. His collection of victories that year included Pinehurst’s prestigious North and South Open, then contested on sand greens. Hagen, pro golf’s ultimate showman, took note of the young phenom’s early successes and decided he would make an ideal exhibition opponent. The Haig’s agent, Harlow, signed Smith to play 100 matches against Hagen at courses ranging from New York to Missouri and across the border in Canada.

As Marian Benton, Smith’s biographer, puts it in her book The Velvet Touch, it would be difficult to “imagine two more diverse personalities than those of the ‘golden boy’ of golf (Smith) and the ‘crown prince’ of the links (Hagen).” At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and handsome as a Hollywood leading man, the mannerly and teetotaling Smith was typecast as the quintessential All-American Boy. In contrast, Hagen played the roguish and carefree carouser, though it is believed he poured more drinks into potted plants than he consumed — at least during his playing days. Despite vast differences in style and personality, the two stars became lifelong friends, hopscotching, along with Harlow, from course to course.

After the far-flung exhibition tour, Smith continued his winning ways, gaining a reputation as the tour’s finest putter. During the 1930s, he won 20 times (two were unofficial), capturing a second North and South title in 1937 — this time on No. 2’s new grass greens. But his greatest triumphs came in Augusta, Georgia. In 1934, he won the first Masters Tournament, then known as the Augusta National Invitation Tournament. Atop the leaderboard all four rounds, Smith’s total of 284 was one stroke better than Craig Wood, who would be victimized the following year by Gene Sarazen’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” on the 15th hole. Smith’s lengthy birdie putt on the 17th hole of the final round proved to be the clincher.

Two years later, he won the tournament again, edging “Lighthorse Harry” Cooper — the nickname invented by Damon Runyon — when poor weather forced 36 holes on Monday. In the afternoon Smith chipped in for birdie on the 14th, then birdied the 15th and finished with two pars to win the first prize money of $1,500.

Like Harlow, Smith segued into business activities related to golf. President of his local PGA section in 1935, Smith served as an active member on an array of PGA committees. The Missouri native also arranged exhibitions for the Spalding Company’s stable of professionals that included himself, Lawson Little, Jimmy Thomson and Cooper. He rarely passed up an opportunity to promote golf. Typical was Smith’s appearance at the Sandhills Kiwanis Club six months prior to his hiring by Pinehurst Country Club. In his remarks, the two-time Masters champion urged the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Pine Needles and Mid-Pines golfing communities to “pull together to make this the golfing center of the world.”

When Horton and wife Barbara arrived in Pinehurst early in November ’41, they made an immediate splash. Harlow saw the Smiths in the Carolina Hotel dining room and gushed that they were “the most striking couple on whom my eyes ever have feasted.” Barbara was more than just vivacious — she was heiress to Singer sewing machine money. Grandfather Fredrick Gilbert Bourne’s savvy investments and long tenure as president of the Singer Manufacturing Company had built generational wealth for the family.

Alfred Severin Bourne, Fredrick’s son and Barbara’s father, was an excellent amateur golfer. As upper-crust society often does, the Bournes moved with the seasons: summers at their 40-room estate in Washington, Connecticut; and winters in Augusta, Georgia, where Alfred became a charter member of Augusta National Golf Club and a friend of Bobby Jones.

When Augusta National was in danger of failing during the Great Depression, it was Bourne who furnished lifeline funds to keep the strapped club afloat. Barbara also became an avid golfer, good enough to have once bested the legendary Babe Didrickson. Introduced to one another during the 1936 Masters Tournament — the year of Smith’s second victory — the couple dated intermittently during the ensuing two years before marrying in 1938.


The Smiths were happy during their winter stay in Pinehurst, immersing themselves in Pinehurst golf. Barbara joined the Silver Foils — the oldest existing women’s golf society in America — and quickly made her presence felt, winning a better-ball competition when she and her partner carded a score of 72. Meanwhile, the Joplin Ghost joined the Tin Whistles, the Pinehurst Country Club’s pre-eminent men’s golfing society. His father-in-law, Alfred, had become a member of the society the previous year. As a regular dues-paying Tin Whistle, Smith was eligible to play in the society’s frequent tournaments, though he had to spot a daunting number of handicap strokes to his fellow members. In his initial competition with the society, he partnered with S.A. Strickland (grandfather of Pinehurst mayor John Strickland) to win a four-ball event. He would later set his sights on capturing one of the Tin Whistles’ major tournaments, the James Barber Memorial. Playing Course No. 2, Smith carded a brilliant 67. However, his plus-4 handicap required adjusting his net upward to 71, tying the net score of Charles Murnan, a 21-handicapper from Leesburg, Virginia.

