By: Kim Hasty
Oh, the birds, the squirrels, the flowers and, most of all, the memories. And Sue Priest is here to enjoy them all while sitting on the porch overlooking her peaceful and lovely Clarendon House garden.
“Wherever I am, I like to try to beautify it,” she said.
When she and her late husband Larry, both Hope Mills natives, moved to this spot 12 years ago from Pinehurst, there wasn’t much to the little yard outside their first-floor double apartment. Sue took a gardening class at then-Fayetteville Technical Institute and took a field trip to a Southern Living gardening shows.
She and Larry would go on to add azaleas, camellias, roses and hostas, as well as pots and hanging baskets of annuals, such as impatiens and petunias.
And then they added friends as numerous as all those blooms in their garden. And strangers who would become friends, including actors from all over who came to Fayetteville to take part in productions at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre just up the street. Larry was a longtime member of the CFRT board of directors, and the Priests opened their home to many of the actors, Dirk Lombard among them, who played the lead role in the CFRT production of “The Music Man.”
“Some of them still call once or twice a week,” Sue Priest says.
The Priests hosted parties, including one for the Kentucky Derby. For that one, Sue invited her friends to wear decorated hats. When some of them insisted they did not have any hats, she offered some advice: “Go to Rose’s,” she said, referring to the discount department store.
Memories even abound in the vintage patio furniture on the porch. A cushioned wicker sofa, with a matching rocking chair and armchair, originally belonged to her paternal grandfather, B.A. McKimmon. Sue had the pieces painted white years ago.
“It’s a hundred years old,” she said. “I remember it being in my grandparents’ living room out on the farm.”
Sue and Larry, who had been Hope Mills High School classmates, were married 60 years before he died in 2016 from the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Their 60th anniversary celebration at Highland Presbyterian Church included a full-course meal, Broadway actors, family and friends, and musicians.
These days, caregiver Dennis Hutchinson sees to it that the weeds that pop up in the garden are pulled, and the flowers are watered. “It’s very peaceful and quiet out here,” he said.
And now the garden also includes an engraved stone proclaiming it to be the “Larry Priest Memorial Garden.”
A fitting name, indeed.