James “Jim” Rollins ’66

It is with great sadness that the family of James (Jim) Herrell Rollins, announces that he passed away peacefully and surrounded by family on July 15, 2022. Jim was born November 6, 1944 in Winfield, Kansas to Richard and Marie (Merritt) Rollins of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Jim grew up in Clarksdale, graduating from Clarksdale High School before enrolling at Davidson College in North Carolina.

In high school and college Jim was not only an outstanding athlete in football for four years, but earned numerous academic honors. Awarded a ROTC scholarship at Davidson, Jim completed his undergraduate degree in 1966 and entered Law School at the University of Virginia, receiving his law degree in 1969. His legal career was delayed by three years while he served as a captain in the U.S. Army in Artillery Units at both Fort Bliss, Texas and later Bitburg, Germany.

Once honorably discharged from the army, Jim accepted a position at an Atlanta law firm. After years of mergers and acquisitions, he joined the Creditor’s Rights Group of the Atlanta office of Holland & Knight as a partner, specializing in the representation of lenders. Living in Atlanta for over 40 years, Jim was active in numerous civic and charitable organizations and was proud of his involvement with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and Olmsted Linear Park Alliance.

Jim retired from the practice of law in 2017 and moved with his wife, Jill, to North Yarmouth, Maine. Once again Jim took up the cause of historic preservation giving many hours as a trustee and pro bono advisor to Maine Preservation. During his years in Maine, he often joked that he never witnessed winter weather in Atlanta or Clarksdale like Maine, but that the contrasting summer weather certainly made the move worth it. With L.L. Bean only a few miles up the road, Jim was fully prepared for every chill, freeze and thaw Maine presented.

In retirement he celebrated taking leave of his wristwatch and growing a healthy, silver beard. Jim and Jill enjoyed occasional stays at their beach home in St. Augustine, Florida, but truly preferred the quiet, fresh forest surrounding their home in Maine.

Jim was an avid fan of all sports Atlanta, especially the Braves and Falcons. He continued his love for playing rugby during law school as a member of the Atlanta Rugby Football Club for many years. Memories and warm messages from friends, professional colleagues and rugby teammates have warmed the hearts of Jim’s family.

He is survived by his wife, Jillian S. Kaechele of North Yarmouth, ME, and St. Augustine, FL; and his children: Jameson Graef Rollins of Los Angeles; and Stefan Adam Rollins (Coral) of Miami; and his sister, Virginia Rollins Hopkins (Jody) of Memphis. Jim also leaves two step-daughters, Beth Kaechele Poole (Andrew) and Erin Kaechele Giberson (Dustin); and a host of step-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Jim cherished many fun times with his five step-grandchildren, Ladia, Brynn, Caroline, Greta and Ripley.

A remembrance celebration for Jim will be held on November 5, 2022 at Manuel’s in Atlanta. This would have been Jim’s 78th birthday weekend and his family hopes that friends, former colleagues and rugby buddies will join them in celebrating the gift of time they spent with Jim.

A friend captured Jim beautifully in his recent condolence message: “Jim was an inspired soul. So calm, so brilliant, so insightful.” Well-read, always fun to be with and the essence of a kind Southern gentleman, Jim Rollins will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Gifts in Jim’s name may be sent to Maine Preservation, P.O. Box 488, Yarmouth, ME 04096.

Thomas M. “Tom” Craig ’66

Thomas Moore Craig, 77, retired educator, former legislator, and community volunteer, of Cragmoor Farms, Roebuck, SC died Thursday, June 2, 2022 at Spartanburg Medical Center.

He was born in Charlotte, NC, the son of the late Lena Heath Jones Craig and Thomas Moore Craig, Sr. He was a lifelong resident of Spartanburg County.

He was educated in Spartanburg School District Seven schools, graduating from Spartanburg High School where he was President of the Student Body in 1962. He attended Davidson College, graduating in 1966 with a double major in French and history. He spent the 1964-1965 school year at the University of Montpellier, France. He was awarded the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at graduation.

Craig earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Converse College and completed requirements for a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of South Carolina.

