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Interview with Lee A. Whitehurst, September 9, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Lee A. Whitehurst, September 9, 2008
September 9, 2008
Interview with Lee Whitehurst, a retired physician and practicing lawyer who resides in Wilmington, NC.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Whitehurst, Lee Interviewer: Jones, Carol Date of Interview: 0/09/2008 Series: SENC Notables Length: 60 minutes

Jones: Wednesday, August, oh, this is the 9th, September the 9th. I'm sorry; I'm reading from something else. I'm Carol Jones with Kate Sweeney, with the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Project. And we're in the Helen Hagan Room of Special Collections at UNCW. And our special this morning is Lee Whitehurst. Mr. Whitehurst became, now I hope this is right, a doctor of medicine?

Whitehurst: That is correct.

Jones: And later followed in his son's footsteps and became an attorney.

Whitehurst: That's true.

Jones: Amazing. Good morning, Lee. And let me just say that in today's world you're practically a one-stop corporation for defensive ills and so forth. Tell us a little bit about your background and where you're from, your interests growing up, and we'll just go from there and talk about these two major degrees that you-- and work projects-- that you are involved in, and how it came to be.

Whitehurst: Okay. I was born in Greenville, North Carolina, and I lived there until I went off to college.

Jones: Where did you go?

Whitehurst: And I won a Morehead Scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

Jones: Good for you.

Whitehurst: And I went to high school at J.H. Rose in Greenville. And while I was in high school, I played football and I wrestled, and I had just a wonderful time growing up in Greenville. East Carolina University was there, and it was the center of activity for the town, I think. And I didn't live too far from the college, and I was able to use a lot of their facilities, growing up, and it was a very nice thing to be able to grow up in Greenville. And then, in time-- it was towards graduation-- I had been given an appointment to the Air Force Academy, and I was given a four-year scholarship to Davidson to play football. But I wasn't the largest of guys, but I was a good football player, and I've won quite a few awards playing football. But I really didn't want to play football, and it was just a dream come true when I won the Morehead Scholarship, which allowed me to not have to play. I think I...

Jones: Let me just interrupt here. I've got to do this. You were given an appointment to the Air Force Academy...

Whitehurst: That is true.

Jones: ...and a Morehead Scholarship, and the third thing was?

Whitehurst: A full football scholarship to Davidson. I was offered, and had intended...

Jones: How did you choose?

Whitehurst: I chose because I knew there were a lot of-- the guys were getting larger, about that period of time, and I just figured that it was time for me to just concentrate on academics and schoolwork, and I was just delighted to be able to do that by having the opportunity to not have to play football, with the Morehead Scholarship.

Jones: Did you come from a family that was academically inclined?

Whitehurst: My father never went past the eighth grade.

Jones: That's often the case.

Whitehurst: And my mother did graduate from college, and my mother was a product of the Depression, and she was from Minnesota, and she was of German heritage, and she was interested in academics. And she'd known many people that came out of the Depression. She was very conscious of saving her money, in, sort of a hunter/gatherer type that prepared for the winters. And certainly they were, in Minnesota, like that. So that was the way I grew up. My father was in sales, and we didn't-- growing up, early in life, we didn't have a lot of money, but I always felt very appreciative of what my parents were able to do for me.

Jones: You were of that generation.

Whitehurst: Yes. And I was very thankful.

Jones: We are of that generation.

Whitehurst: Yes, that's right [laughs].

Jones: I think we're the only generation left who feels this way. That is fan-- Do you have brothers and sisters?

Whitehurst: I have one sister, and she's about six years younger than I am. So, for a while, it was like being an only child. And then, of course, the gap was somewhat large, and so we-- there was a big difference in the age of my sister and myself.

Jones: So you chose the Morehead Scholarship.

Whitehurst: I did. I chose the Morehead Scholarship, and that allowed me to just do schoolwork and not have to play football. So I was very thankful.

Jones: And what did you go to Carolina thinking you would major in at that time? Was it always medicine?

Whitehurst: Well, no. During the Morehead competition, you were-- you had to choose something that you wanted to be. And I didn't know what I wanted to be, but I knew that I had had braces when I was young, and I had a terrible overbite. My front teeth really went out. And I inherited that from my mother. And so, my mother and my father made great sacrifices to get me these braces, and they straightened the teeth. And as a consequence I, with conviction, could talk about being a orthodontist. But I had never really ever had any exposure to medicine. In fact, by the time I went to college, I had only visited a person in a hospital. I had no exposure to the field of medicine. But when I went to college, it seems like the kids seemed to be more enamored with medicine than dentistry. And I thought, "Well, I'll just go that way. I'll do that instead of orthodontia." So I enrolled in a pre-medical curriculum, and I was able to go to medical school after three years. I skipped my fourth year of college. They accepted two other people and myself into the medical school after three years. So I used my fourth year of Morehead Scholarship for medical school.

