My Personal “Photo By Hugh Morton”

11/5/04 dedication of Charlie Justice statue outside UNC's Kenan Stadium

Note from Elizabeth: Five years ago today, Johnpaul Harris’ sculpture of UNC football legend Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice was unveiled at the west entrance to Kenan Stadium. Not only was our volunteer Jack Hilliard there, he was involved (along with Hugh Morton) in the creation of the statue. Jack shares some of his recollections in this post.

The voice on the phone was familiar. “Hello Jack, this is your friend Hugh Morton.” He was answering my request for photographic help with one of my projects. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes but as we began to wrap it up Hugh said: “I’m going to be dong something next Tuesday that you might be interested in. I’m going to take a group of Justice-era players over to Johnpaul Harris’ studio in Asheboro to check out his progress on the Justice statue. Would you like to join us?” It took me about 1/100 of a nanosecond to make up my mind. We were all to meet at the McDonald’s on Highway 64 in Asheboro at 10 on Tuesday morning June 1, 2004. “We’ll caravan over to the studio . . . I can take you there, but couldn’t begin to tell you how to get there,” he said.

When I walked into the restaurant on Tuesday morning it was like a gathering of my boyhood heroes . . . Rizzo, Neikirk, Morton, Pupa, and Cox.  A few moments later Weiner joined the group. Boyhood heroes indeed, but the thing is, I never outgrew that . . . these guys are still my heroes.

Johnpaul Harris with model of Justice statue, ca. 2004

The 10 mile drive to Harris’ studio took about 15 minutes — Highway 64 to 49 and back into rural Randolph County. Johnpaul and Ginger Harris’ home/studio is unique. (It was once described in a magazine article as a cross between “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Sanford and Son”). We were greeted and taken in to view the 8 foot 6 inch clay model. All of the Justice-era players made comments and Harris took lots of notes. Then Morton took out his camera and began taking pictures. When all of the players’ pictures had been taken, he turned to me and said, “OK, Jack, let’s get one of you.” It was like that Walter Cronkite – Ted Baxter scene from the Mary Tyler Moore Show when Cronkite tells Baxter, “you can call me Walter.” I wasn’t dressed properly for a picture, but I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to have a my very own personal “Photo by Hugh Morton.” When that photo arrived in the mail a couple of days later, it was placed in a very special scrapbook to be treasured forever.

Jack Hilliard with Charlie Justice statue at Johnpaul Harris' studio, 6/1/2004

Over the next five months I made several trips back to the studio to watch a master at work, and in the process Johnpaul and Ginger became great friends. In early September a statue dedication date was finalized.

Friday, November 5th, 2004 was a beautiful day in Chapel Hill. The ceremony was scheduled for 3 PM. Hundreds of people gathered at the west end of Kenan Stadium in front of the Kenan Football Center. Present were several dozen of Charlie’s teammates, dignitaries such as UNC Chancellor James Moeser, former UNC System President Dr. William Friday, Hugh Morton (who had headed up the project), Head Football Coach John Bunting, “Voice of the Tar Heels” Woody Durham, and various Tar Heel fans enjoying the warm November afternoon. Over the next hour Master of Ceremonies Dick Baddour would introduce the dignitaries and several teammates. Each would share personal stories of Charlie’s heroics on the football field, his modesty and selflessness, and his storybook marriage to wife Sarah.

As Joe Neikirk, a Justice teammate and originator of the statue idea, made his remarks, he said, “I can’t help but believe that Charlie and Sarah are looking down with pride.” At that very moment the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower chimed out the quarter-hour. Neikirk raised his hands and looked up into the Carolina blue sky. In describing the incident, UNC’s Lee Pace said “No one present believed there was anything coincidental about it.”

Following the ceremony many of us stayed around, not wanting the magnificent afternoon to end. We took time to view the statue up close and see the detailed workmanship that Harris had been able to accomplish (mainly by using Hugh Morton photographs). We also got to read the informational plaques on the facade behind the statue. (And, if you are standing facing the statue, the plaque on the far right tells the story of the 1950 College All-Star game and Charlie’s MVP performance. I was given the honor by Hugh Morton to prepare the information for that plaque).

