It’s 1977 — rock ’n’ roll idol dies of heart failure


The year 1977 continued in the news. President Carter appointed the nation’s first Secretary of Energy, James R. Schlesinger. With Cabinet status, the importance of energy for the future was underscored. The United States and Panama came to an agreement to transfer the Panama Canal to Panama by the year 2000. Rock ’n’ roll idol Elvis Presley had died of heart failure at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 42. The United States launched Voyager 2, an unmanned spacecraft carrying a 12-inch copper phonograph record that contained greetings in dozens of languages, samples of music and natural sounds.

In September of 1977 General Motors introduced the first American-made diesel cars while in October, Bethlehem Steel posted third quarter losses of $477 million which was believed to be the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history. In November, a law raised the minimum wage from $2.30 to $3.35 an hour by 1981 and in December of 1977, legislation was signed by President Carter that would significantly increase the Social Security tax (Dickson, Paul, “From Elvis to E-Mail.” Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1999 pp. 230-31).

In Coats, Mr. and Mrs. Greg Stevens announced the birth of a daughter, Natalie Beth Stevens. The grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. Carlie Y. Stevens and Mr. and Mrs. Daywood Langdon. A second birth announcement shared that Mr. and Mrs. Tim Penny were parents of a daughter, Jamie Carol Penny. Mr. and Mrs. Haywood Penny and Mr. and Mrs. Earl Ennis were grandparents. Yet a third announcement shared that Mr. and Mrs. William Surerus were parents of Michael William Surerus Jr. (Daily Record, Sept. 19, 1977).

Cherie Byrd, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stacy Byrd, was one of the youngest contestants in the Miss Dunn competition (Daily Record, Sept. 22, 1977).

The Coats Junior Order had been around for a long time and was so involved in the Coats community. The Sept. 27, 1977, edition of The Daily Record reported the Coats Junior Order 417 was to host the Wagon Train at the annual Farmers Day.

Dr. Anne Moore, wife of Dr. Donald Moore, planned to try for the 14th senatorial seat next year. All three current senators were from Wake County (Daily Record, Sept. 28, 1977).

The Coats Bike Rodeo winners were presented trophies and ribbons. Working with the group were Sheron Fogle, Linda Edwards, Doug Stevens, Officer Fogle and Officer Ken Parker. Elsewhere, Juanita Hudson and Mrs. Laurence Stewart had returned to Coats after visiting their children, Mike and Christine Stewart Hudson in Charlotte (Daily Record, Sept. 30, 1977). Wonder why the winners of the trophies and ribbons were not named.

She may have been young but Cherie Byrd of Coats was the runner-up and Miss Congeniality in the Miss Dunn pageant. In Coats High School, the sophomores had elected their class officers. Danny Byrd was elected president, Vivian Faircloth was voted vice president, Sharon Gregory was selected reporter and Kathy Gregory was secretary-treasurer for the 1977-78 school year.

Little Tiffany Byrd was honored on her third birthday. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Byrd and granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Byrd and great granddaughter of Bessie Weaver (Daily Record, Oct. 3, 1977).

According to the majority vote, Coats did the choice thing by passing the Coats Recreational Park bond issue by a 10 to 1 margin. Only 29 people voted against the issue. The town’s part on the project was $26,000. The value of the park property ($46,000) and the $26,000 were all that was needed to match the grant (Daily Record, Oct. 5, 1977). Is it hard to believe that the park has been around for over 40 years to benefit the Coats community? Did the Gerald Langdon family donate the land? I do know that Gerald would be so proud of his grandson who earned his PHD at Yale and works at St. Jude’s Hospital. It seems that many times good deeds come home.

With couples living longer, it is not so unusual for them to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversaries. In 1977, a popular Coats couple did just that. Mr. and Mrs. J.T. Pleasant of Route One, Coats, were honored at a reception at their home to celebrate their 50th. The event was hosted by their sons and daughter-in-laws: J.L., Wesley, Gerald, Cecil, Robert and Elwood. Around 150 people dropped in during the afternoon event (Daily Record, Oct. 5, 1977). Was there not a brother missing from the list? Was there a brother named Sherrill?

Ronald Coats, mayor of the Coats, was surprised when the 4-H Happy Hearts Club presented him with a birthday cake. It was their way of saying “thank you” for his support of youth activities (Daily Record, Oct. 7, 1977).