Jones: You were smart. Well, you were smart, period, but you were smart.

Whitehurst: I don't know about that, but it was nice to be able to have support.

Jones: Did you enjoy that?

Whitehurst: I did enjoy Chapel Hill. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a high time in my life. But it's like all kids going off to college. You're independent and I expect anywhere that I would have gone, I would have felt the same way. But I really did enjoy being in college.

Jones: Do you mind my asking in what class you were?

Whitehurst: No, not at all. I was in the class of '69, but in the year of '69, I had finished one year of medical school and they gave me a degree called a BS in Medicine. And it was not worth anything if you didn't finish medical school, but that's what my undergraduate degree was called: BS in Medicine.

Jones: So you went on to finish medical school there?

Whitehurst: I did. I graduated from medical school and then I entered a residency at Duke, and it was in surgery. And the program involved two years of general surgery, and then four years of orthopedic surgery. And so I stayed at Duke, in the Duke program, for those six years to do...

Jones: Now, I have to ask you a question. You played football. Do you still follow football?

Whitehurst: No, I don't, really.

Jones: I was going to ask you, who do you root for, Carolina or Duke?

Whitehurst: I root for both teams. I like both teams. But I don't follow the sports teams too well. I have children that follow the sports teams, but I've never gotten too involved in sports teams.

Jones: Those are such rivals that I just had to ask the question.

Whitehurst: I know. All of my children graduated from Duke, so there's a lot of Duke interest, in regards to athletics.

Jones: Okay. Well, we'll have to forgive you. My husband is a Carolina graduate and a Tar Heel member, and Rams Club member. He spends most of his time being angry with them. But at any rate, let's get back to your medical. You were a residency in surgery, and-- ?

Whitehurst: Yes, I did. I had had a terrible health scare or fright, you might say, in my Freshman year of medical school. And I contracted a condition called acute sarcoidosis. And for a long time, the doctors thought that it was a lymphoma, but I decided that if it was a lymphoma, it was so far advanced, and I sort of thought, after doing research, that it was probably this sarcoidosis, so I declined having a biopsy. But going through that experience my freshman year in medical school, and actually residing in the infirmary for about six weeks, because I was too unable to take care of myself, I decided I just didn't want to have any involvement with cancer-- because I had experienced this period of time when I began to realize how terrible it is for people that are going through it, from, I guess, psychological reasons, and how down you get. And I thought, "I just don't want to face it every day, knowing what they're going through. I'll choose a specialty that has the least of cancer."

So I looked around, and it seemed to be that orthopedics was primarily involved in young, healthy people. So I decided I would be an orthopedist. As it turned out, I, as a practicing orthopedic surgeon, I took care of a lot of malignancy, and a lot of-- did a lot of cancer surgery. But, at the time I had to choose, I just didn't realize that there was very much cancer involved in orthopedics. And relatively speaking, I guess there isn't, compared to many of the other specialties. So I went into orthopedic surgery. I eventually...

Jones: You were probably very busy with that.

Whitehurst: I was. Eventually, I confined my practice just to spinal reconstruction surgery. And my specialty was reconstructing spines for people that had had failed operations. And so, I...

Jones: I didn't know that was possible.

Whitehurst: That was what I was recognized for as a subspecialty, and I was given the recognition in that field, and that's what I did.

Jones: Where did you practice?

Whitehurst: I practiced after I completed my residency at Duke, I went to Raleigh. And I practiced for 20 years as an orthopedic surgeon in Raleigh.

Jones: I imagine, that over that period of time-- this is a question I've always wanted to ask doctors. I don't know why I haven't, because we have a lot of friends who are in various fields of medicine. Do doctors have to go back to school, as it were, to take advanced courses or seminars when there are improvements in medicine in their specialty, when new things come along that they have to learn?

Whitehurst: Yes. Now doctors, most all of the specialties, to my knowledge, have a recertification. And I think, in orthopedics, you have to do that now, every ten years, and you have to go and be tested again. My vintage, or age group, was grandfathered once that was instituted, so I was never recertified. With that said, while I was in practice, it was, relatively speaking, a constant learning experience. I continued to learn new procedures. And in fact, I was on the cutting edge, so to speak, of spinal surgery, in many regards. I was an FDA investigator for a special spinal implant, and I did a significant amount of primary spinal research. I wrote, I spoke, I published in different areas. So it was a continuous education process, I would say.

Jones: I imagine it would have to be.