Finally as we walked away, several of the Tar Heel faithful said “we’ll see you tomorrow.” On Saturday, November 6th, 2004 UNC would meet Virginia Tech in Kenan Stadium. It would be the first time Tech had played in Kenan since September 28, 1946 . . . the first game of the Charlie Justice Era.

–Jack Hilliard

6 thoughts on “My Personal “Photo By Hugh Morton”

  1. rk’s idea, and it was a good one. I believe it was Walt who climbed the ladder to look closely at the face of the clay figure and came down saying, “I feel like I just looked Charlie straight in the face.”
    The awful, awful, awful part was that no one contacted Barbara, Charlie’s daughter, about the project, and she was, rightfully, so upset at the slight she almost did not come to the unveiling ceremonies. Trust me, everyone was chagrined and extremely regretful that that happened. Being swept away by enthusiasm is not an excuse for an error like that.
    I had the idea that we should start the tradition of tossing a coin into Charlie’s helmet on game days. I believe there arer probably a few nickles there now.

  2. What happened to the first half of that comment? Clearly I am not fluent in lap top. What I wrote was that when Hugh and I went to Dallas,TX, for our grandson’s wedding, Hugh saw a statue of Doak Walker on the SMU campus and was critical of it because he said you could not tell it was Doak. So when the idea of placing a statue of Charlie at Kenan Stadium arose, the first priority was that it look exactly like him. No one could be sure of that better than his old teammates who all embraced the project enthisiasticly.

  3. When UNC Head Football Coach John Bunting stepped up to the microphone, his first words were: “What a glorious day.”

    That was a perfect description for the afternoon of November 5, 2004. Six years ago today, standing in the shadow of Kenan Memorial Stadium in front of the Kenan Football Center were hundreds of people who had gathered for the dedication of the magnificent Johnpaul Harris statue of Charlie Justice. Team mates, University officials, and friends like Hugh Morton all paid honor to the man they had come to know and admire.

    Said UNC Chancellor James Moeser, “hail to the brightest star of all.”

  4. It is eight feet, six inches tall, weighs 950 pounds, and honors arguably the greatest athlete in North Carolina history. It’s the magnificent Johnpaul Harris statue of Charlie Justice, that stands outside the Kenan Football Center on the UNC campus. Today marks the seventh anniversary of the statue dedication. At that dedication ceremony, UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour introduced Hugh Morton by saying, “nobody wanting it more than Hugh Morton.” So on this anniversary I would like to pause and remember two North Carolina treasures…Charlie Justice and his dear friend Hugh Morton.

  5. Soon after Charlie Justice passed away on October 17, 2003, Charlie’s dear friend Hugh Morton approached Asheboro sculptor Johnpaul Harris about creating a statue to honor the Tar Heel great.

    “I jumped on it,” said Harris.

    Morton served as the “linchpin of the committee” that spearheaded the approval process.

    In the early spring of 2004, Harris began his magnificent work.

    It was eight years ago today, November 5, 2004, on a Hugh Morton picture postcard day in Chapel Hill, the Justice statue was dedicated at the West end of historic Kenan Stadium.

  6. It’s a cloudy November day here in Greensboro, but nine years ago today, on November 5, 2004, it was a fantastic Hugh Morton picture-post-card-day in Chapel Hill. On that afternoon we dedicated Sculptor Johnpaul Harris’ magnificent statue of Tar Heel Legend Charlie Justice. So again today, I’m reading a letter that Harris sent to Hugh Morton soon after that dedication. If I may, let me quote a couple of lines from that letter:

    “I probably more than anybody know how Coach Snavely felt when Charlie turned up at Chapel Hill. If it wasn’t a gift from God for Snavely, it certainly was for me. You called me late in 2003 to see if it was the kind of project I would be interested in. I think you knew the answer…Thank-you for making it all possible…and thank you for your friendship, which started with our collaboration on Mildred. For my part I know that it will never end.”

    Sadly, Hugh Morton along with three other members of the dedication team are no longer with us, but I choose to believe that Joe Wright, Joe Neikirk, and Bill Friday along with Hugh have joined with Charlie as part of another team and on this day they are looking down on Johnpaul’s masterpiece with pride.

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