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Shotgun and Helen Rae: Deaths ‘massive loss’ for community

ROCKWELL — When he was 12 and growing up in Albemarle, Hoyle “Shotgun” Talbert’s parents gave him a shotgun for Christmas.
His neighbor across the street received a football, and when Hoyle wasn’t allowed into the neighbor’s pickup game, he retrieved his Christmas present and shot a hole in the boy’s football.
Needless to say, Shotgun was in a mess of trouble. But it’s not, surprisingly, how Talbert got his nickname.
He had been going by “Shotgun” since he was 3, after an adult neighbor walked over to his house and said to the boy, “Come on, let’s get some ice cream, Shotgun.”
The name stuck with Talbert the rest of his life, and he much preferred it to Hoyle.
These kinds of stories are flooding back this weekend as people here cope with the loss of eastern Rowan royalty — Shotgun and Helen Rae Talbert died from injuries in a late Wednesday night traffic accident.
People are filled with thoughts of Shotgun and Helen Rae Talbert’s kindness, whether they were sending out birthday cards, taking people in, looking after them in sickness, bringing them lunch, making them laugh or being their surrogate parents or grandparents.
Helen Rae, 80, died soon after the couple were flown that night to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Shotgun, 84, hung on through a Thursday surgery until being taken off life support Friday afternoon.
Terry Beaver, owner of the Ace Hardware in Rockwell, calls the couple’s deaths a “huge loss, a massive loss.”
“No matter what the generation, it’s touching everybody — that’s the long and short of it,” said Beaver, a lifelong friend of the Talberts.
People kept coming into the hardware store Thursday and Friday to ask about Shotgun, when he was still hanging on, and express their heartache about Helen Rae.
The stream of folks was constant.
When his 12-year-old heard Thursday morning about Helen Rae’s death on his way to school, the youngster immediately started crying, Beaver says.
When Beaver broke the news to his mother after Helen Rae’s death, she told him, “Terry, I’ve lost my best friend.”
Beaver says seeing the loss of that friendship hurts.
“I just held her and kissed her and told her, ‘Mama, we’ll get through this,’ ” Beaver recalls.
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Bonnie Holder says when she separated from her first husband, the Talberts were living at their lake house while their Rockwell house on Ashley Drive was being built.
“No questions asked, they took me in,” Holder says. “She was always a great shoulder to lean on, and Shotgun was so understanding.”
Hundreds of people in eastern Rowan County received birthday cards every year from the couple — from Helen Rae, really.
Beaver, 51, says he recently received his, as he had since he was a kid.
“I know she went through a roll of stamps a month, just on birthday cards,” daughter-in-law Gina Talbert says. “Shotgun used to say jokingly that she was going to break them, sending all those birthday cards. HR would look at him sideways and just smile.”
Yes, even Helen Rae sometimes went by the nickname “HR.”
“You could always depend on a hug from HR and a smile and a handshake from Shotgun,” Holder says. “Not many in Rockwell didn’t know them and their kindness.”
Holder, administrative assistant for elementary education in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, lost her parents and a brother during the years she had known the Talberts.
“They always comforted me,” she says. “My mom died when I was 20. HR was there over the years for me.”
Holder and Helen Rae sometimes got together to order things from a catalog, which usually led to some fun.
“Because when it came in,” Holder says, “it was a lot smaller than it looked in the book. We would laugh at our messed-up orders.”
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Mitzi Miller worked with Helen Rae at Erwin Middle School. Miller served as the guidance secretary, and HR was assistant for one of the school’s special-needs students, Allison Holshouser.
“In all my years of working in the school system,” Miller says, “I have never seen anyone so kind and compassionate toward a student as Helen Rae was toward Allison.”
Gina Talbert says her mother-in-law often went back and forth with her one-on-one students between Erwin and East Rowan High School.
Miller recalls Helen Rae’s having an uplifting greeting for everyone, plus a hug.
“And she was always trying to feed them,” Miller adds. “No one would ever be hungry when she was around.”
The need to feed her coworkers stayed with Helen Rae even after she retired. Every week or so, she traveled to McCombs Grocery in Faith to buy a carton of pimento cheese, a carton of chicken salad, a loaf of bread and a jar of pickles.
She then stopped by the middle school and shared them with Miller, James E. Lyerly, Sharon Mault, Nancy Barrow and Linda Ollis.
“We would close the door in one of the small guidance offices to keep our laughter from bothering others and have some of the best sandwiches, fellowship and laughter you can imagine,” Miller says.
“It’s the simple things that made Helen so special.”
Gina Talbert says you could not walk into Helen Rae’s house without her asking whether she could get you something to eat. “It would hurt her feelings if you were not hungry,” she says.
