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Happy Birthday, Carlyle Older and wiser

By Joanie Morris

Kannapolis Citizen

When he was a child, he probably never thought he’d have done the things he’s done in his life.

On Thursday, this man will turn 97.

It’s been a long life for J. Carlyle Rutledge — and getting longer by the day.

Rutledge has been a citizen of Kannapolis ever since he started his own law practice here in 1936. He may look perfect, but even Rutledge will admit there were things that happened in his life that were less than perfect.

Like failing the bar exam on his first go.

“That was the biggest disappointment of my life,” Rutledge said during a recent interview about his life. “I did not study North Carolina law.”

He explained that he made good grades in law school, but they never took classes on specific laws in North Carolina. He assumed that by making good grades, he could easily pass the bar.

“Oh, what a disappointment,” Rutledge said.

However, that disappointment turned into something good.

“It turned out to be the greatest thing to happen,” Rutledge said.

After failing the bar exam, he went to work for a law office Charlotte. It was there he met a woman named Judith Kuykendal.

“I began seeing her regularly there,” Rutledge said, closing his eyes at the memory. “If nobody was around, I may have tried to snitch a kiss behind the door or something.”

When he could take the bar again, he passed and left the practice in Charlotte to open his own practice in Kannapolis.

He took Judith with him as his wife and law secretary.

“I first had asked A.L. Brown (the man, not the school) if I could come to town,” Rutledge said. “You could only get here if Cannon — Mr. Luther Brown — said you could.”

Initially, Brown told Rutledge that he would starve to death in Kannapolis and he couldn’t come.

“Later he changed his mind,” Rutledge said with a smile.

That’s because at the time, Brown was living with his sister, Mrs. John Rutledge, who was Carlyle Rutledge’s aunt.

“That had to have been a little help in getting me in Kannapolis,” Rutledge said. His first office was above Belk’s shoe store. There was a doctor, dentist and insurance man in the same area.

“I would hear people come upstairs and hope they were coming to see me, but dog-gone-it, they were going to see someone else,” Rutledge said. “It was tough going there for a while. I couldn’t afford a secretary until Judith came to help me after we got married.”

The young couple rented an apartment on Oakshade Avenue at that time.

Rutledge soon found his niche, though. Wills and title work became the thing for him. At the time, banks weren’t prohibited from telling customers where to get title work done and Rutledge would reap the benefits of that.

“They would tell the borrower, ‘We’ll let Carlyle Rutledge examine the loan,’ ” Rutledge said. “That became my first interest in real estate.”

Soon, he began buying real estate and building rental houses. That grew into Kannapolis Real Estate Agency, of which Rutledge is still president. His daughter, Martha Macon, and his son, Jim, both work at the agency now.

Rutledge worked in his practice and later served as Judge of Domestic Relations Court in Cabarrus County. He practiced law for more than 50 years and founded the firm of Rutledge, Friday, Safrit and Smith with Homer Friday, Walter Safrit Jr. and Reggie Smith. He was past president of the Cabarrus County Bar Association and was admitted to the Supreme Court Bar in March 2002.

He served in the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1941 and 1943. He served in the North Carolina Senate in 1957, 1959 and 1961. He was on the committee that established the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill and served on the committee to plan and build the Legislative Building.

After the new Legislative Building was built, new furnishings were provided. It was an “out with the old” situation and chairs from the chamber floors were being sold to veteran politicians. The more seasoned the veteran, the higher up they were picking chairs.

Rutledge, having served several terms, was considered a seasoned veteran and got to buy the chair he sat in for much of his senate career for $100 in 1963. The chair was from the last year the House and Senate held regular sessions in the old capitol building.

“I’m real proud to have this chair in my home,” said Rutledge. “I hope that my children will want to have it after I’m out of the way.”

Rutledge received North Carolina’s highest civilian award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in 1996. He has also been active in the Kannapolis Rotary Club since 1943, the same year the club started. He served in several capacities at the club, including president in 1951-52. He also served as Rotary District Governor in 1953-54. In the community, he served on the Cannon Memorial YMCA Board of Directors and co-chair of the YMCA Endowment Fund, as well as other endeavors with the YMCA. He was honored as the second celebrity in the annual Kannapolis Education Foundation Celebrity Roast.

“I’ve been pleased and I’ve been glad that I’ve been able to be a part of the life of this community,” said Rutledge. “I am certainly looking forward, hopefully, to seeing part of the new life Mr. (David) Murdock is bringing to Kannapolis. I do hope I can live long enough to see it get really productive.”

Rutledge feels like the change coming to Kannapolis is a great opportunity for the area to redevelop and redefine itself.

“We’ve got a wonderful past and we look forward to an equally great future.”

At 97, he’s got a lot of secrets, but one that’s pretty obvious is the one to his long life. He sees his physician, Dr. John C. Tuttle, regularly.

“I asked Dr. Tuttle what would he suggest with regards to my eating habits and he said keep on doing what you’re doing,” Rutledge said.

He’s never smoked and he’s never drank. He’s a long-time member of Trinity United Methodist Church, where he has served as Chairman of the Administrative Board, the Board of Trustees, the Salisbury district Board of Trustees of the United Methodist Church and the Building Committee.

He was a children’s Sunday school teacher in the 1930s and a lay speaker, honorary life member of the Administrative Board and helped to establish the Trinity United Methodist Maintenance Trust Fund. He has also served on the board of directors of the Methodist Home of Charlotte.

All of the things he’s done in his life give him a full “sense of satisfaction.” He enjoys doing things for his family and friends. Rutledge recently donated $50,000 to the city of Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department to help pay for the train that will run in Village Park.

He’s helped pay for many things in the community — including an elevator, handicap ramp and drive-under at his church — and gives regularly through monetary and in-kind donations to organizations such as Cooperative Christian Ministries.

When asked what his favorite memory is, he has to stop and take a long pause.

“There’s so many memories of so many different things,” Rutledge said. “I’ve had so many different memories I can’t recite one.”

He has enjoyed so many of the little things life has given him he can’t tell just one.

“I even enjoyed handling the spelling bee (through the years),” Rutledge said. “I have business memories. Family memories. Trips.”

He’s thankful for every bit of his life, especially his family.

“I am so thankful for the wonderful family Judith made possible for me,” Rutledge said. There is one disappointment he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get over. “One of my greatest disappointments for me is because of her death, she can’t share in the little things.”

Contact Joanie Morris at 704-932-3336 or jmorris@kannapoliscitizen.com.

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