Bear Bryant In Chapel Hill


The first two years of the Mack Brown football era in Chapel Hill were pretty miserable. Back-to-back 1-10 seasons were hard to take, and the ABC (Anybody But Carolina) fans had a blast making fun of the Tar Heel football program. In fact, I distinctly remember a joke that was told during those years:

Person 1: “Hey, did you hear that Bear Bryant’s wife was moving to Chapel Hill for health reasons?”

Person 2: “No, I didn’t. Why?”

Person 1: “Her doctor told her that she needed to get away from big-time college football!”

Little did I know until recently that Bear Bryant has a true UNC connection (other than the one suggested in the not-so-funny joke). Lieut. Paul “Bear” Bryant was on the coaching staff of the North Carolina U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School, which was housed on the campus of the University of North Carolina during World War II. The image above comes from a game program in the North Carolina Collection’s UNC-related ephemera files for 1944.

9 thoughts on “Bear Bryant In Chapel Hill”


    Actually, Bear and his family lived at Graham Court Apts. on McCauley St. in Chapel Hill during Pre Flight Training. My mother, sister and I lived in apt. A1. Daddy sold our pretty new house on Dogwood Drive as Uncle Sam would not pay my father enough to keep our home so he sold it to Gordon Blackwell and we moved into Paulson Apts, then to Graham Court.

    Anyway, I was hmmm, maybe seven or eight years old and had the pleasure of roller skating down the driveway between the two equally sized, and facing, buildings, with Paul Bryant’s daughter, Mae Martin Bryant. There were SPEED BUMPS or it would have been more fun.

    I’ll never forget that handsome Paul Bryant and I passed each other one morning as he was walking from his apartment toward his car parked on McCauley St. HE WAS DRESSED IN HIS NAVY BLUE UNIFORM, INCLUDING THE OFFICIAL HAT AND LONGISH OVERCOAT. WE NODDED GOOD MORNING! WAS THIS THEN-KID EVER IMPRESSED AS I AM NOW 74 YEARS OLD AND THE MENTAL VISION IS STILL AS CLEAR AS A PHOTOGRAPH.

    My mother was Billie STROWD Johns. Her father was BRUCE STROWD OF STROWD MOTOR CO. He was the area pioneer auto dealer. His 20,000 sq. foot building stands facing Franklin St. and the side extends down Columbia St. My sister and I inherited the building in 1976 when our mother died but we did not live in C.H. and had young families to care for so sold it to Bibi Dangiger.

    Mother attended Arlington Hall in Arlington VA just outside D.C., one year behind Bear’s wife-to-be. After daughter,Mae Martin was born her mother signed her up to attend Arlington Hall when she was ready, years hence! However, that was not meant to be as the building became the home, for offices, I suppose, for the U.S. Military!!

    When I was in the the 5th or 6th grade, Charlie Choo Choo Justice did his practice teaching for the girl’s P.E. class…wow,
    as was my year!! Hosea Rodgers had the boys classes!! As I recall we, the girls, usually played ROLLER BAT! I did ask and did receive a photo from Choo Choo.

    I had piano lessons from a lovely wife of, I suppose, the wife of another player…at Victory Village. One day she told me that Art Weiner lived down the hall and would I would like to meet him. So there we went…his door was open and he was on his sofa wearing a long cast on his leg as it was broken in a game. I was invited to sign his cast. Of course I accepted!

    My own father, the first licenced realtor in C.H. had played football in C.H., Durham, and Hillsborough. While in Durham he made the final T.D. which gave the school the standing of helping his school becoming number one in N.C.

    I am into genealogy. The fabulous UNC player in 1970, Don McCauley, and I are distant cousins through my grandmother, MATTIE ATWATER, a direct decendant of Orange Co. MATTHEW OR MATHEW MCCAULEY. I also proved that Don and THE BATTERING RAM, a MERRITT, both hark back to OLD KIT BARBEE, thru the owner of Merritt Mill, whose wife decended from Old Kit. Kit himself was a nephew of Bruce Strowd’s ancestor, Joseph Barbee the first.

    Bebe Johns Fox
    Winston Salem, NC

  2. Hello Jack…my daughter just sent this to me here in Winston Salem!

    We moved to FL for 5 yrs., then to Asheboro where I was in high school my jr. and sr. year…then SALEM FOR 2 YRS. AND TRANSFERRED TO CAROLINA…Chapel Hill is MY HOMETOWN!!

    Did we know each other in Asheboro…most kids there had been in kindergarten on up thru graduation and knew each other but I was a new girl in town…dying to know how we knew each other!


