Western North Carolina Woman

a real southern gentleman
by jeanne charters

That’s the term that every woman I spoke to applied to Vic Murdoch. Over and over, I heard the phrase repeated, “He is a real Southern gentleman”.
Having been reared in the Midwest and spent most of my adult life in the Northeast, I wondered exactly what that meant. My experience with Southern gentlemen pretty much revolved around Gone with the Wind. I sincerely hoped this Vic was more the Rhett Butler than the Ashley Wilkes variety.

I finally met Vic when I became a volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital…a wheelchair pushing, meal-and-mail delivering, general all-around on-your-feet angel of mercy. He was my trainer. Sometimes, that first day, I thought I just can’t do this job as I chased him around the vast halls of the hospital. The man never stops…never sits down…and never loses his temper or his cool. I just couldn’t keep up with him.

“There are lots of men like that,” you may say. My question back to you is, “Are there lots of men like that who are 89 years old?”

So, in this, our “Y” chromosome issue, I am bringing you an interview with Vic Murdoch, 'a real Southern gentleman'.

ME: Vic, where and when were you born?

VIC: Asheville, in 1916.

ME: What schools did you attend?

VIC: Aycock School and Eugene Rankin and Hall Fletcher and Lee Edwards High School. That’s now Asheville High School.

ME: What was Asheville like in those days?

VIC: I remember that most of the streets weren’t paved back then. They used drag pans pulled by mules to haul the dirt when they built the roads.

ME: What was your first job?

VIC: I worked at the American Enka Corporation as a messenger boy. That plant produced rayon at that time but later they started producing nylon. I worked my way up to the Production Department there and stayed for 17 years.

I left American Enka finally because I was singing in the Tone Masters Gospel Quartet and needed to be off on Sundays. We were pretty good and I was first tenor. We used to be on the radio 3 days a week. That’s when I went to work at B. F. Goodrich. Next, I worked at Bay Steel Corp. for 2 years and at the National Linen Service for 28 years.

American Enka at one time employed 6,000 people and eventually became BASF. That’s going to be closing within a year or so. At that time, American Enka and Champion Fiber Company were really the mainstay employers of Asheville. If you didn’t work at one of them, you hardly could work, especially during the depression in the late 20’s and early 30’s.

ME: Was there a lot of unemployment back then, during the depression?

VIC: Oh, Lord, yes. Nobody could get a job. My daddy had been an electrician and my brother was a plumber, but they couldn’t get any kind of work at all back then. It was unbelievable. So, when I got that job as a messenger boy, I was the only one in my family with a job and I was their sole support at the age of 15. There were 5 of us left at home then, from a family of 12. So, at 15, I was supporting 5 people.
The thing was, everybody was poor back then, so there wasn’t any shame about it.

ME: When you were a kid, did you enjoy the mountains?

VIC: Not so much in Asheville, but my favorite thing was to visit my uncle and his family in Tryon. They lived up on a mountain and there were waterfalls everywhere. I just loved that place.

ME: Tell me about when you met your wife.

VIC: I met her at church. I saw this pretty blue-eyed blonde there one day. She was about 5’6” and was very slender. She never weighed more than 118 pounds. Her name was Pauline Revis. I finally got up the nerve to ask her out. We got married 6 months later in 1934. I was 17 and she was 18. It was the most beautiful marriage you could imagine.

ME: Why so?

VIC: Well, we were just so much in love, you see. We had no conflict to speak of. We raised 2 daughters together, and she was just such a wonderful lady. (Vic’s daughters, Emogene and Marcia, now live in Winston Salem and Clearwater, FL.) You should have seen how excited she was when we bought our first car. It was a Model T Ford, used but in good condition. It cost us $25.00. We sold it later for $15.00.

ME: I know that your wife eventually developed Alzheimer’s.

VIC: Yes, I did everything for her for 12 years. I fed her and everything. I couldn’t find a caregiver that I trusted to take care of her like I would.

ME: How long have you been volunteering in your community?

VIC: 27 years now. First, at the Red Cross and finally, for the past 12 years, here at St. Joseph’s. When I first came here, I was delivering mail and I’d push my wife right along with me in her wheelchair. She wasn’t a bit of trouble to take care of.

ME: Because you loved her so much?

VIC: That had a lot to do with it.

ME: I hear you took her on a trip to Europe.

VIC: We went to 7 countries in 1982. She had Alzheimer’s then, and the ladies on the trip were so helpful to us. In 1984, we took a cruise to celebrate our 50th anniversary. She could still walk then.

ME: Could she speak?

VIC: From the very first, she stopped speaking and laughing. I missed that so much.

ME: Vic, you are obviously a strong, healthy man for your age. What’s your secret?

VIC: Well, I love nature; and I was a bike rider from the time I was a boy. I used to ride a bike all the way to my job on Fairview Road from West Asheville every day. I rode all those years. Finally gave my last 10-speed away 2 years ago to a woman who works here. She needed a Christmas gift for one of her kids.

My wife used to ride with me, and she loved bird watching before she got sick. We spent a whole week once on the Mexican border bird watching. We went on trips to Nova Scotia and the interior of Mexico. We identified between 200-300 species of birds on those trips.

ME: So, tell me, Vic. How do you like working with all these crazy women?

VIC: I love them all. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this job. I could get real depressed, and it helps so much to get out and be involved with all these people at this hospital. It’s just incredible what volunteering has done for me.

These women I work with are all wonderful people. I just love Jessie Mae…I knew her as a child. I love Liz. She’s so down to earth. She’s absolutely wonderful. And that Claudia…she’s a great lady, too, and so very thoughtful. Always remembers birthdays and things.

Also, I have a lady friend who lives in a nursing home. She has Parkinson’s and can’t live alone. We’re very close. We go out to lunch or dinner 3 times a week. I only really eat one meal a day.

ME: Ah, that’s how you stay so trim, huh?

VIC: (chuckling) Guess so. I do miss traveling now. I’ve been all over the place…all the places I mentioned, plus Alaska and Switzerland and Santa Fe and San Francisco. So many beautiful places. This is a beautiful place, too. My daddy came over from Scotland as an infant, and his family always said that Asheville looks a lot like Scotland. My daddy’s mother was the first woman buried in Green Hill Cemetery. That was in 1901.

So, reluctantly, I concluded my interview with Vic Murdoch. I had decided that as a true Southern gentleman, he was a blend of both Rhett and Ashley. Then, I showed him the April issue of WNC Woman, with its nude female painting on the third page.

“Well, I surely do like this magazine. Could you get me more copies, Jeanne?”
The scamp that is Rhett Butler is alive and well and living in Vic Murdoch. Hallelujah!


Jeanne Charters is a former V.P. of Marketing for Viacom Television. She started her own award-winning broadcast advertising agency in 1990. Jeanne lives in Fairview with her husband, Matt Restivo. [ charmkt@juno.com; 828-628-0023 ]

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