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Sunday, April 14, 2024

A eulogy for Frank Daniels Jr.

Frank Daniels III shared this eulogy at the July 11 funeral of his father, Frank A. Daniels Jr., at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. 

Dad loved being with people and being a part of their lives – helping when he could and always ready to lend an ear and, of course, to offer advice.

He was also an exceptional planner. If he had stuck with law school, I am sure he would have made an excellent estate attorney. He would talk with Julie and me about his will, which, as he would always say, started, “If I die …”

So, I confess that I was never quite sure that we would be gathered together for this.

As we are gathered today, Mom, Julie and I want to thank you for being here to celebrate what a wonderful life we, and you, shared with dad, with Ojii, with Frank A. Daniels Jr.

When we are children, we pay close attention to our parents … for good and bad.

As the Rodney Atkins country song says,

“Son, where did you learn to talk like that?”

“I been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool!”

The story in our family is that the first words I spoke were not “mama” or “dada,” but happened after I knocked over a glass of milk one evening while we were at Granny Jones’ beach house in Wrightsville Beach. In the brief moment of quiet before mom and dad could react, I shouted a terrible thing: “Gxx Dxxx it!”

In the days since he died, I have read many wonderful stories and heard memories of dad, many of which mention a propensity to pepper his straightforward comments with a bit of profanity. But I don’t recall hearing much of that side of him, I think because when he learned something, when he made a decision, he stuck with it. He did not cuss around us … at least not until we were fully capable of cussing on our own.

Every time I have heard that Atkins song, I am reminded of what an incredible dad I got to watch … Just wish I had paid a bit more attention.

You are probably aware that over the past several years, the family has been reckoning with increased attention to Josephus Daniels’ role in our state’s history of racial inequity. Like many prominent men of his time, Josephus was a white supremacist, and, sadly, used his newspaper to support those views.

When cousin David Woronoff and I sat down to talk with dad about taking down Josephus’ statue in Nash Square and the repercussions that would likely come, it was clear how sad it made him. The Josephus he knew was not that man, but a kind grandfather who loved him and who built a business that allowed our family to prosper. However, he did not hesitate to say that he trusted us, and he knew we had to be proactive and try and do the right things on our own, and not put others in the position of having to demand them of us.

Over the space of days, we took the statue down, the school board renamed Daniels Middle School, North Carolina State University renamed Daniels Hall, and his University of North Carolina suggested we take Josephus’ name off our scholarship plan there.

Those were some tough blows for him, and it was heartbreaking to me because my experience of watching him like the son in that song is that his views were 180 degrees from those of his grandfather.

One of my strongest memories of dad comes from his birthday present to “me,” which was two tickets and a long weekend at the ACC Tournament each year beginning when I was 10 until I went to college. Had I gone to UNC instead of Duke, we may have continued that tradition, but I think that was dribbling too far in his mind. The last game we sat together was the 1974 N.C.  State/Maryland championship game. Dad gave great birthday presents.

You recall that ACC Tournament games in those years, when only the champion was invited to the NCAA Championship, were the definition of intense, for the teams and their fans in the stands.

We usually sat in the UNC section, and, yes, I grew up a rabid Tar Heel fan. This memory is from 1968, when Charlie Scott was a sophomore, and in his first year on the Carolina varsity team. The Tar Heels were locked in a tense semi-final battle with South Carolina, when the “gentleman,” another Carolina fan, sitting in the row behind us began loudly booing the young star, who was the first African American to play for Dean Smith. Though clearly irritated, dad held his piece until the fella stood up, and at the top of lungs, started calling Scott by the n-word.

Until then, I had never really seen my father angry, but that fella sure did.

Back then, Dad, at age 36, was a strapping 6-foot-3, so I recall that he was imposing as he stood straight up, turned and pointed his big index finger right at the guy, told him to shut the hell up and leave, no one wanted to hear him declare his bigoted ignorance. (I do think he may have used a stronger word there.)

I doubt anyone had ever called that man out, ‘cause he blustered briefly and left, to the applause of the whole section. We did not see him again that weekend. UNC won the game, the ACC tournament and later lost to Lew Alcindor’s UCLA juggernaut in the national championship game.

To me, that experience represents the legacy he wanted for The News and Observer, our family and himself.

Later that year, he convinced his father and uncles they should hire Claude Sitton from the New York Times, a celebrated civil rights reporter and the paper’s national editor. Claude and dad made a great team, and they supported the merger of the Raleigh and Wake County school systems and a number of other unpopular positions to make our city and state a more equitable place for everyone.

