Charlie Peacock had heart like a child, mind like a professor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SALISBURY — The last time I saw Charlie Peacock we were sitting around a table during an off day at the Wagon Wheel. It was early February and still chilly in that cavernous venue for the barn dance.
The late Jim Shoaf, who started the barn dance 50 years earlier, had been Charlie’s longtime railroading friend.
It was Charlie’s idea — supported by others — that I should write a story about the modern-day version of the barn dance, so there we were, Charlie and the Shoaf family, gathered at the table.
Not long after that day, Peacock entered the hospital with an obstructed bowel, and he never really got much better. He died last Friday night, and the funeral came Monday.
I’m having a hard time imagining my newspaper work without Charlie Peacock.
Over the years, he sometimes would call during the morning and invite me to lunch. Or he would be on the line other times, announce he was close by and tell me to expect to see him in the newsroom in a few minutes.
By his booming, friendly voice, you could tell Peacock was coming down the hall. He had something to say to everyone he met.
The Rev. Steve Haines said Monday, after we sang the hymn “Standing on the Promises,” Charlie “would have been singing as loud as he could, and probably off key,” had he been in the crowd with us.
On our visits, Peacock brought me ideas. That’s a good way to describe him: Charlie was an idea man, an enthusiastic one at that. As Haines said, he was like a kid full of wonder at life, even into his 90s. He also had a knack for selling his ideas and making you as excited as he was.
As I sat at his funeral Monday, I scanned my brain for things Charlie and I had talked about, just in the recent years.
One day I met him and Susan Sides down along the railroad tracks to walk around the century-old freight depot. They thought it was worth saving, but in the end, the railroad did not.
It was Charlie Peacock’s simple declaration once at a Historic Salisbury Foundation meeting that led to a new shelter’s being built above the Town Well at Rowan Public Library.
“If we got a good carpenter and a load of lumber,” Charlie said, “we could knock this out pretty quick.”
When a fire destroyed Grimes Mill in January 2013, it was, of course, Charlie Peacock who actually had been friends with John Grimes, the former miller.
He always called him “John B.”, he told me, and Grimes drove an old Dodge delivery truck. Women would use the “Grimes Best” feed sacks for dress patterns. Only Charlie would remember things like that.
When Billy Burke, Salisbury’s piano man, died, Charlie told me several stories about his lifelong friend. They had grown up on West Innes Street together and for awhile shared the same piano teacher, a Miss Merriman.
One day, Miss Merriman sent notes home to the mothers of each boy. The message to Burke’s mother said, “Billy’s got talent.”
The written note to Peacock’s mom said, “Save your money.”
Likewise, Burke was a master at bridge; Peacock, not so much. “Regardless of the hand I was dealt,” Peacock told me, “I was always a dummy.”
I’m not so sure how much of a dummy Peacock was. He usually persuaded me to follow through on his ideas: whether it be the freight depot, the barn dance or three members of the Hager family — Tony Sr., Tony Jr. and Heath — being masters of the Andrew Jackson Masonic Lodge in three consecutive years.
It never happened before and would never happen again, Peacock proclaimed.
Over the 30 years or so I knew of Peacock, I associated him with Masons, the railroad, the N.C. Transportation History Museum at Spencer Shops, Historic Salisbury Foundation, First Methodist Church, Catawba College and old-line Democratic politics.
He helped in founding the transportation museum and keeping it alive. During World War II, Peacock worked the shipyards in Norfolk, Va.
He later worked as a brakeman for the railroad, then a conductor, then landed a job with the Brotherhood of Trainmen, which led to his being a federal mediator in labor disputes.
It meant he was away from home a lot during the week, but on the weekends he devoted himself to Dot, his wife of 70 years, and their two daughters, Beth and Lynn.
According to the family, Charlie taught more than 100 people to water-ski at the family’s place on High Rock Lake. Included in that number was the Rev. William H. Osborne, a young minister who had just arrived at First United Methodist Church in 1967.
Charlie told Osborne point blank, as he always did, that he would have to learn to water ski. Peacock showed up at the church one day, put Osborne in his car, drove him home for some swimming trunks and took him to the lake for lessons.
In the day, Osborne was 6-1, 160 pounds, and he kept falling as Peacock and his boat tried to pull him upright onto the water’s surface.
Teaching Osborne to ski, Charlie complained to the minister, was like trying to instruct a flagpole.
Finally, after Osborne was nearly drowned and duly insulted, teacher and pupil met with success.
As Osborne was skimming across the water, Peacock purposely guided the beginner toward a friend, relaxing near his pier on a floating lawn chair.
Peacock expertly shut down the boat in time for a terrified Osborne to stop just short of the man on the chair. The waves they created, however, effectively washed the man under his pier and made him curse to high heaven.
This is when Peacock puttered up in the boat and apologized profusely for his pastor’s recklessness.
Osborne said it was the start of a friendship “like one I’ve never known.” Peacock was given the gift of play and the eagerness to learn. He loved to read history and delighted in conversation, Osborne said.
In the years to come, Osborne often encountered Peacock in restaurants, and many times he was talking to preachers.
“You just want to be in the foxhole with as many of God’s people as you can,” Peacock told Osborne.
With hardly any notice one Saturday night, Peacock picked up Osborne at his home, and Peacock took them to an open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It surprised Osborne when Peacock walked to the front and told his own story. The room erupted with applause when he was finished. Peacock told Osborne later, “You cannot make it in life without God’s help,” and he was sure anyone in that room would help him, if he needed it.
Hardly anyone knew it, but Peacock was probably sober for around 70 years.
Osborne said Peacock often accompanied him on visits to hospitals, nursing homes, emergency rooms and private residences.
One night they were called to a home where a child had locked himself in a bedroom to avoid his abusive, drunken father.
Osborne watched in wonder as Peacock walked in, found a way to talk to the father and line him up with a sponsor. Peacock also made sure the child had a safe place to stay that night and in the weeks to come.
Peacock’s grandson told Haines that Charlie always encouraged him to try everything in life. He didn’t mean for his grandson to be reckless or irresponsible in his pursuits.
Rather this was Charlie’s way of saying cast fear aside and see where your talents will take you.
It will help you understand other people, too.
Charlie Peacock lived 93 years. He was ethical in business, respected by friends, loved by family and faithful to the Lord.
“You have to believe right now,” Haines said, “that Charlie is having the greatest adventure of all.”
He’s surely trying everything.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or