By Miriam Landru
“He was a good man.”
That’s the resounding truth coming from everyone who ever came in contact with the late Cliff Newman, a beloved bartender of Highland Country Club. But he was more than that. He wasn’t just a bartender. He was a leader amongst the staff, well respected by all members and the epitome of a hard working family man who loved his wife and children. His career at Highland spanned over 40 years.
He saw members come and go. He witnessed history evolve from the 1950s to the 2000s. But most importantly, he left an imprint on the Club that will forever be known thanks to that large wood paneled room featuring that beautiful, stately and ornate bar…Cliff’s Bar.
"Even before we had this bar in his name, when folks would go to the club we would say, ‘Oh, we will meet at Cliff’s bar,” said Dolph Berry, member and former Club board president. Berry also had a hand in designing the bar with the help of Irma Smith from Homemakers. When it was built in the mid-1980s, it had no name. The christening of Cliff’s Bar was not until 2007.
Let’s Talk About Cliff
“I want to talk about Cliff… the man. He was a good man in every sense of the word,” said Berry. Cliff was a devoted husband, father and community member. He instilled in his children the same work ethic and skillset he honed in his many years as an indispensable employee.
Cliff essentially grew up at Highland Country Club, having been hired at the ripe age of 21-years-old after being poached from the Elk Club downtown by the late William deRosset Holt. “My father met him there. He wanted him for the Club, so he was handed a great offer,” explained Henry Holt. He added, “Cliff was a quality individual, one of the nicest you could imagine.”
Having been hired at philosopher Timothy Hume’s “age of maturity,” you could say that the Club partially raised him, or at least assisted in his work ethic. “The Club was founded by the leading businessmen in the area not even a decade prior to when he was hired. You might say they trained Cliff,” said Berry.
“He was good. He knew what people wanted,” said former general manager, Oz Hamzah, who knew him in the early 2000s when he worked in the men’s only card room. “He actually ‘retired’ in the late 1990s, but missed working so he came back on a part-time basis.” Sometimes, he was notorious for sleeping on the job, but that bothered no one. After lunch was over at the men’s card room, it was usually time for Cliff to hit the snooze button. “Oftentimes, he would take a nap till 4:00 p.m. and I would step in and wake him up. He was that well respected and up in age. We all cared for him, so we would just watch out for him and make sure that he was doing okay and was happy being here,” recalled Hamzah. “In his prime, he was the trusted employee that ran the show behind the scenes.”
The Newman Family
The Newman family has been an institution in the Murchison Road neighborhood for many years. They are business owners and leaders, much like Cliff, father to five children, Cliff Jr., Reggie, Sandra, Regina and Anita and husband to late wife, Mildred, a schoolteacher. Currently, his son, Reggie, is operating his own restaurant, Newman’s, adjacent to the family barbershop. Reggie honed his restaurant skills as a busboy in the 1970s at Highland with his father and later learned his chef skills working in the industry in Virginia. Cliff certainly taught his younger son hospitality and hard work.
“I started working at the Club at 15. My older brother was already working there and my cousin. My father expected more from me than anyone else, but I enjoyed it,” said Reggie. “Everyone, staff and patrons, had so much respect for him. They thought a lot of my father. I learned that it was because it was the type of person he was. He was such a good person.”
Cliff’s daughter, Anita, also spent a summer working on the golf course. She recalled, “My father he worked six days a week. He believed that if he you worked hard, you would get ahead and that’s what he taught us.” Since Cliff’s days at the club could be 12 hours or more, Monday, his sole day off, was completely dedicated to family. “Monday was our day. He would pick us all up from school and take us to get ice cream. Then, we would spend quality time in Pope Park, which is now Cape Fear Botanical Garden,” said Anita. “He was a great dad.”
Not surprisingly, Cliff was ever the professional and did not pen a New York Times Bestseller about the trials and tribulations he heard of behind the Club’s walls. But, those who knew Cliff then happily shared their stories. In the following, one can deduce that Cliff enjoyed teaching clubgoers lessons that they didn’t learn on the green or the court.
“I had been married about a year, I was 26 years old. It was early, 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night so I stepped over to the card room to say hello to some guys and my wife was at the bar. Fifteen minutes went by and Cliff came over and said, “I want you to know, you have left your wife unattended for too long now.” I’ll have you know, I shot out of that card room. She didn’t send him after me, and that’s the kind of man he was. Cliff was making a point that I left my wife unattended to go talk to those clowns in the card room.”
“I was probably 21 and I had come back home from Chapel Hill. There was a deb party at the club. It was busy. And it was in the formal room that’s now Cliff’s Bar. I walked in and saw him. I asked, ‘Hey Cliff can I get a Jack and Coke?’ He replied, ‘No.’ And with that he pulled out three glasses and a bottle of Maker’s Mark, that’s when you had liquor bottles they kept at the Club and with that he said,
‘Your aunt by is buying your drink today. This is how people who appreciate bourbon and whiskey have it. One day you will appreciate this more than anything.’ He poured some Maker’s, neat, into the glass, then he poured whiskey and soda in the second glass. That’s still my drink today. Then in the third glass, he poured whiskey and ginger ale and said, ‘But I prefer 7-Up because it doesn’t color the liquor.’ And that’s how I learned what goes into a proper drink.”
Cliff’s legacy is etched into the elders of Highland Country Club, their children and perhaps even their children’s children when they will eventually ask who the grand oak bar was named after. To the members, he was respected not only as an employee, but as a friend. And Dolph Berry and many others share the same sentiment, “We all remember him. Think about him. And we just can’t say enough wonderful things about that man.” Cliff Newman loved Highland Country Club, the members loved him. He enjoyed his job…
And that’s why he stayed.