In Memoriam: 1998


Phyllis Peacock

"RALEIGH -- She was, according to writer Reynolds Price, a 'formidable guardian at the gates of good old censorious, rule-ridden, clear English' and a magical teacher who worked a sort of inexplicable voodoo on her students.
     "For 50 years, Phyllis A. Peacock taught English -- 26 of those years at Needham B. Broughton High School, where she was head of the English department. And at the same time she taught her students English, she taught them a lot about living....
     "'Mrs. Peacock was one of the best teachers I had in my entire life,' said Richard Y. Stevens, Wake County manager.
     "'She didn't let her students get by with doing just the minimum that was required,' he recalled.
     "'She required you to think and to think as you read,' Stevens said. She demanded discipline and hard work of her students, at the same time she put her life and her energy into her work.
     "Over the years, some of her former students became well-known writers. Seven, including Price, dedicated books to her. She was one of two teachers Price profiled in a long newspaper piece written several years ago, in which he recognized her influence on him and other students.
     "'This woman plainly knew that poetry mattered like blood or money,' wrote Price, adding that he didn't know he had been waiting to hear that. And of her interaction with students, he found that 'Phyllis Peacock was the only teacher I've ever known who simply refused to let a sheep wander. He might not make an A, but he'd damned well better earn a B-minus or demonstrate some dreadful handicap.'...
     "At Broughton, she breezed in like a tiny dynamo and stirred some students to greatness and others at least to the point that they knew the difference between 'lay' and 'lie' and that 'all right' was two words, not one.
     "Nancy Snow, a retired NCSU teacher who taught several years at Broughton with Peacock, remembers well how she would drive home that point.
     "Peacock would race to one end of the room, throw up a window and yell 'all,' then race to the other end of the room, throw up another window and shout 'right.'
     "She taught the difference between 'archaic' and 'obsolete,' by getting students to look out the window at her 1954 Ford while she explained the words.
     "'She was so dramatic,' Snow said, laughing at the memory. Peacock dressed up as Lady MacBeth when she was teaching Shakespeare, and she took her seniors to the school auditorium to put on dramatic presentations.
     "In a 1975 'Tar Heel of the Week' story in The News & Observer, the writer noted that there was no chair behind her desk -- Peacock never sat down.
     "If a student's theme was too wordy, Peacock pulled out a special rubber stamp and plastered 'Cut out the dead wood' across the front to make her point. But at the same time, she steadily dished out encouragement, both to students and teachers.
     "Her way of showing praise was a favorite phrase: 'Orchids to you!' either spoken or written on a note, sometimes accompanied by a flower."
--Treva Jones
News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
April 16, 1998

"Phyllis A. Peacock died April 15 at the age of 94. She was symbol and substance of the 'age of elegance' which I hope will not/did not die with her or her kind. This dear lady taught English for half a century - 26 of those years at Raleigh's Needham B. Broughton High School. Treva Jones wrote in the Raleigh News & Observer, 'And at the same time she taught her students English, she taught them a lot about living.'
     "She so inspired her students that seven books written by them have been dedicated to her. Reynolds Price, one of the best-known writers to be influenced by his English teacher, said she was a 'formidable guardian at the gates of good old censorious, rule-ridden, clear English.'
     "Tough as nails in the classroom, as demanding of her students as any professor could be, Phyllis Peacock was one of the most gracious and charming persons anyone could ever know. She was the epitome of grace, charm and propriety. Call her of the old school if you wish, but she was a class act in any generation.
     "Her students never confused 'lie' with 'lay' after her lectures. Nor did they forget that "all right" is two words! At the very time she was demanding excellence from her pupils, she was setting a standard of living which they could emulate with spirit as well as mind."

--(NC) Biblical Recorder

"RALEIGH -- Phyllis Abbott Peacock, 94, teacher of English for 50 years,died April 15, 1998.... Born in Summit, NJ, she was the daughter of Mary H. Abbott and Charles R. Abbott, founder of theUnderwood & Underwood News Service of NYC. It was his idea in 1904 to put pictures in newspapers and, 'that the news photograph could be made as important as any other feature of a newspaper.'
     "After earning degrees from Hood College (salutatorian) and Columbia University, then teaching and also training teachers, she followed her husband to Raleigh in 1948. For 26 years she taught English at Broughton High School, served as headof the English Department there, was a member of the Anne Hathaway Book Club, a member of First Baptist Church, member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society and received the Phi Betta Kappa Award 'as teacher and mentor.' In 1975 the N&O honored her as a 'Tarheel of the Week.'
     "Seven prominent writers, former students, have dedicated books to her as did her students in the 1953 Broughton Latipac [yearbook]. Reynolds Price both in his book Clear Pictures and in the Guggenheim documentary Clear Pictures, recognized Mrs. Peacock's influence. His description of her is written on the stone at the Department of Public Instruction 'a magical teacher-a combination of effortless command of the subject, the discipline of a field marshal, the theatrical skills of classroom mastery and, most crucial, a fervent belief in the life-or-death importance of her subject.'"

