Buice column: Figuring out the name game at 50th high school reunion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 6, 2023

The T-shirt really said it all: “RJR Class of 1973 Once in a Lifetime 50th Reunion Weekend.”

Fifty years since donning the cap and grown. That just can’t be possible, right?

Well, it was — meaning it was time to celebrate a special weekend in late June 2023. But how do you prepare for such an occasion when you haven’t seen the majority of these people since you were a teenager, and now you’re well into your 60s?

My first step was to locate my senior yearbook from R.J. Reynolds and look through the photos … and some of the many highlights from way back when. We had a huge class of nearly 900, so I was already at a disadvantage because there were many of my classmates that I didn’t know even then.
Our big weekend included an informal meet-and-greet at Little Richard’s Smokehouse Bar-N-Que on Friday night, which I missed because I was attending an event that evening at my college alma mater, App State. That would have helped to break the ice and start putting those names with faces.

At the main event Saturday night at Forsyth Country Club, I quickly realized the yearbook could only help so much. Some of my classmates were easily recognizable, others sort of and others not so much. I found myself looking at lots of faces and taking a quick — and hopefully not too noticeable — glance at the nametag. It was even more difficult with the ladies since you had to wade through not only the RJR name but the married name in many cases.

I’m sure a lot of people that I didn’t know as well might not have recognized me with my name going from Jimmy to Jim — that’s what you do when you grow up — along with the transition from a full head of hair to none.

My wife, who didn’t grow up here, was nervous because she only knew a handful of my old Reynolds friends from 1973 but admitted she had less pressure than her husband, who was stressing about the name game.

We had a crowd of just over 200, but when you consider 150-plus of those were fellow graduates, and an incredible number of close to 90 members of our class (about 10 percent) were deceased, that meant that just a little more than 25 percent of the Class of 1973 was actually in attendance.

Still, it seemed like a big crowd, with the large ballroom full and many people streaming outside to the balcony overlooking the golf course as the sun started to set. And despite some of the angst of not knowing what to expect, it turned out to be a terrific night of revisiting those carefree days of our youth, sharing lots of laughs, and catching up on the many stories of life since then — along with great food and fabulous music from the ’70s.

Even the great Bob Deaton, who is now 91 and was the principal at Reynolds from 1966 to 1991, made an appearance on our big night.

Who knows what’s ahead for all of us? Admittedly, we’re much closer to the end than the beginning of life’s journey. However, I left feeling grateful for making it this far and thankful for being there for “The RJR Class of 1973 Once in a Lifetime 50th Reunion Weekend.”

It will never happen again.

• • • • •

In this space last month, I asked the question about why Clemmons was called a “village,” saying that a friend was asking and that I didn’t really have an answer.

But Ron Willard, who was part of the incorporation group, the first mayor and has been active in so many facets of the town — oops, village — over the years since that time in 1986, did shed some helpful light on the subject.

He said that Clemmons, a community of 6,000 people then, was dealing with a number of issues, including no office, phone, staff, PO Box, planning group, etc.

“Mr. Brewer, longtime resident, was rather adamant that Clemmons should be a called a town,” Willard said in his note, adding whoever had seen “village” on a map? “However, Ms. Moody and John Hunter, longtime residents, said Clemmons was a village as long as they had lived there and should not be changed.”

Willard admitted to having no voice on the matter since he was a 1979 transplant from Winston-Salem.

“Many of those grew up in Clemmons, going to school together or going to the mill or church together,” Willard said. “Just a wonderful, delightful and caring folks. I was just so honored to be a part of that group.”

I recall doing a story years ago on brothers Bill and John Hunter, who ran the Triangle Service Station, which opened in 1945 and became the hub of Clemmons. They were a big part of that core “village” group.

I respect that, and when I drive down what I called “the traffic nightmare of the five-lane, Lewisville-Clemmons Road obstacle course that runs through what is called a “village,’ ” I will always remember that and can say I now know why.