Whitehurst: Mm-hm. And I think most doctors-- well, just by the licensing requirements, doctors in this state have to have so many hours. In fact, I maintain my license now, and each year I have to have 20 hours of credit one, it's called, and these are courses sanctioned by academic institutions. And then 30 hours of, I think, it's category two. These are less stringent requirements, but it is a part of the education process.

Jones: Is any part of this having to be hands-on once again in that field?

Whitehurst: You know, the recertification, to my knowledge, doesn't require hands-on, as far as being able to demonstrate dexterity or eye-hand coordination. It's more of an academic. And that brings up an interesting question. Just like basketball players, surgeons have varying degrees and abilities of eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity. But, per se, that's not tested.

Jones: That's just amazing. Absolutely amazing. Do you ever? [laughs] Are you the kind that can look at somebody and figure out that they've got scoliosis or something? I'm being facetious here.

Whitehurst: No, you do. If you do one thing, whether it be surgery, or mechanical engineering, or a plumber or electrician, you can diagnose pretty quickly, very often visually or by symptoms, so to speak, or a description of the problem. You get very good at doing that.

Jones: When did you decide that you-- ? Well, I don't think I can say, this is putting words in your mouth. You'd had enough, you obviously did not have enough? You, I guess your interest shift a little bit, with your son and so forth?

Whitehurst: Well, my work was very labor-intensive.

Jones: I can imagine.

Whitehurst: The type of operations that I did, you could count on a spinal reconstruction at a minimum taking four, four and a half hours, and some took much longer, may take 10 hours or 12 hours. And these were very intense procedures, and the people that had prior surgery there was a lot of scar tissue, and it was a very complex, relatively risky, dangerous procedure.

Jones: Probably one of the most, wouldn't it be?

Whitehurst: Well, that could be argued. All surgeries...

Jones: I say this only because my father had command of a destroyer in World War II and was hit by shrapnel. He was commanding officer of his ship. And one piece was removed 1/4 of an inch or 1/8 of an inch from his spinal cord. And a doctor from the Mayo Clinic performed four surgeries and determined that a total of 12 hours had been spent, and he was still paralyzed, partially paralyzed, anyways. But that's the first time, in the stories after then, I learned about spinal cords and how important they were. And I could not imagine, because I was a child, but I got older and living with a man who was partially paralyzed and who had to have therapy a great deal, that this is something that would control all your nervous system, for example, your whole body. So, with that being said, this is interesting what your telling us about the labor-intensive and the knowledge.

Whitehurst: It was very labor-intensive. And you began to realize that this is work...

Jones: You have steady hands?

Whitehurst: Yeah, the hands weren't a problem, but just the hours and intensity. And you realize that that work is better suited, eventually, for younger people, rather than older people. And that, and economic reasons relative to risk, I did not have to continue working in that way, or thought that in time I would be stopping. So there came a point in time when you look at the alternatives, and you discuss it with your wife, and you decide, "Well, maybe I'll let a younger person do this kind of work." And I had started a group of spinal experts, physical medicine rehabilitation, neurosurgeon, and an orthopedist and a rehab department, and so there were people to carry on my practice and the work.

Jones: And this was in Raleigh?

Whitehurst: This was in Raleigh. And I decided because I have now three children and two in-law children that are attorneys of various specialties...

Jones: They ganged up on you.

Whitehurst: ...I have one in-law child that's a doctor. But I decided that I would maybe go into law. And my other primary activity has been a Bible study teacher. And so I taught an interdenominational Bible study on Monday evenings, and I could not go to law school, which would have involved a Monday night. So then it became, "Well, I have to either retire completely from medicine, if I want to go to law school," because I felt that my higher calling or purpose was to teach the Bible study, so I decided that I would stop the medicine, and just go to law school. And I did that, and I went for three years.

Jones: Where did you go to law school?

Whitehurst: I went to North Carolina Central. My son; I had a son that was in Duke Law School at the same time. And I had a daughter that was at Harvard Law School at the same time. So when I graduated, the same weekend my son graduated-- I had one son that graduated from Duke Law School, and two weeks later I had a daughter that graduated from Harvard Law School. So we all graduated from law school about the same time.

Jones: Did you specialize in the same fields in law?

Whitehurst: No. My oldest child, all my children are wonderful children and they've accomplished what I consider real academic feats.

Jones: Sounds like it.

Whitehurst: My oldest child, while he was in law school-- but all my in-laws have accomplished academic feats as well. But my oldest child, while he was in law school, did a simultaneous Masters of Electrical Engineering. And he graduated with a Master's in Electrical Engineering and a law degree from Duke at the same time. And he practices intellectual property. He's a litigator in the field of semiconductors and telecommunications.

Jones: Intellectual property. Okay, so these are...

Whitehurst: He's my oldest child, and he's a patent-- people might refer to him as a patent lawyer, but he's a litigator. In other words, he represents companies like Apple Computer, or Intel, or Nokia.