--Obituary, News & Observer, Raleigh, NC, April 16, 1998

William C. Lassiter

"William Carroll Lassiter's impact on this community and this state can be gauged in the law books--through half a century, he was at the forefront of the push for open government and for keeping public records public.
     "Lassiter, 89, died last week after a full and splendid life, much of it devoted to public service. He was Raleigh's city attorney in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a dedicated college and university trustee, and was active in a number of community organizations. A World War II veteran, he became a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
     "But Lassiter made his leading contribution as general counsel, for 46 years, of the N.C. Press Association. He participated in and won several landmark cases with regard to keeping government where it should be--in front of the people. He represented The News & Observer in efforts to open up meetings and records, and North Carolina's enlightened laws ensuring public access to the business of government have Bill Lassiter's hand in them.
     "As Raleigh's city attorney, Lassiter was instrumental in initiating the city manager form of government, the form still in use wherein the city manager runs day-to-day operations with a measure of independence. It was a crucial and welcome change for a city that would boom, and boom again, long after he entered private practice.
     "Lassiter held public servants to high standards, and stood by them himself. He expected public officials to serve without favor, without personal gain and without secrecy. Any definition of "First Amendment" ought to include at least a sketch of Bill Lassiter, who defended and fought for the freedoms in that amendment all his life. And every time he won, the people won.
     "Lassiter was a native of Smithfield who had took his undergraduate and law degrees at Duke University. He loved the law, and he often passed his spare time reading it at home or talking about it with his fellow lawyers. But his interests were broad, and his circle of friends included the mighty and the meek.
     "People with Bill Lassiter's eloquence, thoughtfulness and depth are rare and cherished visitors among us. North Carolina can be grateful that Lassiter's visit was so long, and so productive."
--News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
May 12, 1998

"RALEIGH -- William Carroll Lassiter, 89, of 2432 E. Lake Drive, died Friday. A native of Smithfield, he was the son of the late Thomas James Lassiter and Rena Bingham Lassiter. He attended the public schools in Smithfield and received his BA Degree from Duke University in 1930 and his JD Degree from Duke in 1933.
     "He began his law practice in Raleigh in 1933 and retired in 1988. He served in the US Navy from 1942 to 1946, Asiatic Theatre, and retired as a Commander in the US Naval Reserve. He also served as Raleigh City Attorney from 1947 to 1951 and served as general counsel for the N. C. Press Association from 1938 to 1984.
     "A member of the Board of Trustees of Shaw University from 1951 to 1955, he also published a book, Law and Press, was a past President of the Raleigh Junior Chamber of Commerce, was a past President of the Wake County Bar Association in 1964, was a Trustee of Meredith College 1953 to 1956 and later served as General Counsel of Meredith.
     "In 1984 he was inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame. In 1988 the N.C. Press Association inaugurated the William C. Lassiter First Amendment Award which is awarded annually. He was a member and Deacon at First Baptist Church.
     "Surviving are two sons, John C. Lassiter and his wife Julie Bowers of Anderson, S.C., and Charles R. Lassiter of Raleigh; a brother, Thomas James Lassiter Jr. of Smithfield; and two grandchildren, William Bowers Lassiter and Lora Katherine Lassiter. His wife, Gertrude Hardesty Lassiter, died in 1980."

--Obituary, News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
May 12, 1998

I only came to know and appreciate the "public" William C. Lassiter later in his life. But the "private" Mr. Lassiter-- father of my best friend; husband to a lovely and endearing wife; and for me a kind, encouraging role model--meant the world to me as a teenager and young adult. I still envision him sitting in his corner chair surrounded by his books and newspapers, greeting me warmly when I would visit. Or meeting him by chance at the Capitol Room restaurant, where there would be an unfailing inquiry about my parents' health and a genuine interest in what was happening in my life.
     As it turns out, the "public" William Lassiter was every bit as important in his field of endeavor as my best friend's father was in my life. As attorney, advocate, and author, he was an untiring champion of the Constitutional Freedoms of the Press and Speech. From Raleigh (where he was the attorney for the News & Observer), throughout North Carolina (as general counsel for the N.C. Press Association), and nationally (author of Law and Press and defender of Freedom of the Press before the U.S. Supreme Court), he was and still is recognized as one of his generation's foremost advocates for and authorities in this area.
     And as much as my liberties owe to the work he did, it was the man who sat in the corner chair that I miss so much. Thank you for everything, Mr. Lassiter.

--Grover B. Proctor, Jr.


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