And Helen Rae’s sensitive side came out, even in the preparation of a sandwich. She would ask what side of the bread you wanted the mustard on and what side should she reserve for the meat and cheese.
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As for Shotgun, Miller says it will be difficult in the weeks ahead to walk into the East Rowan YMCA because Shotgun was usually there to greet her and share a quick, happy story.
“He was always telling me about things my husband did or said on their beach trips — things Ronnie wouldn’t volunteer to tell me,” Miller says.
“Shotgun just loved to tell me these stories and watch for my reaction.”
For almost 60 years, Shotgun Talbert and a band of friends from the Salisbury-Rockwell area traveled twice a year, in the spring and fall, to golf outings at North Myrtle Beach.
The Sides-Beaver-Ridenhour house at Crescent Beach served as a home base. For many of the years, Shotgun coordinated the event, arranged the golf course tee times and recruited people to go.
Awhile back, with many of the old-timers lost to either death or health issues, Talbert decided to recruit 12 younger players, who quickly agreed it was a trip they couldn’t miss.
“I can still hear Shotgun laughing as the tall tales were swapped at the beach house,” Ronnie Miller says.
According to Miller, Shotgun had a knack for endearing himself to people, including total strangers. He might, for example, spot a person wearing a Clemson hat and make a positive comment about the school or the hat itself.
“The person seemed to be drawn to Shotgun,” Ronnie Miller says, “and 20 minutes later, you would have thought that person was Shotgun’s best friend. That was the kind of impact he had on others.”
Beaver says Talbert loved the golf course and regularly played with a group at Corbin Hills on Tuesdays and Fridays until his knees were replaced and he had some heart surgery. He cut back substantially on golf after that, but you still might see him on occasion at Corbin Hills.
Just a couple of weeks ago, he attended the beach golf outing, even though he didn’t play.
Gina Talbert says Shotgun went to the East Rowan Y daily because of a coffee club there. But he also would work out some, she says.
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Hoyle “Shotgun” Talbert played baseball well, and after attending Pfeiffer College, was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. He gave up minor league baseball and first moved to Rockwell as agent for the train depot.
Talbert forged a career with Southern Railway before taking early retirement. He also owned a car lot, T&R Motors.
Helen Rae Austin grew up near New London, and the couple met in their high school years, though they didn’t attend the same schools. They celebrated their 63rd anniversary in September and were strong members of St. James Lutheran Church, where their funeral will be held at 3 p.m. Monday.
The couple raised two children: Ann Eidson, who survives, and David, who died a few years back. They also had four grandchildren, a great-grandchild, and a great-grandchild is on the way.
In the Winston-Salem hospital, Shotgun was able to talk briefly Thursday with his family and friends. And though his body was shutting down Friday, he was still responsive at times.
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Gina Talbert says Ann “is doing an absolutely great job at handling this.” The grandchildren especially are taking the loss hard.
The couple were great role models for the grandchildren through their loving relationship and dedication to family and others, Talbert says.
Shotgun and Helen Rae always treated their children’s and grandchildren’s friends as family, too.
“You would never have known I was not their child,” Gina Talbert says. “They treated me like that from day one.”
Ever since he knew Shotgun, Terry Beaver says, Talbert was a happy-go-lucky person who was never upset with anyone.
Beaver remembers Shotgun’s umpiring one of his Little League baseball games on a day when Beaver was hit in the chest by a line drive while leading off third base.
While Beaver was writhing on the ground in pain, Shotgun ran over, stood above the boy and told Beaver he had some bad news. Not only was he hurting, Shotgun noted, Beaver was out, too, for being hit by the ball.
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Gina Talbert speaks of Shotgun’s softer side. Shotgun saw her sister Laurie Wyrick at a funeral once on a cold February day, and he asked Laurie where her coat was.
“I don’t have a Sunday coat,” she explained, noting it wasn’t a priority while she raising her family.
Shotgun later gave one of Laurie’s sisters $125 to go to Belk and buy Laurie a coat. Shotgun told the sister to place it on Laurie’s porch but never tell her where it came from.
“My heart is totally broken at the loss of two such dear friends,” Marsha W. Beaver says. “Helen Rae and Shotgun were so special to me — loving friends who never let me forget how much they cared about me.”
When she was at her lowest, Marsha Beaver adds, the couple were their most supportive. She was childhood friends with Ann.
“I will always love the part they played in my life,” Marsha Beaver says, “watching Annie and me clean up on the tennis courts or riding and boarding horses, or just loving each other as friends.”
Terry Beaver says he finds consolation in one thing.
“I know those two people,” he says. “I know they know the Lord, and it’s a glorious homecoming for them. That’s how I get through things like this.
“It’s a blow.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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