  3. Hello Bebe:

    Great to hear from you via NC Miscellany. I don’t know that we actually knew one another at ASH, but I remember you. If memory serves me, you had a sister at AHS named Julie. My dad was part owner of Asheboro Drug Co. on Sunset Avenue and your dad had an office just around the the corner on Fayetteville Street. Back in September, I sent you an email to the web address at the GAA website. I assume you didn’t get it. So here it is:

    Good Friday Afternoon Ms. Fox:

    If I may, I’d like to thank you for sharing your Chapel Hill experiences during the 1940s, in the “North Carolina Miscellany” web site. I have a keen interest in that period as well for a couple of reasons. During the years 2006-2008, I had the honor of doing a bit of research for Capt. Wilbur Jones, USN (Ret.). for his 2009 book “Football! Navy! War!” There is a lot of information in the book about North Carolina Pre-Flight, and “Bear” Bryant. I have also written a piece about North Carolina Pre-Flight for the Hugh Morton web site, “A View To Hugh.”

    As a little kid growing up in Asheboro in the 1940s and 1950s, Charlie Justice was my hero. When he moved to Greensboro in 1966, we became good friends and that friendship continued until his death on October 17, 2003. Charlie Justice is still my hero. During my 42 years as a producer/director at WFMY-TV in Greensboro, I had the privilege of working with Justice on three documentaries about his life. To know Charlie Justice was to know his teammates. Hosea Rodgers and Art Weiner were often mentioned during Justice interviews. By the way, Art Weiner celebrated his 86th birthday last month, on August 16th. He lives here in Greensboro.

    I would love to here more about Justice teaching your PE class. Do you still have the picture he gave you?

    One final question…did you attend Asheboro High in the 1950s? When I first read your “NC Miscellany” comment, your name seemed familiar. I was at AHS 1954-1958.

    Again, thank you for sharing your stories.

    Please forgive the long email.


    Jack Hilliard
    (AHS, Class of 1958)
    (UNC, Class of 1963)

  4. This is a little off topic, but this made me think about the UNC Football FR team they had in the early ’40’s. My wife’s uncle (who eventually became a medical doctor) played FR Football with Doc Blanchard – the same Doc Blanchard that was drafted by the Army and after Army went to play at West Point and become one of the famous members of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside (Doc Blanchard was Mr. Inside and Glen Davis was Mr. Outside).

    It would have been great if Doc Blanchard would have remained at UNC, but we were happy to get Choo Choo a few years later.

    My wife’s uncle said he asked Doc one day about playing in H.S. and Doc said his team won the state championship his SR year…my wife’s uncle said, “I bet you had a lot of good players on that team?” and Doc replied, “No, just me!” – that makes me laugh every time he tells me that.

  5. Hi fellows! I did not even know I had gotten your responses! My daughter just alerted me…thanks, Elizabeth. We left Chapel Hill in 1950 for five years in Sarasota, FL, then moved to Asheboro where Julie, my sister was a cheerleader. I grad. in ’56. Then attended Salem for two years, then transfered to Carolina, grad. in 1960…am now 75…yikes!! I wish more folks who lived in C.H. and/or attended UNC. Nothing like either one, I am sure you will agree! Mother’s Stroud to Strowd in our case were there since the mid 1750’s!! Her Dad, Bruce is pictured here and there on Franklin Street in his calf cart before the street was paved…a big mess after a rain of course! His Dad built and became a merchant where Sutton’s has been since 1922 or so. Bruce was the pioneer Ford dealer…corner of Franklin and Columbia.Bruce was a member, of very few non prof’s, of the UNC Faculty Club…s’plain THAT! Well, he was a friend to everyone.
    Come visit me and my family on FACEBOOK!!! Best to you two!!!!

  6. Reading about Choo Choo and Art Weiner takes me back some years. The two were my childhood heros.

  7. Hi, Just ran across some old black and white negatives from an estate sale a few years ago. I had the negatives digitized so I could view them. It appears most of the photos are from Chapel Hill in 1933, 34, and 35. Among the photos are an old Model T with a spare tire cover that says “Strowd Motor Co.” Chapel Hill N.C. Negatives are pretty neat and show the Kenan Memorial Stadium from the mid 1930’s, Fraternity Houses, Sites around Chapel Hill College campus. If anyone knows a collector of Chapel Hill Memorabilia, please have them contact me. Thanks.

  8. Hi David, I am Bebe Johns Fox’s daughter( commenter on Bear Bryant blog) Do you still have the negatives/photos? Bruce Strowd was my great grandfather. My mom is 80 and would LOVE to see them. Thank you!!! Liz

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