**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News in 2009. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish some of my best stories from my time as editor of that paper.**
If he wanted to, Robert “Bob” Carroll of King could just sit back and take it easy after having achieved centenarian status plus one—a milestone most people never reach. Instead he still gets up every day and focuses on what has been his chief interest and hobby for many years—history/genealogy. “I’m almost a fanatic,” he admits. “It kinda gives me incentive to live.”
That interest began when Carroll was still a very young man and studied about some Boyles relatives who fought in the Civil War. The genealogy/history bug bit him, and he has never regretted it. “If I were younger,” Carroll shakes his head ruefully, “there’s so much research I’d like to do.” He leans forward and confides conspiratorially, “I’ve got a sneaking suspicion we’re in royalty.”
Carroll spent many an hour in the local libraries, register of deeds offices, and what he calls “the gold mine”—Raleigh. He often rode to the state capital with Stokes County’s local legislator, Worth Gentry. While Gentry attended government meetings, Carroll researched all day long. “I was in seventh heaven,” he recalls.
Although he hasn’t been out for such research since he moved to Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Village in Winston-Salem when his wife passed away in 2000, Carroll has drawers full of folders which are stuffed with historical information. His desk is littered with worn census records he has pored over for decades. Those records were the source of Carroll’s book, Old, Odd and Other Stuff, which is a treasury of Stokes County history. The book and the multitudes of articles he wrote while working for The Danbury Reporter for 27 years as a weekly columnist detail many family histories.
This love of study goes back to the early 1900’s. Carroll, born on February 1, 1908, attended Mt. Olive School in King—a two-teacher school—through seventh grade. Since that was as far as he could go, he stayed in seventh grade for four years. Then King High School was established to provide further education, and Carroll went there for another four years, graduating at the age of 21. Of the 20 members of the King High School Class of 1929, only Carroll is left.
“I loved to go to school,” he still sounds enthused as he recalls his boyhood. “I’d walk a mile to borrow a newspaper to read.”
Finding time to study and read was quite a challenge for young Carroll. His life was not an easy one and was full of heartaches and disappointment. Although his family roots are in Stokes County, he was born in Winston (no Salem at that time), about three miles from where he lives now. His father was a revenue officer for the Fifth District. When Howard Taft was defeated in 1912 and Woodrow Wilson elected to the Presidency, the elder Carroll lost his job in the changing political climate.
In 1915, the Carrolls moved to King for work. In December of that year, the father of four young children—young Bob was the oldest at seven years old—developed appendicitis and then pneumonia and died suddenly. Carroll remembers the event vividly, “I was lost. I didn’t know what to do.”
His mother moved her young brood into a one-room log cabin on Carroll’s grandpa’s farm. The family hired themselves out to work for other farmers in the area. “I got so tired of picking peas,” Carroll recalls. They lived in poverty throughout his childhood.
Carroll states firmly, “One thing I learned—how important good neighbors are.” He has never forgotten the good people—none of them well-to-do either—who told them to come pick the extra apples or to glean the roasting ear patch. Some donated hand-me-down clothes for the young Carrolls. The family was given wood chips for heating and would sometimes have to carry them a mile or more.
Still, Carroll says he saw no long-term damage. His mother lived to be 104, one sister died at 97, and his youngest brother is still alive at 93.
Amidst those hard years of growing up, somehow Carroll found time for his schooling. He even got a student loan of $400 to attend Guilford College but still had to labor to pay his way—working as a janitor for the auditorium and men’s restrooms. Carroll’s goal? To become a newspaper reporter. He worked on the staff of the campus newspaper, The Guilfordian, but after two years at the college, was forced to leave. The Great Depression had struck.
“There was nothing to do,” Carroll assesses the job situation in that era. “I was so disappointed and so disgusted. I couldn’t find anything to do. I’d have taken a job digging ditches for 10 cents an hour.” He heard that Ford Motor Company would give jobs to the first 100 men who would walk to Charlotte, and figured if he could go barefoot, he could run and get there quickly. The rumor of jobs proved to be untrue.
For a while, Carroll hired out to work in tobacco. Finally, in 1934, he got a job in crop control, measuring tobacco land.
For the next 11 years, Carroll worked that job as well as three others, in a seasonal fashion. He raised tobacco himself, worked the tobacco market (a total of 30 years) and did income tax preparation. In 1955, he became a tax collector for Stokes County but was fired when “the political picture changed,” in a situation reminiscent of his father’s firing. Carroll then worked in the tax office of Forsyth County before coming back to King after 2½ years.
As a citizen and public servant of Stokes County, Carroll was a visionary. When he served on the board of education for four years and the county wanted to expand South Stokes High School, he voted against it. Carroll wanted a school in the Yadkin Township since 40 percent of the county’s population lived there. “I regret I didn’t push it,” he admits.
And Carroll is still a visionary. His passion for history—“I just feel like local history’s important”—keeps him writing articles to this day, some of which will be published in future editions of The Stokes News. “We can improve the present if we know the past,” he philosophizes. Future generations of Stokes County residents will owe debts to Bob Carroll that they can never repay. Family memories and Stokes County history have been preserved for posterity, thanks to this visionary who looked backward to see forward and who never let hardship keep him down.
**Note: Bob Carroll’s memories were so extensive that they cannot possibly be adequately presented in this brief article. More of his memories are highlighted in another blog post called “The Old Paths: The Light at the End of the Tunnel,” specifically his memories of the two World Wars and the Depression, as well as his thoughts on the future of this nation. This is the link:
**Robert “Bob” Carroll, passed from this life on Tuesday afternoon, Mar. 6, 2012, just a little over a month after he celebrated his 104th birthday. The cause of death is listed as complications of pneumonia.