Several days later, Smith and Murnan settled the deadlock with an 18-hole playoff over Course No. 3. On the front nine, Smith shot a sensational 32 to Murnan’s 45, making up 13 of the 25-stroke handicap differential. Smith charged home on the back with another 32 (his best-ever score on No. 3) but it wasn’t enough. Matching shots with a two-time major champion, Murnan posted a 42 on the back nine. His resulting net score of 66 beat Smith by two strokes.

In January 1942, with America now on a war footing, Smith traveled to California, where he played in the Los Angeles Open and the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. He led the field early at L.A. before fading from contention. During his trip, Smith wired reports to Pinehurst regarding happenings on tour, and Harlow published the musings in The Outlook. “They charged $2.50 per 18 holes and $1.00 for practice for caddies at the L.A. Open,” complained Smith, a notorious penny pincher. “If my caddie starts putting better, I will trade places with him.”

In another dispatch, Smith noted that “there is surprisingly little evidence of war here,” though he acknowledged that the government’s decree prohibiting manufacture of golf balls was already being felt. “Players have been scrambling a bit for golf balls, being more careful and not using new ones for practice rounds.”

The Smiths returned to Pinehurst for the remainder of the season. Barbara completed her stay in style, capturing the first flight title (one rung below championship flight) at the Women’s North and South Amateur. Donald Ross presented the trophy to a delighted Mrs. Smith.

Despite the war, the PGA tour continued operating throughout the spring and early summer of ’42. Smith, along with other big stars like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, competed in April’s Masters Tournament. Smith finished fifth, seven shots behind Nelson.

On Thursday, April 30, the Smiths hosted three other couples at a farewell dinner party at the Carolina Hotel. The following day they left Pinehurst and headed south to Augusta to visit her parents. The Outlook reported that while Smith planned on playing a few tournaments during the summer, he anticipated being in the Army by fall. Though it was suggested that Mrs. Smith might make Pinehurst her winter residence if Mr. Smith was in the service, there were no foreseeable circumstances likely to result in Smith’s returning to his job at Pinehurst. With all of America’s resources, including golf courses, subordinated to war needs, Pinehurst had as much use for a goodwill ambassador as it did a lamplighter.

In December 1942, Smith enlisted in the Army Air Corps, receiving his basic training at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, then attending Officers Candidate School in Miami Beach. A fellow graduate of the school, Pinehurst friend and 1940 U.S. Amateur champion Dick Chapman, arranged for Smith’s assignment to Knollwood Field near Pinehurst, where the two-time Masters champion served as a general’s aide. He and the general didn’t get along, however, and Smith requested and received a transfer to Seymour Johnson Field in Goldsboro, North Carolina. In the role of special services officer he managed that base’s entertainment facilities, booking U.S.O. shows and managing the archery range, bowling alleys and golf range.

Barbara became pregnant in the fall of ’42 and wanted to be in Goldsboro with her husband, but Horton claimed the spartan conditions at the base weren’t suitable. She acquiesced and stayed with her parents. Though the Smiths rejoiced over the birth of their son, Alfred Bourne Smith, on June 30, 1943, Barbara resented Horton for insisting on what she considered an unnecessary separation.

After the Allies recaptured France and began the final advance to Berlin, Lt. Smith was redeployed to Paris, where he managed professional and amateur golf tournaments involving fellow professional athletes like boxer Billy Conn and golf standouts Lloyd Mangrum, Chick Harbert and his old cohort Hagen. The Outlook published a message from Smith reporting his “very interesting experience seeing much of southern Germany, France, England and Scotland and assisting in two big Army tournaments in Paris and St. Cloud.”

Smith sailed home in November 1945. Prior to his return, the unhappy Barbara had obtained a divorce in Reno, Nevada. The Smiths were far from alone in experiencing marital discord in the aftermath of the war. Breakups of G.I. marriages occurred with startling frequency. In 1946, the New York Times disclosed that one-fourth of the returning soldiers were “entangled in divorce proceedings.” 

Walter Hagen and Horton Smith

In March 1946, Smith became the golf professional at the Detroit Golf Club, succeeding Alex Ross, Donald’s brother. Immersing himself in the affairs of the club and the Michigan PGA, Smith greatly reduced his tournament schedule. By the time he turned 40 in 1948, having faded from the ranks of top touring pros, he was content with his club job and relatively unperturbed with the decline of his play.

Meanwhile, Barbara, who had relished golfing in the Sandhills, moved into a stately home in Pinehurst’s Old Town area, residing there during the cooler months with 2-year-old Alfred. Living nearly 700 miles from Pinehurst, Smith seldom visited his son. When Barbara married local Sandhills businessman John von Schlegell in 1948, it became increasingly difficult for Smith to sustain a lasting relationship with Alfred, who was ultimately adopted by von Schlegell.

