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Throughout the 1940s-50s, Murray Greason (WFC ‘59, JD ‘62), James Mackie ( WFC ‘60), Larry Harris, and Tommy Holding were the boys everyone knew.
They played, schemed, and cavorted through town. And the story might have stopped there. But in recent years, the best friends from Faculty Avenue have supported the Wake Forest Historical Museum at an astonishing level, with combined donations, made or procured, valued at approximately one million dollars.
So we decided to ask the question: Why such devotion to Wake Forest, town and college?
First an introduction:
Murray Greason, an attorney and former chairman of the Wake Forest University Board of Trustees, is the son of Wake Forest College Basketball Coach Murray Greason, Sr. Greason’s mother was assistant town postmaster and assistant to the dean at Wake Forest University.
James Mackie’s parents were Dr. George Mackie, the beloved town physician, and the philanthropic Kathleen Mackie Lake. Mackie is a successful businessman and entrepreneur based in Pennsylvania.
Larry Harris is the grandson of Dr. W. R. Cullom, longtime Bible professor at Wake Forest College. His mother was Nancy Cullom Harris, the town’s first female postmaster, and his father was a local attorney. Now living in California, Harris is a nuclear engineer.
Only Tommy Holding has died. The third generation owner of Holding’s Pharmacy, he was one of the movers and shakers who led the revitalization of downtown Wake Forest in the 1980s. Diagnosed with lung cancer, Holding died in 1986.
The friends share a good story. Their recollections are supplemented by original articles from The Woodland News, reported and published by neighborhood children in the 1940s and given to the museum by former editor, Virginia Pearson Tharrington.
The Woodland News (July 4, 1945):
James and Larry have a fire truck. They made it by fastening a wagon onto Larry’s tricycle. Then they put another compartment on the back. Their fire alarm is an old dinner bell. When the bell is rung they put on their raincoats and boots and Larry rides the tricycle while James stands on the back of the wagon and rings the bell.
Murray Greason: I don’t know if babies can become friends, but I believe it to be true that we were walked in baby carriages up and down what was then Faculty Avenue.
Larry Harris: After I was born in 1937, Granddaddy’s house became my home for the next eighteen years until I graduated from Wake Forest High School, along with my longtime friends.
James Mackie: It was idyllic to the extent that we were in a small town; most of the people in the business and college circles knew Murray’s father and mother, knew my father and mother, they knew Tommy’s father and mother, and Larry’s father was a lawyer in town. So a lot of people knew us. Tommy was the mischievous one. I was the hands-on person, the type of person who got things done. Murray was the athlete. Larry was the high-achieving, hardworking student, the studious one.
Larry Harris: School was great. I could walk, roller skate, or bike to school. Because the school was small, many of us were in the same class for all twelve years. The extracurricular activities—dramatics club, high school annual, basketball—often involved the same friends who had been together for all twelve years. It was a lot of fun.
The Woodland News (April 19, 1946):
Wednesday, April 17, was Larry Harris’s birthday. After school he had James Mackie, Murray Greason, and Tommy Holding in for ice cream and cake. He got a big straw target on a stand, a pair of skates, two flashlights, a baseball, and seven dollars.
The Woodland News (July 5, 1946):
Murray Greason has twenty-five turkeys which he raised from babies. The other day he got too near one of the turkeys and it pecked him in the eye. It almost put his eye out.
The Woodland News (May 9, 1947):
Tommy Holding can just go out in the yard by himself with his baseball bat and in a few minutes there are enough boys, daddies, and GI’s in the yard for two teams.
The Woodland News (August 1, 1947):
Larry Harris collects insignias, bottle tops, bullets, spiders, and match covers. We thought this a very large undertaking for such a small boy. Tommy Holding is very proud of his collection of turtles. So far he has three.
Murray Greason: I just think we really enjoyed ourselves. Whenever we’re together or we’re together with other friends, we always talk about how lucky we were to grow up in Wake Forest. The parents were all friends with each other, as well. You have a picture of the five ladies at the train station.
That’s my mother, Tommy’s mother, Larry’s mother, and two other women. As I’ve understood it, they were at the train station getting ready to go to New York. James’s mother, however, was a very busy woman. She would drive George Mackie around into the deep hours of the night while he made his house calls. She would nap at the wheel while he was in the house, and he napped in the seat while she was driving to the next location.
The Woodland News (November 14, 1945):
James Mackie gave his father some fog lights as a birthday present. He saved up the money all summer.
James Mackie: I would ride with my dad sometimes, just to spend time with him. I did have a unique experience. During my high school time I was on the fire department. I drove an ambulance and worked at the funeral home. I drove a wrecker and worked at Service Chevrolet. That plus being involved with the college and my friends being professors’ sons, I got a chance to be involved in a lot of aspects of the community. But it was all just part of growing up. I didn’t feel that I was any different from anybody else. I just felt that I was doing my thing.
The Woodland News (July 16, 1948):
James Mackie has opened a “pop shop” on North Main Street. It is on the same lot as the new clinic. So far they have had a “booming business.” They built the little building in which they have their shop all by themselves.
