Joel O. Conarroe ’56

Joel O. Conarroe ’56, accomplished arts administrator, celebrated author, proud Davidson alumnus and 20-year leader of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, died April 28, 2024. 

The headline of his obituary in The New York Times reads, “Hub of the New York Literary Wheel.” 

Outside of close relationships with writers like Philip Roth and Robert Caro, Conarroe served on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania for nearly two decades, including eight years as a professor in the English department, later serving as the department chair. He spent two years in the 1980s as the dean of Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. He also held the position of executive director of the Modern Language Association, the nation’s leading scholarly organization for language and literature, and as president of the P.E.N. American Center, the writers’ organization. He chaired the National Book Award fiction jury and the Pulitzer Prize fiction jury.

Conarroe was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in American literature in 1977, was a Trustee of the Guggenheim Foundation from 1985 to 2016 and was appointed Trustee Emeritus on his retirement from the foundation’s board.

Conarroe’s grand-niece and a fellow Wildcat, Heather Conarroe Durham ’11, shared about his life and love for Davidson. She wrote:

He had a way of capturing the magic of all that Davidson represents — dinners at the tables of former college presidents, and intellectual discussions that captured his heart. The community and the love of learning he encountered on this campus was so formative to his being that each trip he made from New York City to Davidson felt to him like coming home. He joked jovially that he didn’t quite know how that they let him into Davidson as an applicant long ago, but in this playful sentiment there was a deep gratitude for the ways in which Davidson shaped him as a young adult, and laid the foundation for the rest of his career. The sense of belonging Joel felt amidst the Davidson community, coupled with an opportunity to be sharpened and challenged academically, unlocked what would become a lifelong passion for literature and the arts, and a career that empowered and supported many young writers in their own creative endeavors.

In my own personal interactions with Joel, I knew I could always count on a big hug, followed by an enthusiastic, “Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas!” Let Learning Be Cherished Where Liberty Has Arisen. What a privilege it is to be among those who are invited to let learning be cherished. As we remember Joel and his legacy, may we cherish every opportunity to be sharpened, inspired, and connected to one another, remembering him as someone who encouraged so many of us toward these ends.

While a student at Davidson, Conarroe majored in English and was a member of The Davidsonian staff and the men’s tennis team, class president and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Upsilon creative writing honor society and Omicron Delta Kappa honorary service organization. He went on to earn a master’s in English from Cornell University and a doctorate in English from New York University. He has written and edited books and essays about American poetry and fiction, including his hallmark work, “Six American Poets.”

Conarroe remained deeply connected to alma mater as an alum, serving as an annual fund class agent and supporting various fundraising initiatives. In 2017, the college honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award, citing his many contributions to education and the literary arts.

At Davidson’s sesquicentennial in 1987, Conarroe delivered a speech, “In Praise of What Endures.” 

“I for one largely credit whatever I have achieved during my first semi-centennial to the love of learning, the passion for service,” he said, “and the sense of community that were instilled in me during four life-changing years on this beautiful campus.”

The Joel O. Conarroe Lecture Series was established at Davidson by the late Alex Porter ’60, a successful hedge-fund manager, quintessential scholar-athlete, voracious reader and lifelong learner, in honor of Conarroe, with whom he’d become acquainted during a chance meeting in New York. They quickly realized that they had many things in common, including Davidson. The series, inaugurated in 2003, has welcomed to campus notable authors including Michael Cunningham, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, Michael Chabon, Russell Banks, Margaret Atwood, W.S. Merwin, Edward Hirsch, Don DeLillo, Robert Caro, George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell, and Poet Laureate of the United States Charles Wright ’57. 

Conarroe delighted in inviting these literary luminaries to campus, introducing them with remarks that could rival those of the speaker, and showing them his beloved Davidson. The hall of his Greenwich Village apartment was decorated with a signed poster from each lecture. 

J. Brown Goehring ’56

J. Brown Goehring passed away at age 88 on March 7, 2024, after a long battle with dementia.

Brown was born in the Pittsburgh, Pa., area to J. Lindsay and Dorothy B. Goehring. His family moved to Florida when he was 10. He was valedictorian of the Class of 1956 at Davidson College. He received his PhD in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met his wife of 60 years, Ouida.