Smith never remarried, confiding to his biographer Benton, “I don’t know whether I’m too lazy, too old, too tired, or afraid (to get married again), but perhaps that is why I take on so many other things.” Those other things included a three-year stint as national secretary of the PGA of America, and beginning in 1952, another three years serving as the organization’s president. In the latter capacity, Smith received credit for his diplomatic balancing of the conflicting interests of the club pros and the touring professionals.

But Smith’s presidential tenure proved far more controversial than the competing interests of the membership. Shortly after assuming the presidency of the PGA, Smith became embroiled in a dispute at the San Diego Open that would have long-lasting implications. A tournament sponsor, the San Diego County Chevrolet Dealers, invited former heavyweight boxing champion (and avid amateur golfer) Joe Louis to play in the event. The sponsor figured the presence of the popular “Brown Bomber” would hype attendance.

Louis was no slouch as a player. The beneficiary of excellent instruction from Black professionals Teddy Rhodes and Bill Spiller, the champ often scored in the mid-70s. The 39-year-old Spiller also expected to be in the tournament having survived a 36-hole qualifier.

But Smith and the PGA blocked Louis’ and Spiller’s entries, invoking the “Caucasian-only” clause in the organization’s bylaws. An irritated Louis, generally reticent in decrying racial discrimination during his long reign as champion, took a firm stand. “I want the people to know what the PGA is,” he complained. “We’ve got another Hitler to get by,” he said, referencing Smith.

In a national broadcast, radio commentator Walter Winchell added fuel to the growing conflagration, excoriating the PGA and Smith for their treatment of both Louis and Spiller. Winchell pointed out that the champ had honorably served his country during the war, but was now being branded as unqualified to wield a golf club in San Diego.

Now the target of a media firestorm largely of their own making, Smith and the PGA backpedaled, construing the “Caucasians-only” provision to apply only to professional golfers. This revised interpretation would allow Louis, an amateur, to compete. But the ruling was no help to Black pros like Spiller, still victimized by the PGA’s Catch 22 reasoning: To be eligible to play in a PGA-sanctioned event, a professional golfer had to join the PGA, but Black pros were not allowed in. Spiller remained barred from the San Diego field.

When tee times were announced for the first round at San Diego, it caught everyone’s attention that Smith and Louis would be playing together — a pairing surely suggested by Smith himself. The recent antagonists chatted amiably throughout the round. Louis surprised many onlookers by carding a respectable 76. Smith shot 73. The champ’s 82 in the second round resulted in his missing the cut by eight strokes.

But the brouhaha was far from over. The grievances of Spiller and his fellow Black pros were still unresolved. Smith hastily proposed a new rule that would allow a local tournament sponsor and host club to submit a supplemental list of players to invite to their tournament. If a sponsor and club chose to include Black pros on its list, they could compete. The PGA board adopted the policy prior to the following week’s Phoenix Open, and several African Americans, including Spiller, teed it up in the tournament. This incremental step still left Black pros in the unenviable position of needing to lobby tournament sponsors and host clubs just to have a chance to play. Moreover, many private clubs hosting tournaments had no interest in inviting Black players.

Smith publicly indicated he would seek to eliminate the “Caucasian-only” provision. But when his presidency came to an end in 1954, the discriminatory rule still remained. Smith was not alone among PGA higher-ups in slow walking its elimination. It took legal action by the California state attorney general before the PGA leadership relented and dropped the blatantly discriminatory clause in 1961. Only then did pros like Charlie Sifford experience a degree of freedom in planning their schedules, but the change came too late for aging Black golfers like Spiller and Teddy Rhodes, whose best playing years were behind them.

Unfortunately for Smith, he was no Branch Rickey — the Brooklyn Dodgers’ magnate who in 1947 defied his fellow baseball owners by elevating a Black player, Jackie Robinson, to the major leagues. Smith, even if he had wanted to, likely would have had difficulty persuading a majority of the PGA Board of Directors to drop the Caucasian-only clause. But irrespective of his mindset, Smith’s failures to act as a strong advocate for the interests of Black pros and to lay the groundwork for their eventual admission to the PGA’s ranks would significantly damage his legacy.

Pete McDaniel, who wrote for Golf World and Golf Digest for nearly 20 years and is the author of Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf, had this simple thought to offer: “Smith missed his chance to be a civil rights hero.”