He worked for Spartanburg District Seven schools for thirty years as a history teacher, administrator (Principal of Jesse Boyd Elementary School), and Director of Guidance at Spartanburg High School. He served on the SC Governor’s School Advisory Committee, the Stuart Scholars Selection Committee at Davidson College, and the Duke Power Scholars Selection Committee. He was a member of the selection committee for the National Merit Scholarship Program, Evanston, IL in 1995-1996.

Craig was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1972 at age 27, serving on the Education Committee and as Secretary of the Spartanburg County Legislative Delegation. He was most proud of being the sponsor, along with Reps. Mendel Rivers and Wheeler Tillman of a successful bill which for the first time, allowed motorists to turn right on a red light. He sponsored the state’s first Fair Employment and Dismissal law for teachers and was an early proponent of land trust and preserve legislation.

Gov. John C. West appointed him to the South Carolina Commission on Human Affairs in 1975 for a four year term and Gov. Richard Riley appointed him to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education in 1986 where he served until 1991.

He was a member of the Board of the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville and Executive Council of the South Carolinian Library, Columbia-2013.

Tom Moore Craig was an active participant in the Spartanburg community. Among boards he served was the Hatcher Garden (Chairman), Spartanburg County Historical Association, Hub Culture, Spartanburg County Forestry Board (Chairman). He was a Deacon at Spartanburg First Presbyterian Church.

For his entire adult life he served Walnut Grove Plantation, his family’s original home in Spartanburg County, as a Committee Member, volunteer, and fund raiser. Craig’s parents gave Walnut Grove for restoration to the Historical Association in the early 1960’s. Craig and his sister, Susan Craig Murphy, have since given an additional 50 adjacent acres to the Plantation to ensure its protection.

In 2009, the University of South Carolina Press published Craig’s Upcountry South Carolina Goes to War, a volume of family letters written during the Civil War period.

Craig is survived by his brother in law, John R. Murphy; two nephews, John R. Murphy, Jr. of Syracuse, NY and Thomas Craig Murphy of France.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his sister, Susan Heath Craig Murphy.

Friends and family are invited to celebrate Tom’s life on August 4th, 9:30AM at Nazareth Presbyterian Church, 680 Nazareth Church Rd, Moore, SC 29369. A reception will follow.

Memorials may be made to Hatcher Gardens, P O Box 2337, Spartanburg, SC 29304 or to Walnut Grove Plantation, P O Box 887, Spartanburg, SC 29304.

Condolences may be expressed to the family at www.JMDunbar.com.

Dunbar Funeral Home & Crematory

Albert Keiser ’66

Albert Keiser Jr.: Hero, legend, quite a character

I never met Albert Keiser Jr., a Hickory native who died April 26, 2022, at Conover Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, but I know enough about him now to say I surely would have liked to interview him. I would find out what motivated his zeal for the arts and sciences, genealogy, economics and finance, education, and so forth. I would also ask why he generously shared his wealth and expertise with so many organizations and individuals.

I’d have asked him what his childhood had been like. We’d likely have exchanged reflections on being only children. We’d have talked about our parents and grandparents. Thanks to Albert’s friend, folk artist and author Barry Huffman of Hickory, who wrote a short biography of Albert in 2016, I know Albert’s father, Albert Keiser Sr., was a German immigrant who completed theological studies at Wartburg Lutheran Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and attained a doctorate in English literature from the University of Illinois. After professorships in South Dakota and South Carolina, Albert Sr. moved to Hickory in 1925 and taught at Lenoir-Rhyne College until 1957. In 1959, he died a wealthy man from stock market and real estate investments.

Albert’s mother, South Carolina native Lena Virginia McGukin Keiser, attended Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina, and then received a master’s degree from Duke University. She taught English and French in South Carolina schools and at Wingate University. Lena met Albert Sr. through nieces of Hickory businessman George Ivey. They married in 1942 and had Albert Jr. on July 3, 1944.

Knowing that Albert was a family history buff and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I’d tell him I, too, was keen on learning my ancestors’ stories. We’d have swapped secrets buried generations deep. Then, he’d have detailed his lineage to the American Revolution, and I’d have testified to my own descent from our nation’s founding women and men.

