Beverly Perdue likes to tell audiences that she grew up "real poor," a coal-miner's daughter from the mountain town of Grundy, Va. What she doesn't always mention is that her coal-miner dad, the late Alfred Moore, became a coal-mine owner who was rich by the time she was in college. At least, she didn't mention it in either of two talks she gave in Raleigh on Feb. 24. And her campaign video, titled Coal Miner's Daughter, doesn't mention it either.
"This is where I was born and raised, in the mountain town of Grundy," Perdue says in the video as the picture cuts away from her to a photograph of a spare, shingled house. "We never knew we were poor. We were surrounded by a tremendous amount of love." Audiences could easily conclude that, while her parents were good folk, Perdue had to make her own way in the world after leaving Grundy. For good measure, Perdue's printed campaign biography talks about her "hard-earned college degree."
This impression, however, does not square with author Lee Smith's recollection. Grundy's most famous native, Smith now lives in the Triangle with husband and Independent columnist Hal Crowther. Ricky Moore, Beverly's older brother, was Smith's classmate in high school, and Smith remembers him well and Beverly some--enough to say that, by the time Beverly got to high school, "she was one of the privileged girls" in town.
Lodge Compton, editor of The Mountaineer, Grundy's hometown newspaper, said much the same thing. He'd been Alfred Moore's friend and golfing buddy, and knew Beverly from the time she was a little girl. "Alfred did come from very meager beginnings," Compton said. "But he was 'quite well-off' later on. From outward appearances, I wouldn't suspect that Beverly struggled very much," he said with a laugh when asked about her self-representation. As it turns out, according to Beyond Their Wildest Dreams, an official history of the United Coal Co. published in 1990, "Alfred Moore was an independent coal producer and millionaire several times over. In 1970, he sold his business holdings and retired; by 1974, he was back in the fray as the eighth stockholder with an owners share" in a rapidly expanding operation that became United Coal two years later and by the '80s emerged as a diversified energy and real estate development firm called the United Corporation, headquartered in Bristol, Va.
Beverly Perdue was born in 1948, so she was 22 when her father retired for the first time.
When asked by The Independent whether she was leaving a false impression with audiences, the candidate was incensed. "The whole discussion enrages me," she said. "People are not going to disparage my dad. He is my hero." To make sure the point was understood, she said she'd already talked to the "family lawyer," adding: "We won't put up with it. We will get the affidavits that prove how poor he was."
She did not question the company history, however.
An angry Perdue acknowledged, "I was nouveau riche, finally, in Grundy--my daddy made big money in the end after working his butt off for years." He and her Uncle Bill had opened a truck mine of their own in 1951, she said, which was little more than "a hole in a hill," and they worked it with mules. "My daddy got up at 4:30 every morning to go to work. I can remember waking up and many mornings going down by 5 o'clock to eat that bacon-and-tomato sandwich with my daddy. He carried a bucket and wore a light on his head."
By the mid-1950s, Perdue said, her father "began to make a little bit of money," but the family was still scrimping and even in 1965, she says she was told she could not go to Hollins, a private college, because it was "pricey." She attended the University of Kentucky.
The hardscrabble house shown in the video, Perdue acknowledges, is not actually in Grundy, nor is it where she was raised after the age of "5 or 6." The house shown in the video is just over the border in Kentucky; her family rented it in the early '50s while her father worked a mine there, she said. From the mid-'50s on, they lived in a brick house in Grundy.
Perdue said the house in Grundy is on her Web site (www.bevperdue.org). But as of last Friday, the only such picture on Perdue's Web site showed Perdue and her father on a patio with the following caption: "In 1977, the year after her first son was born, Bev returned to Grundy to visit her mom and dad. Over the last several years, Alfred had proven to be a very effective manager for the company, allowing him to move his family yet again while finding time to perfect his abilities with the barbeque."
The last few pictures on the Web site, dated 1983 and 1985, did point to Moore's wealth. One showed that Alfred Moore donated a building in New Bern in honor of his son Rick, who had died. The last was a family photo, with the caption: "By this time, Alfred was a successful, established partner in the company."
Perdue is vehement that she hasn't misled anyone about her father, even though he was a retired millionaire living in Florida by 1970 and came back to Grundy to join the United Coal Co. as an "established partner" in 1974. "My father made an incredible amount of money in the end. Everybody in this state knows that," she said.
Perdue added that "everybody in the North Carolina Senate thinks that when my dad died, [I became] worth $50 million. That's great. I wish it were true."
What is her net worth?
"None of your business." --b.g.