In 1957, Smith started suffering from Hodgkin’s disease. The onset of his illness did not prevent him from working as the professional at Detroit Golf Club, where he was beloved by the membership. And, as a former Masters champion, he continued to play the tournament. In his final Masters appearance in 1962, he labored through two rounds in significant pain. A concerned Bob Jones offered him the use of a golf cart, which he declined.

Smith passed away in 1963 at the age of 55. His ex-wife and his son would likewise die young — Barbara at age 63, and Albert (who became an engineering graduate of Georgia Tech and an airline pilot) in a private plane crash at age 38.

In 1961, Smith received the Ben Hogan Award, presented to a golfer who overcomes a physical handicap while continuing to contribute to the game. In 1962, he was named recipient of the United States Golf Association’s Bob Jones Award, its highest honor. Following his death, the PGA of America established the Horton Smith Award, designed to honor members rendering outstanding contributions to professional education. The Joplin Ghost was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.

Thirty years later, in 2020, the Horton Smith Award was renamed the PGA Professional Development Award. PGA President Suzy Whaley explained why: “In renaming the Horton Smith Award, the PGA of America is taking ownership of a failed chapter in our history that resulted in excluding many from achieving their dreams of earning the coveted PGA member badge and advancing the game of golf.”

Sixty years after Smith’s death, the simple act of changing the name of an award would be the last ripple in the pond of those things done, and left undone, in the lifetime of a champion.  PS

Pinehurst resident Bill Case is PineStraw’s history man. He can be reached at



Hitting the Century Mark

Thomas Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again

By Bill Fields

For those who haven’t viewed my academic transcripts, a confession: I was not a math all-star. In teacher Juliana White’s advanced class during my senior year at Pinecrest High School, I excelled at reading the problems aloud. Solving them was a different story. I was flirting with failure. Mrs. White’s grading kindness, never forgotten, likely allowed me to get into the college I always wanted to attend.

But simple arithmetic I can handle, which matters this month. Unless I’ve tripled-bogeyed the count, you’re reading my 100th. PineStraw column, which I began writing in 2014 when then-editor Jim Dodson invited me to become a regular contributor over lunch at a restaurant on West Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the offices of PineStraw and The Pilot.

I had recently lost a longtime job at Golf World magazine when its print edition was eliminated and, after nearly a quarter-century in one place, was cobbling together a new professional existence in my mid-50s. Despite having a good track record in golf journalism, it was an uncertain time. I’m grateful for Jim’s confidence in my telling stories about growing up in the Sandhills and to the magazine’s readers for appreciating them.

Although golf — only occasionally my subject matter in the “Hometown” space — still gets most of my attention elsewhere, writing this column is an unanticipated pleasure of late middle age. The same goes for the longer features I’ve written, including articles about pro wrestler André the Giant, who settled in Ellerbe, or coach John Williams, a giant in the lives of so many of us from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Doing a hundred columns has spurred thousands of memories, significant and trivial, about Southern Pines and the surrounding area. If I ever get a memoir finished, the column will have played an important role.

When Arnold Palmer attended a high school reunion in his native Latrobe, in western Pennsylvania, he told classmates that “your hometown is not where you’re from, it’s who you are.”

The golf icon made a great point. Roots matter, whether you savor where you come from or spend your life running away from it. Even though I’ve lived elsewhere longer than I resided in the Sandhills, this area is a big part of who I am. No doubt my strong connection was boosted by the fact that my mother lived to 95 and remained in her home until a couple of years before she passed away, and that I returned for regular visits.

In revisiting my formative years over the last decade for the purpose of this column, I’ve had to come to grips with how much the place has grown since I was a kid living in what I like to call a “sophisticated Mayberry,” or even as a young adult eager to see new horizons. The extent of change in Moore County over the last couple of decades — particularly in the last five to 10 years — has been astounding as more and more people have chosen to live here because of its distinctive, appealing qualities.

One only must spend a day driving through eastern North Carolina to see plenty of tiny towns that have dried up, that are sad vestiges of what they used to be. We’re the opposite of those places, with all the positives and negatives that come with it. I still recognize my hometown, but each time I return its evolution can be jarring to the senses.

When I moved to New York in the 1980s, I was eager to experience a world so different from the one where I’d grown up. At that time, there weren’t national chain stores or so many high-rise condos, and there seemed to be a stationery store on every other block. In my mind, I got to live in “old” New York. But people who had lived in the Big Apple of the 1950s likely thought the 1980s didn’t line up with their memories. When I was a kid, getting a Hardee’s — 15-cent hamburgers! — and seeing the Town and Country Shopping Center open on U.S. 1 in Aberdeen were cool, but I’m sure some longtime locals might have viewed those additions as abominations.

I’m glad I grew up where I did, when I did. And it’s fun to remember.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.