University News

A memorial tribute, 20 years ago

On the 20th anniversary of Kuralt’s passing, Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard recalls the day when a group of North Carolina’s finest gathered to celebrate the life of “CBS’ poet of small-town America” at a memorial service in Chapel Hill.

Charles Kuralt

Early on the morning of Friday, July 4, 1997, Carolina heard the sad news from New York that Tar Heel Charles Bishop Kuralt had died of heart disease and complications from lupus, an inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys and nervous system.

Four days later, a memorial service was held in Chapel Hill.

Shortly before noon on Tuesday, July 8, 1997 the old bell in South Building on the UNC campus rang for one minute. The bell is seldom used, reserved for marking such rare occasions as the installment of a new chancellor.

Earlier that morning Charles Kuralt was laid to rest in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, the place where he wanted to be buried on the campus he loved.  On July 2, two days before he died, Kuralt had sent his friend Dr. William Friday a note seeking help in securing the spot.

“I seem to be recovering nicely; but this experience has given me intimations of mortality. I know you have better things to worry about, but I thought I would ask if you have any way of finding out if there are a couple of burial plots in Chapel Hill…I should have thought of this forty years ago! Sorry to ask you to look into such a bizarre question.”

Before Friday got the note, he got a phone call. It was 6:00 a.m. on July 4. Kuralt’s assistant Karen Beckers was on the line.

“I’ve called you because I must tell you that Charles is gone.”

Beckers told Friday about the note he would be getting. Friday and Chapel Hill Town Manager Cal Horton met at the cemetery with a map and determined that Chapel Hill resident George Hogan had several plots.

Friday then called Hogan and explained his situation. Hogan’s reply: “No, I won’t sell them, but I’ll give Charles two.”

Turns out Hogan had worked for the Educational Foundation at UNC when Kuralt was editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

Kuralt now rests in peace near the center of the old cemetery near the gravesites of former UNC President Francis Venable and botany professor William Coker. Not far away lie the graves of others who made Tar Heel history: former UNC System President Frank Porter Graham, playwright Paul Green, and UNC Institute of Government founder Albert Coates.

Said Friday, “He’s where I felt, and the others felt, he would like to be.” Friday then added, “While he’s here with former presidents, he’s also here with the home folks of Chapel Hill.”

Charles’ brother Wallace said: “This is home for him.”

Read more on UNC Library’s “A View To Hugh” blog.

For more information about Kuralt’s memorial service, please read this story from 1997 from University News Services.