‘That Hometown Feeling’
Alumni and friends embrace Fayetteville’s native son as Carolina’s new chancellor
It was billed as “An Evening with Holden
Thorp,” but some in attendance compared
it to the excitement of New Year’s Eve —
only more important.
Held at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre
in Fayetteville, hometown of new UNC
Chancellor Holden Thorp ’ 86, the Oct. 6
GAA event drew more than 325 friends of
the Thorp family, many showing up well
before the official 5: 30 p.m. start time.
“These people here tonight really are
our friends,” said Thorp’s mother, Olga
Bernadin “Bo” Thorp ’ 56, who led efforts
to rescue the failing building in 1962 and,
as artistic director, turned it into one of the
most respected theaters in the state. “This
means so much to this community, which is
known for that hometown feeling anyway,
but the Fayetteville area has really embraced
Holden and Patti, and I’m so proud and
happy for them.”
Thorp and his wife, who met as kids at
the theater, stood in a doorway that led to
the hors d’oeuvres room and greeted
everyone who entered, including well-known members of the Carolina family
such as state Sen. Tony Rand ’ 61, U.S. Rep.
Mike McIntyre ’ 78, basketball legends
Rusty Clark ’ 69 and Joe Quigg ’ 57, former
Fayetteville Observer editor Roy Parker ’ 52
and dozens of others who greeted the couple as if they had just gotten married.
A Carolina blue sign — “We are so
proud of our Holden & Patti Welcome
home” — greeted those entering the theater
itself, where a three-piece band played on the
stage while a slideshow of the guest of
honor’s life ran in the background.
The place quickly filled to near capacity
as the couple continued to greet well-wishers standing in line in the lobby. With the
crowd anxiously waiting, the couple came
in from the receiving line to the band playing “At Last” as photos of their wedding
faded in and out on the slideshow screen.
After the song, a member of the band
shouted, “Is this some big-time stuff for a
local boy or what?” The crowd roared its
GAA President Doug Dibbert ’ 70 started
the official proceedings by listing some of
With his appointment, he told the
crowd, “You finally get a chancellor that
eats at the K&W.” And he told the tale of a
recent shopping trip, where he looked at a
Carolina blue sport coat. The sales clerk
shook his head a few times and said, “No,
chancellor.” Thorp finally protested, “But
Dean Smith wears one.” The clerk said simply, “Mr. Chancellor, you’re not Dean
DAN SEARS ’ 74
Thorp got serious when talking about his
recent travels across the state, including visits
to high schools where students expressed
their love for and commitment to Carolina.
He noted that 18 of the top 25 students at
Asheville High School enrolled at UNC
Fayetteville Mayor Anthony G. Chavonne ’ 77 presents the key this school year.
to the city to Chancellor Holden Thorp ’ 86, prompting the first He said he wants to make sure, in this
of four standing ovations during the evening.
highly competitive market, that the best
N.C. high school students continue to come
to UNC, adding that he wants to put a
higher priority on merit scholarships. Thorp
said he also wants to “dangle attractive
packages in front of our faculty” to keep
them in place. In his recent stint as dean of
the College of Arts and Sciences, he said, he
had reduced the number of faculty leaving
from 30 one year to just seven the next.
Thorp told the hometown crowd that
he is committed to helping the region, the
state and the local communities, saying the
University should help with issues such as
empty storefronts downtown, youth violence
and campus security. Plus, he said he wants
the University to involve and work with
nervous neighbors who worry about UNC’s
After a loud standing ovation at the end
of his remarks, Thorp went over to the keyboard and led the singing of Hark the Sound.
He closed out the evening by switching
over to the bass guitar and playing a couple
of songs with the band.
As he and his wife packed up in the
parking lot afterward, Thorp suddenly
stopped and said, “You know, that was as fine
an alumni event as I’ve ever been to.” ■
— Clifton Barnes ’ 82
the well-known people from Fayetteville
who came before Thorp, including Frank
Porter Graham (class of 1909), who served
as president of the University from 1930 to
1949, becoming the first president of the
Consolidated University system. (At the
end of the list, several people yelled out,
“And where is Doug Dibbert from?” Yes,
he’s from Fayetteville, too.)
Fayetteville Mayor Anthony G.
Chavonne ’ 77 presented Thorp with the
key to the city, and the audience responded
with the first of four standing ovations during the program.
In introducing Thorp, Rand said that
“this is a special and unique opportunity
tonight as we honor ourselves by honoring
our native son.” He paid tribute to Thorp’s
mother and late father, Herbert Holden
Thorp ’ 54, who was a law partner with
Rand. He said that Thorp has great intellect
but that there is much more to him, including a caring nature and compassion. “As he
becomes the 10th chancellor, Holden is
truly a man for his time,” Rand said.
When Thorp came to the podium, he
said he was extremely honored by the
turnout and was touched by what he jokingly said were uncharacteristically serious
comments from Rand. Then he worked in
a little humor to show that he wasn’t taking
himself too seriously.
ONLINE: To see photos and a video from
this event, visit alumni.unc.edu/ThorpFayetteville.