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Like Family


Looking for strange bedfellows in politics? How about Richard Vinroot and Dean Smith? Vinroot is the Republican candidate for governor. Smith is the retired UNC-CH men's basketball coach. A benchwarmer for Smith in the 1960s, Vinroot rarely fails to mention his friendship with his former coach as he stumps around the state. Smith, a member of Chapel Hill's decidedly liberal Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, has shot a campaign spot for Vinroot and donated at least $1,000 to his former player's campaign.

At a candidates' forum, held at Exploris Museum on Sept. 23, Vinroot told of seeking Smith's advice when he was struggling to decide whether or not to volunteer for military service during the Vietnam War. Vinroot said he told Smith, who frequently joined the protests against the war in front of the Franklin Street Post Office, "I feel very guilty," because two of Vinroot's friends were killed in the war during his final year of college.

At the forum, Vinroot quoted Smith as saying, "Richard, you've got to do what you think is right, because you're not going to be able to live with yourself if you don't deal with those demons that are possessing you on that subject." In an interview after the forum, Vinroot didn't recall all of the specifics of that conversation with Smith, but he did enlist in the U.S. Army in 1967 and served a tour of duty in Vietnam.

Vinroot also backs the death penalty, which he says serves as a deterrent. Smith opposes the death penalty, and in 1998 he visited Jim Hunt to urge the governor to commute the sentence of John Noland. Noland was executed on Nov. 20, 1998. In the presence of Hunt and several others, Smith said the death penalty "makes us all murderers."

Smith's backing of Vinroot, while politically confusing, is probably more about loyalty than politics--for both individuals. Vinroot gladly overlooks Smith's liberal credentials in exchange for a character endorsement from one of the state's most respected public figures, and Smith overlooks Vinroot's right-wing political agenda out of his fierce loyalty to anyone who has been part of the Tar Heels basketball family.

While in Vietnam, Vinroot said he could count on a weekly letter from three people: his wife, his mother and Coach Dean Smith.

Our house backs up to an alley in Old North Durham, and a couple of months ago, our shed out back was robbed. Someone broke the locks off the doors and took our bicycles and our lawn mower. Since then, my partner and I have been discussing ways to make our belongings more secure. We've put locks on the gates across the back of the yard. We're talking about moving the fence back so that the shed is inside the yard instead of on the alley. One side of our yard doesn't have a fence, so we think maybe we should put one up--or maybe build a wall. That would give us privacy and make things safer.

Once we borrowed our neighbor's lawn mower, after my partner bought a swing blade and tried to cut the grass with that. I don't know why we've dawdled so long about replacing our mower. We got the insurance check, and we've had the time to shop. I feel afraid to get another mower. We'll have nowhere else to keep it except the shed, and I'm worried that whoever stole the mower will come back and break any new lock we put on there. Maybe we should move the fence back first. Make sure the yard is secure. Protect our space.

We went out on the first Saturday that really felt like fall to shop for a new mower. But we got caught up in other errands and still didn't get one. We came home and found our grass cut and our walk swept. Front and back. And our yard, though not large, is no treat to mow. The kid next door told us that our neighbor Jack mowed our yard after he finished mowing his. This made me think again about putting up fences and walls. When we try to keep out the bad elements, how many good elements are we keeping out at the same time?

Thanks, Jack.

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