Thus far in this column, you have read about all kinds of happy events. Now shall we hear about the death of a beloved elderly citizen of Coats? Lillie Poole Stewart, 86, had died at Good Hope Hospital in Erwin. Elder A.D. McGee and the Rev. Cedric Pierce officiated at the Skinner Drew Funeral Home Chapel. She was buried at the Stewart Family Cemetery. Surviving her were three daughters: Ona Turlington, Lois Pleasant and Dorothy Deet. Her sons were Nelson, Joseph Woodrow, Earl and Joseph Grant Stewart. Her sister was Florrie Dixon of Coats (Daily Record, Oct. 10, 1977).

Questions: Were there two sons with the name Joseph or was that a data collection error? Second, did you think about the fact that Lillie Stewart was 14 years old when Coats was chartered as a town? Her family would have received their mail at the Troyville post office with mail arriving by stagecoach, would have attended the old wooden Coats School but lived to see all the other brick building go up on the Coats campus. She could have seen all the brick stores being built on Main Street, would have seen the first train come through Coats, would have known firsthand about two of Coats’ first aviators meeting death in plane crashes, could have attended the Gift Primitive Baptist Church with the town’s founder, Preacher Tom Coats. She would live through the Spanish-American, World War I and II, Korean and Vietnam wars. She saw the first cars, the first airplanes and witnessed on television Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon in 1969 and so much more. What a life!

Judges for the Coats Farmers Day Parade were Bill House, Sonia House, Tim Hamby, Janice Lucas and Jimmy Pleasant (Daily Record, Oct. 11. 1977). Yes, Lillie Stewart could have participated in the town’s first Community Fair (Farmers Day).

Sandra Kay Howard had been elected secretary of the Student National Education Association at Campbell College for 1977-78. She was a graduate of the Coats High Class of 1975 and the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Howard (Daily Record, Oct. 14, 1977). How many of you have been touched by the life of Sandra Kay Howard who retired as the principal of Coats Elementary School last year?

When Gov. Jim Hunt held a barbecue at the Governor’s Mansion, Henry A. Turlington was first in the receiving line to speak to his longtime friend (Daily Record, Oct. 24, 1977).

The Coats sewage problem was shelved for one year despite the need for the replacement of septic tanks in Coats with a uniform system of treatment and disposal. The $3 million price tag could have meant a $15 a month increase in taxes. It was stated that the system would likely be financed through an increase in taxes, as well as revenue derived from sewer charges (Daily Record, Oct. 27, 1977). Where did all the wastewater and waste go if there was no sewer system? Did everyone have septic tanks? Did the town have an uniformed town water system for all the residents in Coats? I do know that Dena Young, the 12 year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Von Young, had won the Pee Wee Homecoming Queen for 1977 and Teresa Honeycutt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Honeycutt, was chosen as the Midget Homecoming Queen (Daily Record, Oct. 25, 1977).

Most of the folks are dead who remember that Henry Turlington was known far and wide for his ability to raise prize-winning Duroc hogs. Mr. Henry, who had won ribbons and trophies at the N.C. State Fair since 1917, missed his first state fair in 60 years. He stated that he was proud to turn over the custom to his son, H.A. Turlington Jr., and his grandson, Bill Henry, to show prize-winning Duroc hogs (Daily Record, Oct. 27, 1977).

The volunteers at the Coats Museum miss our World War II veterans like H.A. Jr. We had H.A. speak to our Kiwanis Club several years ago about his experiences during WWII. To this day I can see the tears in H.A.’s eyes and the patriotism in his heart as he shared his experiences on the battlefield where he served as a medic to the wounded soldiers.

H.A. Jr. had a way of making one feel good. As a young teacher at Coats, I witnessed over and over H.A. supporting his children and the teachers at the school happenings. If I was in eyeshot of him, he never failed to find his way to me and asked or shared information about my older sister who was in his high school graduation class. Even though she lived in Washington, D.C., he somehow knew all about her and always shared information about their school days. You see, she had already left home for Campbell College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her journalism career before I was born and it was exciting to learn about her relationship with her friends from her days at Coats School.

If you continue to read future columns of the Coats Museum News, you will revisit the days when H.A.’s son, William Henry, attended Coats High and later went on to earn a PhD. Henry and his family currently live in Franklin, Tennessee. One must never underestimate the importance of family support in the lives of our children. Do you think that William Henderson Turlington, who followed another Coats man, John McKay Byrd, as a former sheriff of Harnett County, would be proud of his descendants?

Thank you goes to Marc and Jean Powell and to Bennie Harmon for dropping by to continue to show priceless documents from the past with the museum. There was a day when electric bills were $3 and doctor’s office calls were $1.50. Did you know that some of the diplomas at Coats listed all the names of the graduating seniors? Thanks to the Mark, Jean and Bennie we can verify the information.


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