Duke Hunley

Duke Hunley

Last Friday morning, I got that day’s R&L from the box beside our mailbox, came into the house, got a cup of coffee, set myself down in the recliner and scanned the front page. As usual, I first scanned the obituary names and there was the name of my friend, Horace “Duke” Hunley, who passed away on Monday, April 13. He and I were about the same age.

Besides his wife and other family, his obituary stated that Duke was survived by six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Duke was a security guard for Wilson Security Services in Statesville, although he also did some work outside the library, such as providing security at high school football games. Duke had been working security at the library for at least 20 years; he had been a part of the staff when the library was at its former location on the other side of the block.

He and I learned each other’s names years ago and always spoke to one another or waved or gave each other a quick, barely noticeable nod of the head, which is the old Southern way of acknowledging another gentleman’s presence. Duke was usually seated at his accustomed station near the main entrance, working through a crossword puzzle book, but I would also see him ambling around the parking lot or making his rounds through the library.

Duke was the only person I knew, I once jokingly told him, who had had a submarine named for him. I referred to the C.S.S. Hunley, the Confederate submarine brought up from the bottom of Charleston, South Carolina, harbor some years ago. I don’t remember if he said he had ever seen the ship in the Charleston museum or not. The engineer-inventor of the Hunley was named Horace Hunley. Perhaps they were kin.

Duke was a quiet, unobtrusive and courteous man. His uniform was always clean and pressed, his shoes shined. As we used to say in the Navy, “he was squared away.” I don’t know if Duke was a veteran or not, but he carried himself like a veteran.

Bill Moose, who does the “Out of Our Past” column in Monday’s R&Ls contributed his thoughts about our mutual friend:

“I’m not sure when Duke began to work at the library, but I do know that he became the ‘face’ of the library. He was the first person you saw when you came in the door and the last person you saw when you went out the door. If you were waiting at the door at 9 a.m., he literally opened the door for you.

“We always spoke at least a few minutes there at his desk. We both loved baseball and we often talked about specific games and the ‘state of the game’ in general. I will miss him and our talks greatly. Duke was a great ambassador for the library.”

Joel Reese, who is our local history librarian, added some thoughts about him that I was allowed to share with you:

“Duke loved the 49er’s in football and was a baseball fan. He also loved to go to the auction on Salisbury Road on Friday nights and to flea markets in the area on Saturdays. His whole life, though, was built around his wife and family. He loved his children and grandchildren more than anything and worried about them like a mother hen. A lot of people would have talked to Duke and known his face even though they might not have known his name. He was a great guard for the library though I know the little kids probably drove him crazy sometimes.”

Gary Elam, who usually works at the downstairs desk, contributed some more insight into Duke’s personality.

“Duke Hunley and I met about 19 years ago. At the time, the library only had an evening security guard, and that is how he began his time with us. Over the years, his work hours expanded, as did my friendship with him.

“Duke had a great sense of humor. He loved to laugh, and make others laugh as well. We were both big John Wayne fans. I always told him that Hollywood had Mr. Wayne, but we had the real ‘Duke.’

“He was a sports fan who enjoyed both Major League Baseball and the NFL. We often spent our break times together talking about the big games we had just seen.

“Duke enjoyed going to auctions and flea markets with his family to see what treasures could be found. I can think of no better treasure than the friendship we shared all these years.”

Duke’s health issues forced him to give up his library post several months ago. I had gotten his address from the library and had meant to write him a note to say that I missed seeing him, but, well, I misplaced the address and never got around to finding it and writing. I think we all do this; we put off doing simple kindnesses for each other, and then find it is too late.

My friend Duke Hunley was one of those salt-of-the-earth types of whom the English poet John Milton had in mind when Milton wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

One other thing: once when we were discussing desserts, of all things, we got around to revealing our favorite pies and Duke stated that his favorite was egg custard. Funny, the things you remember about someone.

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