We’d have reminisced about the births of Hickory’s art museum and science center and about how downtown Hickory used to look. We’d have extoled the glory of Catawba County’s oldest homes and structures and eulogized by-gone eateries, stores, and familiar faces.

The topic of education would have come up. Albert would have told me he was valedictorian of Hickory High School’s class of 1962 and that he graduated fifth in a class of 230 from Davidson College in 1966, his major being history. He’d have mentioned a one-year stint studying law at Harvard before returning to Hickory and setting his sights on the business world.

Following his death, a cry went up that Albert needed to be known and remembered. I turned to the people who knew him, including his closest friend, Hickory resident Lynn Blackwelder, who said, “I hope he realized how many people loved him. I’ve had messages from people around the country.”

Lynn and Albert became friends a few years after they graduated from Hickory High. “I’ve been looking after him ever since,” said Lynn, who described Albert the philanthropist, financial advisor, stockbroker, genealogist, real estate professional, and one of Catawba County’s biggest fans. “He’d lead groups on tours of Hickory, where he’d point out historic structures and places and explain their significance,” said Lynn. “He was absolutely one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Lynn emphasized that Albert never bragged about his philanthropic efforts and had a sense of humor. “He told me about an ancestor woman from the 1700s. He said she had a beard and was fat,” Lynn stated, laughing. “He couldn’t have known that. He just made it up. He liked to shock his good friends with his joking.”

Like Lynn, Barry offered a list of Albert’s contributions, pointing out, “There’s a Keiser [Community] Room in the [United] Arts Council [of Catawba County] building due to his generosity,” a fact also highlighted by arts council Executive Director Ingrid Keller, who called Albert a significant contributor to the area’s arts and culture community and a person whose impact on the community will live well into the future.

Barry and her husband, retired physician Allen Huffman, are Southern folk art collectors. From their personal collection, they partly donated, partly sold 153 pieces to the Hickory Museum of Art, “the first folk art pieces at the Hickory Museum of Art to any extent,” said Barry. Albert, who was much involved in the museum and possibly hadn’t been introduced to folk art prior to that time, loved them.

When Albert discovered that Barry and Allen took regular trips to Buford, Georgia, for the Slotin Auction, a private auction company that specializes in American folk art, he asked if he could accompany them, and a tradition brewed: Huffman-Keiser folk art buying trips.

Explaining Albert’s fondness for folk art, Barry stated in his bio, “He feels a connection with the artists who have stood outside the mainstream and created amazing art that reflects the strength and wonder of everyday living.” From 2012 to 2018, the trio traveled to Buford seven times, with Albert amassing a collection to donate to HMA.

Museum director Jon Carfagno said, “Visitors to our galleries now have the opportunity to experience the creativity, ingenuity, and creative expression of leading artists such as Purvis Young, Lorenzo Scott, Clementine Hunter, and many more. We are grateful for how [Albert’s] gifts have elevated our collection to rival the holdings of the best museums and collections in our nation.”

Barry considered Albert a hero. In a written statement of Albert Keiser recollections, Hickory Landmarks Society director Patrick Daily called him “a legend.”

After listing examples of Albert’s support of the society, Patrick stated, “There is not one single person, by far, who has been there for us for so long during our organization’s 54-year history.”

In a 2016 recording of Patrick interviewing Albert, I heard Albert’s voice, his utterly Southern accent. He talked about going to Davidson, where excelling in the classroom was a much bigger challenge than high school had been. He admitted to brown-nosing the professors, which, coupled with quadrupling his study time, proved beneficial. A difficult emotional time plagued Albert for a while, his mental health sliding. Even at this low point during his young adult years, Albert supported the Hickory Landmarks Society, having already developed an appreciation for many of Hickory’s significant structures.

Albert said that in the 1970s he’d sit in the Lenoir-Rhyne library and read the Wall Street Journal from cover to cover before making stock purchases. He made a lot of money, and then “things changed around,” he reported, and he lost it all. Thinking he might declare bankruptcy and off himself, he talked to his financial mentor Claude Abernethy Jr., who suggested that neither was a good idea and tutored Albert in the importance of patience in the money-making game.

Albert became a financial advisor to a variety of people, many of whom he considered disreputable but financially successful, so much so that working with them helped him amass his own fortune.