Jones: He's not here in Wilmington.

Whitehurst: No, he practices in Washington, D.C. In fact, all my children live in the suburb of McLean, across the river. And then, my middle child graduated from Duke and got a Master's of Accounting, and he was number one in his class in the Kenan-Flagler Master's of Accounting program, and then he was in law school, and he's in-- a tax lawyer. He works for large companies like General Electric and Anadarko, and helps them restructure their businesses to make them more tax efficient. And then, my daughter graduated from Harvard Law School, and she finished number one in her class at Duke. That was her academic feat.

Jones: I think you really missed your calling, and that should be writing a book on how to raise children to succeed.

Whitehurst: Well, I take no credit for children. God really raises children, in my opinion, and he did a nice job of raising these children.

Jones: Well, he didn't do it alone. There was some help.

Whitehurst: Well, he uses tools in various ways. But she was number one in her class at Duke, and she graduated from Harvard Law School. And her husband was number one in his Harvard Law School, and won lots of other academic honors as well, including number one in his class at University of North Carolina State. But he won a Fulbright, and went to Oxford and then to MIT, and won multiple awards along the way.

Jones: I'd love to be on the wall at a roundtable with your family and see all the things you can talk about.

Whitehurst: Well, it has seemed to be that that was part of the motivation. Children, you know, look down on parents. That's just the nature of nature. And so, once I got a law degree, at least they weren't quite as...

Jones: They could communicate with you?

Whitehurst: Well, I could...

Jones: Or you communicated with them.

Whitehurst: It didn't seem like they could talk down quite as much, so to speak.

Jones: Well, that's amazing, well, you and your wife have a lot to be-- Tell me about your wife?

Whitehurst: My wife is a wonderful woman. We met, went to a party that she gave, but I didn't meet her there. And it was two years later, as I recall, that I knew a-- I saw a friend of mine that was actually in my Morehead Scholarship class, and I knew that he knew her. And I asked where she was, and it just so happened that she transferred to Chapel Hill. And I asked if he could get me a blind date with her. And so, I was in my first year of medical school. I tried to get a blind date sometime before, but she was leaving during a summer school session that she happened to be there, as I recall. And so we met on this blind date in October, and we were engaged in December.

Jones: Oh, my!

Whitehurst: And we got married the following June.

Jones: Oh, my goodness!

Whitehurst: And she's been a wonderful wife for me.

Jones: Well, I guess so. So you've been married how long now?

Whitehurst: We've been married 38 years, this past June.

Jones: I think it'll last. That's marvelous, but that's pretty quick, too.

Whitehurst: Yeah, we got married pretty quickly. I knew that I needed to find a wife. When I went to medical school, we had-- they were instituting a new program. And the program was that the students-- there was no feedback between student and medical school for the entire year. You didn't put your name on any tests, and it was just three days of testing at the end of the year. And I had been diligent, because there were grades in the undergraduate program. But when it came to medical school, there were no grades and no anything, and it was a little bit difficult for me to maintain the same amount of discipline. And I began to realize, if I was going to be a productive member of society, I needed to find a wife. So I was playing around a lot under this new regime, and I realized that I needed to settle down and find a wife. And so, maybe my wife had the same idea. So we got engaged pretty quickly.

Jones: That's funny. Well, that's quite a story. Does she work?

Whitehurst: She has...

Jones: All women work, I'm sorry.

Whitehurst: All women work. That is true.

Jones: That's true. I didn't mean to be deprecating.

Whitehurst: No. She has worked very hard, but it's not been forever gainful employment, although, when I started a spine center, she managed that office, although she didn't take a salary. [laughs]

Jones: Good for her.

Whitehurst: So, she's always worked at-- well, at one particular point in time, she went back to State. Her education was in English. But then, when our children were small, she went to State and completed most all of the courses necessary for an accounting degree or CPA certification. And she has spent a lot of-- her, what I would say "professional time," managing family books, our own personal affairs. And I think she's also managed the books for a large charity. And out of that, our middle child used to help her managing those books, became interesting in the accounting...

Jones:That's where the interest came.

Whitehurst: ...and the tax work. So that did lead to that for one of our children.

Jones: What is she doing now?

Whitehurst: She still does a lot of accounting.

Jones: Volunteer work?

Whitehurst: Well, she does volunteer work, but she works hard in our own home and family. She does-- I think she told me last year, she filed 30 or 32 tax returns. So she still does a lot of tax preparation for our children our own family interests and business.

Jones: They're fortunate, and she can advise them through the year, too.

Whitehurst: She does. And she does that, works for a ministry called Angel Ministry.

Jones: I know what that is.

