Your Neighbor: Meet Ralph James

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mandy Haggerson 

For the Clemmons Courier

When you are 88 years young, keeping yourself active and busy with your childhood passion is very important. Golf enthusiast Ralph James Jr. has spent a lifetime earning trophies, medals and titles as a golfer. James’ love for golf started when he was 14 years old.

“I was raised in the Asheville area and began playing on the municipal course and loved it immediately,” James said. “Playing in college seemed like a very natural next step. And going to Wake Forest University was a no-brainer.”

James’ father had been a standout athlete in three sports at Wake in football, basketball and baseball.

James began his college career at Wake Forest in the 1950s. He had earned a scholarship that had been previously given to Arnold Palmer. “He had just left to play professionally, and I and another golfer earned the scholarship he had previously been on prior to leaving Wake,” reveals James.

“Playing for Wake was a real special time in my life. We won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament twice. I served as captain of the golf team, too.”

While enjoying his time at Wake James earned a bachelor’s degree in English.

“Once I graduated, I knew that I would need more schooling. I had met my future wife, Mary Lou, at church in Asheville, and we got married too. We’ve been married for 64 years,” James said.

They headed to Emory University where James completed a divinity degree.

“While at Emory, I was encouraged to go to Drew University in New Jersey to get my PhD in religion, which I did,” James said. “I was a minister at a Methodist church during that time.”

After completing his graduate coursework, Mary Lou and Ralph moved to Rocky Mount.

“I began teaching astronomy, philosophy and religion at North Carolina Wesleyan University for 10 years,” James said. “I really enjoyed teaching and sharing what I had learned with students.”

When an opportunity presented itself to move his family (now the father of three sons) to Raleigh, James was interested because it would allow him to teach in a different way.

“I began my 30-year career at FMI Consulting,” James said. “I never gave up teaching outside of business consulting either. I have had such a love for imparting what I’ve learned that I always found a way to share it with others and connect.”

In recent years, when Ralph and Mary Lou moved out of Raleigh to the Bermuda Run area to be closer to family, James has set up programs for local retirement communities.

“It’s good to keep the mental health up and going,” James said. “Learning new things helps people do just that. Engaging others in our community to learn new things was something I really enjoy. I also like to continue to participate in astronomy programs in city clubs in our area. I’m an active member of the Forsyth Astronomical Society, too. Every now and again, I’ll head back to Raleigh and host some lectures for their astronomy group, too.”

And if not giving a lecture, what does a golf legend who has won 30 club championships around the state of North Carolina, multiple national senior game gold medals and titles, won the national amateur tour just to name a few do with their spare time?

“Currently, I am on the North Carolina panel that rates golf courses with my friend, Skip Tussey,” James said. “He’s a really great guy that does a lot of wonderful things for our community. We both share a love for golf, and it’s another way to be involved with a sport that I am so passionate about.”

If not on the golf course, James can be found taking art classes at the local community center.

“What I love about golf is that it allows you to be outside and active,” James said. “You are walking and taking in the fresh air. I also love the competition. With art, it challenges a different part of your brain. I have loved learning about pouring acrylics. It’s a newer technology, and I’ve embraced trying something new that allows me to be creative.”

While trying new things and challenging himself is always something that will enthrall James, he also relishes in his role as grandpa. Sharing his passions with the next generation of his family is something he finds very meaningful with his nine grandchildren.

“I love sharing what I’m passionate about with my children and grandchildren,” James said. “I also love seeing them embrace what makes them happy, too.”