He became interested in researching his family, including the black sheep therein, and he helped others look into their family backgrounds. Then he began unearthing the histories of old houses and drawing conclusions about whether a place should be preserved or forgotten. Hickory’s 1882 Propst House, restored by the Hickory Landmarks Society, was one Albert deemed important to save.

As the recording continued, Albert shared the good, the questionable, and the scandalous backstories of all sorts of prominent and lesser known Catawba County people, but the tattle-telling was not as surprising as the abundance of details Albert plucked from memory with remarkable ease.

Recording concluded, I thought to myself that Albert, who held nothing back when he was in a tell-all mood, could have had a successful career on TV: The Keiser Report: First the Facts. Then the Truth.

There’s more. So much more. Major contributor to the Catawba Science Center; North Carolina pottery aficionado; 2018 million-dollar benefactor of a digital art professorship at Davidson College; co-author with Angela May of 2004’s “From Tavern to Town Revisited: An Architectural History of Hickory, North Carolina” and so on.

My conclusion is that Albert Keiser found joy, fascination, and purpose in all sorts of places, things, ideas, organizations, and institutions, and he felt moved to do whatever he could to sustain their existence for this and future generations.

A hero and a legend and quite a character.

A celebration of life for Albert Keiser is being planned for a later date.

Reprinted from Hickory Daily Record

Philip Douglas “Phil” Beidler ’66

Philip Douglas Beidler, 78, died at the family farmhouse on April 20, 2022. Dr. Beidler, a combat veteran, served as a lieutenant in an armored cavalry platoon in Vietnam and received a bronze star for his service.  He is survived by his wife Ellen, daughter Kat, sister Deborah Dean (Robert), nephews and nieces, Andy Beidler (Kim), Chris Beidler (Lisa), Phoebe Lenhart (Scott), Cooper Dean (Mai), Julia Anne Eddins, Will Eddins and Ellen Marie Eddins.  Dr. Beidler is preceded in death by his brother, Garry, and his parents, Martha, and Willis. 

Professor Beidler was a prolific, accomplished, and honored scholar, an impassioned and inspiring teacher, but first and foremost a great family man.  He was deeply devoted to his daughter Katherine and wife Ellen, the twin pillars of his life in Tuscaloosa, but also to other family members from Pennsylvania, Florida, LA (lower Alabama), and elsewhere, —many of them present at his fabulous 75th birthday party at the family’s Greene County hunting camp

A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, Alabama on April 30, 2022, at 2:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust to help preserve Phil’s beloved, adopted, home state of Alabama.

Stephen Fitzhugh Gill ’66

Stephen Fitzhugh Gill, 76, died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family on Saturday, March 27, 2021 after a twelve-year battle with SMA/rare ALS.

Born and raised in Newport News on March 28, 1944 to Jesse Weston Gill, Jr. and Flora Mae Holland Gill. He was the second of the four “Gill Boys”.

Steve was predeceased by his parents; his son, Jordan Michael Gill; and brother, William “Billy” Gill.

He is survived by two daughters, Amy Elisabeth Gill and Hannah Susanne Gill; known as “PopPop” to his five grandchildren, Joshua Patterson, Naomi Rogers, Justin Gill, Elisah Tillman and newborn, Levi Grant; brothers, Jesse Weston Gill, III and Timothy Holland Gill; and former spouse, Susan Anderson Hanson. Steve was loved by many nieces, nephews and dear friends.

Steve graduated from Warwick High School, Class of 1962 and Davidson College in 1966. He worked at Newport News Shipbuilding as an Account Executive at CBN, worked in car sales and then followed his passion for photography.

He began his career in 1976, opening a studio in Hilton Village. Steve Gill was a well-known professional photographer specializing in commercial shoots, portraits, bridal and weddings. In 1983, Gill Commercial Photography relocated next to the Village Theatre.

Steve had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and attended New Covenant Church. He enjoyed shag dancing and would attend SOS in Myrtle Beach, SC socializing with his friends.

Expressions of sympathy to the Gill family are greatly appreciated. Contact by email: Hgezzie@yahoo.com

Due to COVID pandemic, a Celebration of Life will be held at a later time.