Whitehurst: Yeah, she was one of the original people that helped Anne Graham Lotz. I think there were about three women that Anne asked to help organize that ministry. And so we kept the books, or she kept the books along with my son for a long time, until it got so large that they do it in-house, but she still is the treasurer and a board of director for that organization.

Jones: Good for her. That's wonderful. Did you use your law degree to practice law, or was this just something that you wanted to get under your belt? I'm so fascinated and curious about this.

Whitehurst: I have always been impressed, that one of the great assets of our country is the legal system. And I was always interested in the legal system. And going to law school was very valuable to me. It helped me to learn to think in a different way. In general, people in the medical field are taught to identify pathology, and then deal with it as sort of good/bad tissue: "I see it, I'll take care of that problem." In the legal profession, it's not that way. There are two sides, two things, and you learn to be able to grasp it. It may be not like you think it is, that is, it may be something else that you're not considering. And so, there's not this tendency to have tunnel vision in the legal profession, as there might be in the medical profession, where you focus very intently on a particular problem. So it was very valuable, to teach me to broaden the way I think. I have practiced some law. I was a partner in a small law firm for a while, then I was of counsel in another two law firms. And now, I practice just a miniscule amount. I get my medical insurance through being a lawyer through the malpractice area, Lawyers' Mutual, and I maintain a little solo practice. But my interests are such that I just primarily do some consulting for friends on occasion, and I don't-- I have other activities and interests that I prefer to do, rather than practice law, although the practice of law is a wonderful opportunity for people.

Jones: It seems that every third person that we know in Wilmington is a lawyer. And many of them are second or third generation, and some of them are working with their sons, or the sons are working with the fathers. And I guess I never stopped to think that the law is the law, but there's so many different fields within that subject.

Whitehurst: Oh, yes. And in fact, I think the statistics indicate that maybe a majority, or a clear majority, as I recall, of lawyers, don't practice law, but they use that training in other areas. And it certainly lends that-- sometimes, I think that everyone should have law training, no matter what they do, in that it teaches you to think in a little different way than you would, normally, or by, just left to your own devices.

Jones: My father believed in that, too. There's an attorney in town who's a dear, dear friend. He's been here all his life, really. And we had to use his services not long ago, so he referred us to one of his youngest partners. And I called him one day; I had a question. He said, "How much time do you have?" And I thought he meant right then. I said, "Oh, about 15 minutes." He said, "How about a week?" He laughed. He said, "It's going to take a week just to get all the facts and put this together." He said, "I'm a lawyer." He was kidding me, but I learned that. I should have known that. He was kind of making a joke on his own profession, really. So I guess there's a lot of lawyer jokes. People who are attorneys have sent us the best jokes in the world, you know.

Whitehurst: Oh, absolutely. I always think it's not a good day if I have to go to a doctor, dentist or a lawyer.

Jones: Well, to get a quick decision?

Whitehurst: Yeah.

Jones: What brought you to Wilmington?

Whitehurst: I have known about Wilmington since I was four or five.

Jones: Just up the road.

Whitehurst: Well, and I had a first cousin that lived here. So I had an uncle that lived in Rye, New York, and he would take a place here, for a month. And so, we were invited to come to the beach, and so it was a big excitement. So I did that, maybe beginning about the age of four or five, and had the cousin here. And then there was a period of time I did not come to Wilmington, but realized that, "That's a great place." And then, in time, my son, during the summers when he was in high school, would do some construction work down here. And my wife's family had some business interests here. And I decided, maybe I would look into having a second home. So we did. We acquired a second home here about 15 years ago, and now it's our primary residence, now, for the past year-and-a-half. But during that period of time, I decided that Wilmington was the very best of places to live in the whole world.

Jones: Really? How much traveling have you done?

Whitehurst: I've done a considerable amount of traveling. But I have a neighbor, across the street, that has lived in-- he's a Fret family. And he's lived many places in the world; Asia, Europe, United States. And he commutes to Boston, and prior to that, he commuted to California. And he said that his family is never going-- he has a young family, and two, well, he has two children, three children, now, at Georgetown University in D.C. But he said they're going to always live in Wilmington, because it is the best place in the world to live.

Jones: So actually, you were visiting during summers, most of the time, until you came to live here.

Whitehurst: Yes, there were-- after maybe I was ten or eleven, I really didn't visit here any more than what a North Carolinian from the eastern part of the state might come through here on occasion for some reasons, until we acquired the second home here. And I had a rekindling of interest in Wilmington when my son would come down and work in the summers.

Jones: Well, that was going to lead us to a question, will lead to this question. This is interesting, because so many people have done that. And as I mentioned to you, this whole Oral History Program is based on a lot of statistics that have accumulated as a result of a ten-year census that was done on southeastern North Carolina. And my husband is a native, but moved away after he graduated from Chapel Hill. And we would come down in the summers with our children from Washington. And he said, "I'll never go back to that sleepy little one-horse town," you see, until I-40 came in.