Usually, dad was in the background pushing and offering support. As Julie said to me earlier this week, “he was a gentle giant,” but that night at the ACC tournament I saw the fire he generally kept hidden. It is as bright to me today as it was that night.

Another aspect of dad that resonates during these days is his ability to make and keep friends, good friends. Each day, his across-the-hall partner in rule flouting at The Cardinal, his sandbox buddy Earl Johnson stopped in to check on Frank, and so many more came to see him for a chat. I know he loved seeing everyone.

I was chatting over email with three of those friends after I let them know dad had passed, and they related these stories that reflect their friend and illustrate the depth of friendship.

Smedes York wrote, “Frank was a great friend and mentor. He could get right to the heart of a matter. I have many memories but one that exemplifies Frank occurred at a 7:00 AM meeting many years ago. He came in a little scruffy looking. I said, “Frank, you look like you just got up.” To which he replied, “What are you supposed to look like at 7:00 in the morning?”

He was never one to waste words.

Bobby Long sent this: “Billy Armfield had stepped aside as president of Eagle Point and your dad came over with his beautiful dog Bean to play golf. He hit a few balls with Bean by his side and then headed to the first tee.

 Billy came flying out of the clubhouse and ran over to your dad and Bean. He yelled, “Lightnin! How many times have I told you not to bring Bean over here, much less take him out on the golf course with you?!

Your dad said, “White Owl, you no longer in charge.

“See you later.”

 It was hysterical!

 We all miss him so much. Please know we are all so grateful to have had him as our friend.”

Erskine Bowles sent me this: “Frank. It really hurts me deep down to read your note. I love your Dad. Inside that old curmudgeon is a heart as big as this room. My Dad once told me, “Erskine, anyone can be there for you when you’re up and flying high, but it’s the good ones who are there for you when you are down.”

“Well I’ve had some ups and I’ve had some downs, but at every step of the way, I knew I had a real genuine friend in Frank Daniels Jr. If you were blessed enough to be his friend, he was there for you — all the way, all the time.

“Try as I might, your Dad was so clever there weren’t many times that I could “get” Frank Daniels, but the one time I did I enjoyed it to my core.

“As you may remember Frank through his perch at the N&O gave the University hell every time I took the Board of Governors into a closed session. But lucky me during my tenure as president of the UNC System, your Dad ran for and was elected to the board, which I might add he enjoyed immensely, always bringing up the most controversial issue he could imagine or taking the opposite side of any issue whether he believed it or not — just to make sure it was fully discussed.

“Well, the very first time during your Dad’s tenure on the board when a personnel matter came up, I got the biggest smile on my face and I turned to your Dad and said,  “Governor Daniels, will you please make the motion to take the Board into closed session to discuss a personnel matter?”

“Well he looked right at me and I could almost feel him shaking his head up and down and thinking that little son of a gun got me, and I did, for seconds later he said, “ Yes Mr.President, I , Frank Daniels Jr. make the motion to take this board into closed session.” I couldn’t help myself. I broke out laughing and so did every member of the board, including him.

“Frank, your Dad was a truly deep down good, good man. Nobody could ever have a better friend than him. My heart goes out to you and Julie and Julia and to every other citizen of this state who, whether they appreciated him or not, lives in a better state because of him and his courage to push North Carolina forward.”

I want to share one last story, if I can. My friend and classmate at Duke, Gary Stevenson, who shared the sixth floor at 234 Fayetteville Street with us for several years, said this to me when we chatted the day dad died:

“Your Dad was one-of-a-kind and was such a great friend and mentor to me when I needed it most in my life. I will never forget him and am so thankful that I had him in my life. As I grow older, I often try and emulate many things about him (although I likely come up short).  Kindness, sense of humor, sense of purpose, conviction about what is right and wrong, generosity, humility, compassion, optimism, hope are words that immediately come to mind.

“He left everything on the field.”

I cannot tell you how much those stories mean to us!

I want to close with something he wrote down fairly recently, but I think it embodies the lesson he wanted us to learn from him. Julie Wood found this on a notepad and shared it with us, it is a list of what he thought that religion, and us, should teach:

Feed the hungry

Clothe the naked

Forgive the guilty

Welcome the stranger and the unwanted child

Care for the ill

Love your enemies.

Thank you Ojii, we’ll do our best. We love you!

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