James Mackie: Mother had asked what I wanted for my birthday. I said I wanted a truckload of cement blocks. She was surprised, but that’s what she got me. I built it with Larry. The house was being renovated for my Dad’s medical office, so the carpenters that were there put the roof on. We dug the footings, poured the foundation, laid the block. So I opened a little drink stand beside what used to be the GI housing on the grounds that now belong to the museum. The Lambda Chi house was across the street and Kappa Sig was next door. I had a lot of business.
In 2010, Mackie and his wife Clare donated the medical office and pop shop to the Wake Forest Historical Museum.
Murray Greason: Tommy and I were good enough friends that our parents arranged for us to have our tonsils out at the same time. This was a universal practice then; every kid had his tonsils out whether you needed it or not. There was a several-day recovery period of ice cream and staying in bed, and Tommy and I shared that.
By the time he was old enough to write and print, there was a little shack in Tommy’s backyard that was enclosed, and Tommy had written across the door, “T.E. Holding III, Inventor and Genius, Unlimited.” And he was always fooling around with gadgets and concoctions.
James Mackie: Later, Tommy came back and took over the drugstore his father had. He developed a thing called “Sex Alert.” It was caffeine and another innocuous ingredient, and he had it advertised in all these different magazines and took great pride in showing people the stacks of letters he got from people saying he’d saved their marriage. He had it packaged in New Jersey and it cost 50 cents a bottle, which he sold for $5 each.
He developed lung cancer and was going all over the earth trying to find a cure for it. And he wasn’t successful with that. Sometimes he had to be hospitalized.
Once I went down to visit mother and went to see Tommy in the hospital. He wanted to get out of bed and go out to dinner together. And he would do that. Then he’d go back in the hospital.
We had a last supper for Tommy. Murray arranged for us to use the Capital Club in Raleigh. I came down. Harry Holding came up from Georgia. (Also in attendance: Larry Harris, Bill Goldston, Frank Hudnor, and Jappy Memory.) Murray and I went over and picked him up and, as we walked out of the house, Sue handed me a camera and said, “Please take this with you because this is the last time you’ll take pictures together.”
Murray Greason: I know that Tommy was deeply committed to the town and to the business. I think he would have wanted his family name preserved in connection with the beautiful White Street downtown, which still looks an awful lot like it looked in 1955. They were such a big part of the town.
We all individually started to give back to Wake Forest. James did get the house next door, the old office, and he did pass it on to the Birthplace. Larry lived very close to the Birthplace and he wanted to memorialize his mother, who was a beautiful, wonderful woman. He feels a deep loyalty to our little piece of geography.
Harris donated the funds for the museum’s Nancy Cullom Harris Auditorium and for the Brewer-Harris Garden. He grew up in the historic Cullom House, directly across the street from the museum. The house was being renovated by new owners when it caught fire on the night of March 25, 2015 and burned to the ground. It has not been rebuilt.
Larry Harris: I suspect my interest in supporting the museum is due to love of my family and gratitude to Wake Forest for providing such a wonderful place to grow up. Certainly my value system is due to the positive influences of family and friends in Wake Forest. My hope is that in the future the museum can function more as a community catalyst to make the town an even better place to grow up and to live.
Murray Greason: Well, I think everybody wants to be remembered. And I think the college history is very important to the University. The important thing is for the University not to lose sight of its roots. Close relationships between professors and students, educating the whole person, not just cramming them full of factual knowledge—Wake Forest University has not lost those kinds of things, and so it’s important for them to value where they came from.
You know, there are all kinds of things that make history important in planning for the future. I can’t speak for James or Larry, but I suspect they feel pretty much the same.
James Mackie: I just felt the history was worth preserving. And I wanted to do something to honor my mother and father because I thought they had done a tremendous job in leaving the place better than they found it. For me it was a no-brainer. I think my mother would be very pleased. I think she felt it would be very important for the town to have its history preserved.
Kathleen Mackie Lake led the early effort to save the Calvin Jones House from demolition, move it to its current location, and turn it into a museum. Her involvement with the Wake Forest College Birthplace Society lasted from 1956 until her death in 2009.
Larry Harris: I go back and forth between wanting our museum to be a cultural activity promoter versus an organizational home for Wake Forest’s movers and shakers.
James Mackie: I would like to see a foundation set up that would have the ability to handle any unusual situation that would come up. If there was a certain exhibit that would be very meaningful, like the Smithsonian exhibit, there would be money available for that. I think foundations can serve a very good purpose. But you still need efficient fundraising, membership, and operation.
Murray Greason: My dream outcome is to have the University acknowledge responsibility for financial success leading to a continuing, first-rate operation of the Birthplace and museum into the indefinite future, to the extent the Birthplace cannot support itself through its own fundraising.
Since the 1990s, Greason has worked tirelessly to secure from Wake Forest University a high level of continuing support for the museum. Partly through his efforts, the University has given a capital gift to help construct the museum building, fund two staff positions, and assist with routine operating costs.
Earlier, under President Tom Hearn, the University assumed responsibility for maintenance and repairs to the historic Calvin Jones House.