Bob Bryan recalls adventures galore

Bill Kirby Jr.

February 2022

Bob Bryan loves telling the story about 1956, when he and a boyhood friend embarked on a wooden lapstrake boat for 11 days to the Bahamas in a journey Bryan never will forget. He can tell you about stealing the Victory Bell from Cameron Indoor Stadium, too. Bryan has one story after another to tell.


You can see yesteryear in Bryan’s face.


His blue eyes follow along the old newspaper clippings of his youth, when Bryan and his high school buddy, Jimmy Frazier, set out from Swansboro in Carteret County in 1956 and headed out in the 25-horsepower Barbour lapstrake boat for Miami and the Florida Keys.


“It was an adventure,” Bryan said.


If he has told the story once, he’s told it thousands and thousands of times to his three daughters, his sons-in-law and his grandchildren.


“They all got tired of hearing about it,” he said with a grin.


Catharine Brown has been listening to her daddy tell the story since childhood.


“I’ve heard about it all my life,” said Brown. “He gets so much pleasure talking about it.”


For 87-year-old Bryan, the story of the 11-day and 600-mile voyage never gets old.
“I was about 21,” he said. He was just out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Frazier was a graduate of N.C. State University, where he excelled as an offense and defensive back for the late Earl Edwards’ Wolfpack football team.

Bryan saw his football career cut short because of bad knees.


“I went to UNC, got hurt and later participated in track and threw the javelin,” he said. “Football was my first love. But I had two bad knees, and I knew I couldn’t play college football with two bad knees.”


But in the summer of 1956, Bryan and Frazier had that boating adventure on their minds.


‘We got on the boat’


“We had been talking about it for years,” Bryan said. “We got on the boat in Swansboro. I had a buddy in Miami. His name was Haywood Fowle, and he played right guard at UNC with Charlie Justice. Haywood went to Miami and became a coach and won a state championship one year. We met him, and he took us to the Keys diving.”


But Bryan and Frazier had to get to Miami first in this Huck Finn-like adventure.
“We lollygagged along the way,” Bryan said. “We stopped in Myrtle Beach and later in St. Augustine, Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale. We just had a good time. We would stop along the way on the inland waterway. We had to get gas, food and suntan lotion.”


On, yes, plenty of suntan lotion.


“We sure got burned up,” Bryan said. “We finally had to tie a tent on the boat. And the mosquitoes were eating us up, too.”


He remembers as the journey wore on eyeing a vacant home along the waterway, where he and Frazier decided to take a respite.


“We stopped at the house and thought it was vacant,” Bryan said. “But the owner came. She said, ‘You better get off my porch!’ When we got to Haywood Fowle’s place in the Bahamas, he took us diving, and that was a thrill. I had dived before, but never anything like that.”


Back In Goldsboro, where Bryan and Frazier grew up, the Goldsboro Argus newspaper got wind of their adventure and made hometown celebrities of them.


“The newspaper got hold of it and made a big deal out of it,” Bryan said. “We did a log and called in about how we were getting along.”


The log of 17 installments kept Wayne County newspaper readers apprised of the trip and how the young men were doing.


Bryan and Frazier wrote about spearing fish to include barracudas, stingrays, snappers and groupers; meeting other boating skippers; seeing “Mr. Coca-Cola’s” home near Palm Beach; the New River, “where Seminole Indians wrestle alligators for the entertainment of tourists;” the gorgeous “Venice of America” homes in Fort Lauderdale; and that storm that tested their nerves near Titusville.


“A storm was gathering in the Northwest, and we could see flashes of lightning in the distance,” they wrote in their log published June 27, 1956. “The water got rough, but it seemed like the darker it got the more the storm disappeared. The moon and stars came out and lit the waterway like a huge floodlight. We enjoyed the thrill of navigating by compass and the flashing night markers, as this was our first experience with night navigation.”


Bryan and Frazier were golden bronze on their return by automobile to Goldsboro.
“Great,” they said of their journey. “Not easy, but great.”


Later, Bryan found work at a rock quarry near Roanoke Rapids and married Geraldine Price, a Goldsboro girl, on Jan. 12, 1957.


Catharine Brown says her daddy has one story after another.


Here comes another one.


“We went to New York City on our honeymoon, and she won $10,000 on the ‘Price Is Right’ television game show,” Bryan said of his wife. “I had to come home, but she won the next day and stayed on for five more days.”


Calling Fayetteville home


Bob and Jerry Bryan found themselves in Fayetteville by 1960, where he went to work for his father and his father’s business partner, Ed Smith.


“We had about 10 or 12 stations in the Fayetteville area,” Bryan said. They also owned Bryan-Smith Oil Co.


“He was well-known in Fayetteville,” Bryan said about his father. “It was around quite a while. We sold out to Sun Oil Co. I sold it, and we began building convenience stores. We had Express Stop stores in eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. We kept those 15 or 20 years and sold out to The Pantry, what is now Circle K.”


Bob and Jerry Bryan reared three daughters – Catharine Bryan Brown, Lynn Hobgood and Mary Bearse. And Bob Bryan made countless friends to include Jimmy Byrd, Wayne Byrd, Dr. Al Hartness, Bob Cogswell, Lanny Clark, Todd Lecka, Dr. Harold Newman, Ray Nicholson, Bill Jackson, Scott McInvaille and Bob Exum among them. And not to forget Paul Paschal, who loves Bob Bryan like a father.


Bryan lives quietly these days since the death of his wife at age 85 on Jan. 20, 2019. He likes to sift through old photographs and newspaper clippings of days gone by and still stays in touch with Jimmy Frazier to reminisce about their adventure on the lapstrake boat to the Florida Keys.


“Jimmy lives in Memphis,” Bryan said. “That trip and how much fun we had is all we talk about.”


Ringing the Victory Bell


Daughter Catharine said it’s one of her daddy’s favorite stories.


“He gets so much pleasure talking about it,” she said, “… and about stealing the Victory Bell when he was at Carolina and getting thrown into the police car in the 1950s.”


Oh yes, another story for Bryan to tell from his youth.


“It was in 1954, and we couldn’t win the Carolina-Duke football game for years when I was up there, so we went to Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke at night, broke in and stole the Victory Bell from the basement,” he said. “I rang it through all the dorms at Chapel Hill. We got 10 dorms involved and about 1,000 people.”


Chapel Hill police arrived to quell the excitement and give Bryan, the ringleader, a warning not to ring the bell again.


“I kept on ringing it,” Bryan said with a devilish smile. “They put me in the backseat of the cop car. I slid off the backseat on the other side and took off running. I lost my loafers. We ran to the top of Steele Dormitory and spent the night so the cops couldn’t find us.”


Epilogue


There’s the fight, too, that broke out in 1956 in the basketball game between the Tar Heels and Wake Forest, and Bryan was right there in the middle of the fracas.


“Joe Quigg says he started it,” Bryan said about the UNC standout who now lives in Fayetteville.


Bryan has one story after another, but that trip down to the Florida Keys with his boyhood friend Jimmy Frazier is among his favorites to tell, and he never tires of telling it.


“Those memories,” Catharine Brown said, “are what he cherishes.”