Brown joined the faculty of the chemistry department of Washington and Lee University in 1963 and taught inorganic chemistry there for 38 years. He was the secretary/treasurer of the Washington and Lee chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for 22 years.

In his spare time, Brown was an avid musician, photographer, and stamp aficionado. As a high school senior, he wrote the music for an operetta, “Isadora,” with lyricist Richard Meeth, which was performed at Clearwater High School.  He was a frequent accompanist for Lexington area drama programs, the Lexington Presbyterian Church Sunday school and area assisted living events. He used his photography skills to create homemade movies and slides for department colloquiums, experimenting with various special effects.

Brown is survived by his daughter Patricia Goehring, his son Alexander (Denise) Goehring, his daughter Dorothy (Sunil Somalwar), and his three grandchildren, Audrey, Jean, and Anne.

The funeral will be held at Harrison Funeral Home on March 23 at 2 p.m. The graveside service will be private for the family.

Philip Haywood “Phil” Koonce, Jr. ’56

Philip Haywood “Phil” Koonce, Jr., age 89, of Asheboro passed away on February 20, 2024 at home, surrounded by his loving family.

Phil was born in Leggett, NC on July 11, 1934 to Philip H. and Gertrude Morgan Koonce. He attended Tarboro High School and matriculated to Davidson College to study Psychology. While at Davidson, he held various leadership positions in student government, the Interfraternity Council and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (R.O.T.C.).  Phil also excelled in track and field, winning Southern Conference championships in the 100 and 220 yard dashes as well as the long jump. His senior year, he received the Tommy Peters Award in recognition of outstanding dedication and contribution to intercollegiate athletics. In 2012, he was inducted into the Davidson College Athletics Hall of Fame.

After graduating from Davidson, Phil married his high school sweetheart Marilyn Mayo.  The two then spent the next four years traveling to various military bases as Phil completed infantry officer basic and army aviation training in fixed and rotary winged aircraft. After a brief time in the reserve, he was honorably discharged having attained the rank of Captain. 

Phil was a long time member and elder in the Presbyterian Church and more recently, served on the board of trustees in the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro. He held leadership roles in various civic and volunteer organizations, including Rotary International, Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, and the YMCA.

Phil had a distinguished career in the textile industry in North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico. Phil and Marilyn enjoyed traveling, playing bridge, and entertaining. Nothing brought Phil more joy than his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

In addition to his parents, Phil was preceded in death by his brother, Jim Koonce.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Marilyn Mayo Koonce; sister, Lena Vale Kenan of Morganton, NC; sons, Philip H. Koonce, III and wife Elizabeth of Charlotte, NC, and Michael G. Koonce and husband Andy Nelson of Palm Springs, CA; daughters, Karen K. Hurlbert and husband Glenn of Richmond, VA and Lyn Koonce and wife Jeanie Duncan of Greensboro, NC; grandchildren, Sallie Delfino and husband Anthony, Philip Koonce IV and wife Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin, Virginia Koonce, Calvin Hurlbert, and Kate Hurlbert; and great grandchildren, Sammy Delfino and Louie Delfino.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, February 25, 2024 at 2:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 224 North Fayetteville Street in Asheboro with the Reverend Lynda Ferguson officiating.  The family will receive friends following the service in the church parlor.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First United Methodist Church, 224 N. Fayetteville St., Asheboro, NC 27203, Habitat for Humanity of Randolph County, P.O. Box 669, Asheboro, NC 27204, the Central Asheboro Boys & Girls Club, 801 Sunset Ave., Asheboro, NC 27203, or the charity of the donor’s choice.

George Ray Harding, Sr. ’56

We are deeply saddened to announce the death of George Ray Harding, Sr. of Plantation, Florida. He passed away peacefully during the early morning hours of December 8th, 2023, with his beloved wife Gail of 62 years by his side. Ray was 89 years old.

Ray was born in Marion, North Carolina and was an athletic star at Marion High School, excelling in football, baseball, and basketball. His prowess earned him a scholarship to Davidson College for all three sports, but he decided to devote his time to play basketball and became a three-year varsity starter for the Wildcats. He remained a loyal basketball fan and benefactor of the College throughout his life. After college, Ray married Gail Genevieve Rutherford from Valdese, North Carolina on June 10th, 1961. Together they had two children, son Ray Harding, Jr. and daughter Rankin Harding.