Whitehurst: Yes, I-40 was a wonderful thing.

Jones: So of course, he retired down here, if you could call it that. He still never retired. But anyway, so many of the people here had come from somewhere else. So we're finding that they're the ones, perhaps you are, and if you and I want to talk about it, that have added greatly to what has made Wilmington what it is today; historic preservation, the arts, theater, the research center, the hospital; on and on and on. So you qualify since you've been coming down here to play and enjoy yourself, but become part of the mainstream every day life. And my question is: How do you see these changes? What have you seen and what do you foresee?

Whitehurst: I have seen changes, of course, like everyone else that's been observing, for the past 15 years of Wilmington and the surrounding locale. And I think they're just wonderful changes. It does impact the endemic culture, I would say, in that there was a relatively isolated culture by virtue of geography. And that gets impacted, and you can argue for the good or for the worse. But it does change. But the intrinsic culture is just for a delightful-- and you hate to see that go away, because it engenders a more relaxed society, a more-- you might even say, a more traditional laid-back Southern style culture that has many nice things about it. A certain friendliness that comes from a small community you'll find here, and then it has its unique aspects, because it's so intricately involved with the coast. But with that said, there's a tremendous vibrancy and excitement that comes when you introduce people from other parts of the country, and you certainly see the stimulus that comes from that, and that's good also. I see Wilmington being a jewel, always, for the state, partly because the geography, in that our coast doesn't have many places where you can build and have a community like this, that we have the barrier islands, and it's difficult to grow a city and have all the advantages of a city with Torcheret Health care and a university, and all the wonderful things that we have here, and you really can't duplicate that unless you go to Norfolk, or go south, maybe to Myrtle Beach or Charleston, or places like that. So it's very strategically located in the state, and that is a very measured advantage.

Jones: You used a term, "jewel," that has been used by several other people, two of whom are from families who've been here for many generations. And you surprised me greatly, by saying, "I think the growth is wonderful, and I envision Wilmington staying the jewel in the center of growth around it." Because there is no place else to go, right here, you know. And they were all for it, with some restraints, of course. And when I heard you say that, I thought, "This is interesting," because this is the third of fourth, you're the third or fourth, and yet wanting to keep the old traditions. The problem, is that so many of the older families have children grown up who are not coming back here to carry on the businesses. And you may know this, or it may surprise you. We have found that it's not the sons that are carrying on the businesses; it's the daughters.

Whitehurst: Yes. Daughters of families should be and are encouraged to go into the family businesses, and it's a wonderful thing. For so long, the traditions were that it wasn't that way. But now, women have-- they're encouraged in the value of some-- they being able to take certain roles, is just wonderful.

Jones: Well, that's one of the things we were curious about; why is this happening in a case, particularly if there are sons in the family?

Whitehurst: It may be, I would think, that possibly the girls apply themselves, and maybe the boys are out playing in the water or fishing more, and the girls study a little more, and they're better prepared. I don't know, but that's a possibility why, you see, numbers-wise, that happening.

Jones: Yeah, it's sort of an interesting situation in the businesses. The ones I'm thinking of right now, they're still going strong, and tradition reigns. It's just an interesting thing. If you come up with something someday, give me a call; we'll figure it out, because everyone's looking at this, you know, what is happening. Do you think we have a saturation point, at this point in time? I joke about, I've joked about parts of Long Island moving en masse down here, or northern New Jersey-- neighbors, retirement places and so forth. And some people that we've interviewed are saying-- and you have to understand the people we've interviewed are handpicked. They've done something. They're not just, "I wrote the National Chamber of Commerce and I picked this place." Some of them are transplants, but they're very active. They become very involved in the quality of life here. But we keep hearing about overcrowding, sewer systems, traffic, housing, et cetera, et cetera. And a lot of people jokingly say, "Close the gates; we're saturated." How do you feel about this? Or do you think that there's room, or there's growth across the river in the other counties?

Whitehurst: I think there is growth, and I think it will continue to grow. It's mind-boggling, so to speak, to look at the growth in Leland. And of course, Hampton area is growing, but it's remarkable, the growth in Leland, to me. And I think it will continue to grow, and I think people will derive great benefit by being close to Wilmington, and Wilmington will have certain benefits, also, from the growth on the periphery. And I think it will continue, because there's too many nice things. I think, probably, there would even be more growth if our state would be more tax-friendly for people that are considering where to move. But regardless, just because of where we live, close to the coast, and the services that we provide, a university and a wonderful medical care system, people will congregate in this area.

Jones: What do you think about the state port growth, things like that?

Whitehurst: I think it's wonderful. To me, it is a source of commerce; it lends economic support to the area. I particularly like it, in that, to my knowledge, it's relatively a clean industry. And I'm very excited to live in a port area like we have.

Jones: Are you involved...? You've spoken several times, and I know that you're involved. But are you involved on an advisory level or a volunteer level in Christian communities, in volunteer work, in youth groups and whatever?

Whitehurst: I am.

Jones: Or, for those who are less fortunate, I happen to be on the board for domestic shelter and violence shelter and services. And they've got committees that are operating at full blast with people you don't even hear about. Because that's part of it; you're not supposed to hear about them.

Whitehurst: I do. The best thing that ever happened to me, and my very single best decision that I ever made in life, was to go to an organized-- or what I refer to as a structured, Bible study. And that happened when I was about 34. And I consider that, undoubtedly, the best decision that I ever made. My wife had gone to the same program or structured inter-denominational Bible study three years prior, and I realized, over time, that she had something that I did not have. And while I remained very skeptical and would poke fun or joke about what she was doing, I realize that she was being changed by this involvement. And so, in time, they had a men's class, and I decided to-- I guess, the sorry husbands were invited to go. So I went to see, thinking I could never participate in such a thing, and didn't have the time, and so on, so forth. But I did, and it has been the very best of things that I've ever done. And as a result of that, while I had always been a participant in church, I became, what I consider, a believer, in that the Bible is accurate and true, and it is as it states it is: the word of the Creator, or God. And as a consequence, that has been what I consider my best use for society. That's the place where I can best be a contributor to a giver. So I have focused my efforts in serving my community in that area. I do think it's true what the Bible says, "It's more blessed." And what that means is, it is more joyful than we-- we get more than we give, when we give. And that's where I derive a tremendous amount of blessing: by helping other people have what I had, which is a structured Bible study.

So I lived in Wilmington. Well, we had two homes. We had a home in Raleigh and we had this home in Wilmington. But as you might imagine, it was more fun to stay down here. So I continued to teach what's called a Bible study fellowship class. It's an interdenominational worldwide program. And I continue to teach...

Jones: Is that any relation to this new mega-church that's just been built?

Whitehurst: No. No, this is not. This was a program started by a missionary that came to the United States after a severe illness, and being forced out of Communist China. She started with five women, and developed a little structured program that now is all over the world. And we had that in Raleigh. We had multiple classes. And then I started another men's class, because of the overflow and the demand in Raleigh. And it's changed the fabric of Raleigh, undoubtedly. It has undoubtedly changed the whole, I wouldn't use the word "ambience," I call it the fabric of the society, in that it became a very desired thing to participate in studying the Bible. So, for a while, I would go back and teach my class. But as I was getting older, it was very difficult to make that roundtrip twice a day-- twice a week. And on Friday or Saturday, I had to either get up at 3:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the morning to make my leader's meeting. So then, a year and a half ago, a replacement was found for me, for my Raleigh class. And we started a facsimile here in town, but it's for men and women. And we're beginning our second full year of that now. We did a pilot program. And it's been a wonderful thing for me, because now I can be in the structured Bible study that I need, and should, and I know that I'll stay as long as I'm mentally capable. And so we have one here in town, and I do give the lectures for that.

Jones: Do you do any counseling? With your background, I imagine...

Whitehurst: Well, you always do counseling. All of us, I'm sure, give counsel to someone. And I do do that. When I teach the scriptures, you're in a sense giving counsel. And I continue to do counsel. In fact, waiting for me downstairs, are two young men that-- I'm going to help them form a roofing company, and then we're going to the roofer. And I'm helping them to do that.

Jones: Good for you, and good for them.

Whitehurst: Both of them, I've employed in various ways over the year. But they've had certain-- they've been less fortunate than my own kids would be, for example, in that they don't have someone that can help them work through these hurdles. So I counsel with them, and I'll be counseling for them for several hours, today, helping. And then I'm going to have another person that I employ part-time help them do their books, so I'll continue to manage them in their business activities. So that type of counseling, I do a lot of; that is certain.

Jones: You don't have to answer this. Wilmington is just small enough, that every time there is a hiccup from anybody on the city council, or the board chairmen and so forth, the mayor's office, local government-- there's always a lot of "Yay" and "Nay," finger-pointing at the sheriff, and so on. And now that we're in a very heavily-loaded election year with two completely opposite candidates, and a new nominee for vice president who is very involved in, I would say, almost born again or evangelical Christian, I can't help but wonder if maybe some of these people, locally, or any local government, couldn't benefit by going back to their roots as far as who they are, what they are, and applying it in their everyday lives. But again, I've heard people say that they think this is happening. They see a wave, in this country, that this is happening. And it doesn't have to be Christian; it could be any Jewish synagogue, or whatever it is. How do you feel about that? Or, what do you think about that? Do you think it's a good idea?