He was extremely involved in the development of his children and their activities when they were young. He coached his son’s baseball and football teams and his daughter’s tee ball team, while also making time to support their respective tennis careers. Rankin was certainly “daddy’s girl” as they formed an everlasting father-daughter bond. Her childhood friend, Gigi Meehan Greene, aptly summed up that Ray was her “best friend, biggest cheerleader, life coach, and someone [she] could always count on.” His family meant everything to him as he was the epitome of a dedicated husband to Gail, father to Ray Jr. and Rankin, and grandfather to his four grandchildren, who affectionately referred to him as “Granddaddy” and “Pop-Pop.”

“Big Ray” was known for his affable character and his master storytelling. Without trying, he was the funniest person in the room, and he always made people feel comfortable around him. His sense of humor, his laugh, and his warmth will forever hold a special place in the hearts of his family and friends. Anyone who ever met him would say he was a true “southern gentleman.”

Ray was a natural-born salesman and worked in the furniture industry for 48 years, primarily with Stanley Furniture where he earned Salesman of the Year during his distinguished career. He later had the opportunity to work alongside Ray Jr. for 13 years as “Team Stanley Florida.” It was special for “Big Ray” to have his son in his corner during the latter part of his business career. Ray retired in 2008.

In between family and his business career, “Big Ray” developed an interest in aviation. Thanks to the urging from his friend Bill Meehan, he earned his private pilot license during the mid-’80s. He later was responsible for encouraging his son Ray Jr. to earn his pilot license, and the two of them enjoyed flying the beautiful skies of South Florida.

Ray is survived by his wife Gail Harding from Plantation, FL, his son Ray Harding Jr., (wife Carla) from Venice, Florida, and his daughter Rankin Harding Perry (husband Philip) from Ft. Lauderdale. He is also survived by his grandchildren Shelby Harding, Sarah Harding, and George Harding III of Venice, Florida, and Genevieve Cameron Perry of New York, New York.

Donations can be made to the Davidson College Athletic Fund, P. O. Box 5000, Davidson, NC. 28035. A ‘Celebration of Life’ in honor of George Ray Harding, Sr. will be held this Spring in Florida.

James “Jim” Lee Ensign Jr. ’56

James “Jim” Lee Ensign, Jr., 89, of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, passed away peacefully Monday, August 28th, 2023 at home where he was surrounded by the love of his family.

Jim was born on February 5, 1934 to James Lee and Wilma Eldridge Ensign and was raised in Rossville, GA. He attended Missionary Ridge Elementary School and graduated from The McCallie School in 1952. He was a 1956 graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina. Following graduation from Davidson, he proudly served in the U.S. Army.

After completing his military service, Jim embarked on a career in banking at American National Bank and Trust, Co., today known as Truist, where he spent multiple decades in various positions before retiring.

 In addition to his long banking career, Jim was also very active in the local community. He was involved with the government of the City of Lookout Mountain, GA for over 16 years. During this period, he served as a member of the City Council, Vice Mayor and eventually Mayor of Lookout Mountain. He also held several board positions at the Fairyland Club, including one term as President. Jim served on the board at Chambliss Center for Children and was active with several other charitable organizations after he retired.

Jim was an avid tennis player and could frequently be found on the court with his wife Martha and a group of close friends. His ability to retrieve and return difficult shots was legendary and his opponents affectionately nicknamed him “The Garbageman” for his impressive defensive skills. In addition to tennis, Jim was a talented gardener, who inherited his green thumb from his father, James Ensign, Sr. Together with his wife Martha, Jim loved to travel and took countless trips around the globe. The couple especially enjoyed spending many memorable winters in Anna Maria, Florida.

Jim was a long-time member of the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain.

Jim was a loving husband, father, and grandfather as well as a loyal brother to Bill, whom he spoke with daily. He is survived by his devoted wife of 58 years Martha Shamhart Ensign, grandson Jack Wright, son-in-law Lee Wright, sister-in-law Connelly Ensign, and multiple nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents James Lee and Wilma Ensign, brother William Eldridge Ensign, and daughter Christie Ensign Wright.

The family will be holding a graveside service on Friday, September 1st at 3pm ET at Forest Hills Cemetery.