Whitehurst: I think all people are looking for...

Jones: That's a good way to put it.

Whitehurst: They are looking for God, I guess I would say. That's the way we're built. We wonder, and we're curious, and we want to know something. "Is there or isn't there? Am I okay? Am I not okay?" So, for me, the structured Bible study forced me to critically analyze the facts. And from that, I concluded that "Yes, this is true," and I felt that it was irrational for me to continue the prior program, and this was the proper path, and this was undoubtedly the safe and the better path that I wanted to go. With that said, and I don't know if I'm addressing your question, exactly, but I think all people have a desire to know, "Is there a God? Is there truly a God? Where is He? What is He?" So on and so forth. That's just built-in, just like the desire to find water or find food. It's just built in to us. Since I have become a Bible teacher, and this came about when I went out to be trained, on the way back, my African American assistant, the two of us started this class. And he made a very profound statement. And he said, "Lee, I don't think it's reasonable for a person to say that they're a Christian and a Republican." And I pondered that, and I decided, at that time, that I would never be aligned or identified, as long as I was teaching the Bible, with either political party. In fact, last week, I refused to have a reception at my house for one of the gubernatorial candidates. And about six weeks ago, I refused to have one for one of the senatorial candidates. I don't participate in the-- I vote, but I don't participate in the political process. Because as long as I feel that I'm trying to explain and teach the Bible, I don't want that to be a stumbling block from someone that would hear me and feel, well, "Lee is a Democrat," or, "Lee is a Republican; how can he legitimately tell me anything of value?" So, I don't get involved in the political process. But...

Jones: I've heard this so often from people, and I think that you don't have to put a brand on yourself. You can vote the way you feel is right.

Whitehurst: I'm registered as an Independent now.

Jones: Yes. I went out to register high school students along with a group that I'm with. And we don't put up anything having to do with any party at all. Just, "Register and vote. Use your right to do that." That's the main thing. And it was amazing to us, the number of Seniors, who, we had crowds of them between lunch hours at all high schools, registering. And many of them said, "I don't know, so I'm going to register Independent."

Whitehurst: Yes. I was very delighted when we changed our voter registration down here. I was very delighted to be able to have that category available.

Jones: So you can vote across the board any way you wish. Well, anyway, I can get into that subject for an hour, and I won't. We've only got a couple of minutes left. I want to ask you this. What would you like to see happen in this community, which is now your full-time home, and which you're actively involved in? What do you think are just a couple of things, or one thing, perhaps, you would treasure most, that would be helpful to the citizens here-- whether it's traffic, whether it's again, politics, whether it's schools, anything at all, something that we need, something would better the life? It could be anything. Or if you're satisfied, and think that this is just a progression that's going to take place?

Whitehurst: You know, all of the things that I think are so wonderful; this university here, our health care, our recreational things that are to offer, the historical work that's being done to preserve the history, the art museums, the children's museum, the railroad museum, and the reptile museum, I just think that it's hard to beat. And I don't know of anything that I would say is needed. And I say, that because all of these areas where people strive to make things better, I feel that there is some striving in all of those areas, and there will always be limitations, because of manpower or money. And those things are just the confining things that keep what is already good, becoming even better. But I don't know of any, what I would think, "Here are something that..."

Jones: Well, you sound like a pretty satisfied man.

Whitehurst: I'm satisfied with Wilmington. I don't think you can find a better place to live. [laughs] No matter who you are or where you're from, or what you're...

Jones: I've heard a number of people say that, from all over the country.

Whitehurst: Yeah, really. This university here; I had the privilege of getting two law school credits. My law school let me come here and do summer work. So I've been a summer student.

Jones: Oh, a student?

Whitehurst: Yeah, I've been a student. In fact, I transferred credit here for law credit. I took an accounting course, and I took a great speech course. And I've been a student. I spent many hours studying in this library.

Jones: Well, then you're familiar with it.

Whitehurst: Oh, yes. And, I mean, it's unbelievable, the advantages.

Jones: That program has been wonderful for a lot of retirees who can come and take classes here.

Whitehurst: Yes. I was actually enrolled as a student. I was a summer student or transfer student, and they transferred my credit. So I was an actual student. But it was wonderful.

Jones: Well, you're a happy man. It's nice to talk to a happy man.

Whitehurst: Well, thanks very much.

Jones: Thanks for coming, Lee. It's been a pleasure.

Whitehurst: I was glad to.

Jones: And one of these days I'll have the opportunity of meeting one, or two, or three of your children and say, "How did he really do it?" Thank you.

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