Voting for a friend

elaine marshall.jpg

As James the Wine Guy I use this spot to bring you news and notes about wines and specialty foods and cafe menus and other tidbits. Sometimes I write about issues that are more personal but which affect the way we do business and the relationships we’ve developed. Though I often engage in hearty political discussions at the store, I try to do so only when those conversations are initiated by another person. I am very conscious of the fact that, especially in an election year (and especially in the past few election cycles), feelings can run high. I never want someone to feel they have to walk a political gantlet in order to enjoy what we’re offering at Wine & Words and The Back Bay Cafe. The “Words” at both our stores are always inclusive and welcoming, and any political talk that does take place is usually very civil and revolves around a quest for mutual understanding and a search for common ground.

So it is with some trepidation that I post what seems to be a political endorsement of a candidate in this election, but which is really a very personal statement about a friend...a friend to Yvonne and me, and a friend to our store.

Yvonne has known Elaine Marshall longer than I have. Before we met, Yvonne was active in state level politics, having been the campaign manager for Jane Mosley of Cary for several runs (both successful and unsuccessful) for NC State Representative from the Cary district. (Jane died in 1999, of breast cancer, at age 54) While she was working with Jane, Yvonne and a number of other businesswomen in the Triangle supported a member of the NC Senate, Elaine Marshall, in her run for Secretary of State. Yvonne and her friends saw then that Elaine was a powerful advocate for common people and, above all, an honest, straight talking lady.

I met Elaine several times when we were living in Raleigh, but I didn’t really get to see who she is until we moved down to coastal Carolina and decided to open Wine & Words in Belhaven. Yvonne invited Elaine to our Grand Opening and ribbon-cutting and she said she would be honored to be there. Many of you have seen the photo that’s posted behind the check-out desk at Wine & Words. It shows Yvonne holding one end of the ribbon and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall holding the other, while 96-year-old Mary Windley Willis ably plies the scissors. Right behind them are then-mayor Dr. Charles Boyette and Elaine’s new husband, Bill Holford. That was in April of 2002. In her remarks that day Elaine told of how pleased and proud she was that friends of hers had opened a new business in a small North Carolina town and added that as Secretary of State she saw small businesses like ours as the main hope for North Carolina’s future.

Since then, Elaine and Bill stopped in Belhaven many times aboard their boat. They usually stayed at the Belhaven Waterway Marina, and I was always glad to hear Elaine’s cheerful voice on the phone asking if we had room for them at Back Bay Cafe. We always did...even when we had to stay open late to accommodate them.

The last time Elaine and Bill showed up at the Cafe was just a little over a year ago. We were shocked to see that Bill looked ill. He had lost a lot of weight and appeared tired and withdrawn. No one said anything about it, as they and their friends finished dinner. It was there that we heard Elaine was considering a run for the US Senate. After they left, Yvonne expressed her concern to me. She had been with Elaine when Elaine’s husband Sol had died of cancer. It looked like it was happening again. So we were deeply saddened, but not surprised, when we heard of Bill’s death last November. What did surprise us was that we heard Elaine was going ahead with her run for the Democratic nomination for the Senate.

Because she did not have the support of the Democratic establishment, Elaine had to run in a primary and then a run-off. When she was in the first primary, we invited her down to Belhaven for a “meet and greet” at the Back Bay Cafe. We wanted to help her campaign, but most of all we wanted to see her. She arrived with the usual entourage, and some of the invited guests were already milling about, so Yvonne and I had to corner Elaine over by the door from the dining room to the kitchen. I said, “Elaine, we were so sorry to hear about Bill’s death. And I want you to know that I think you are very courageous to go ahead with this campaign. But most of all I want you know that we love you.” I then gave her a hug, something I’d never done before. And Elaine said, “Well, when we knew Bill’s outcome wasn’t going to be good, we talked about this. He said, ‘This is something you’ve always wanted to do. You were born for this, and you’ll make a great Senator. The only reason you wouldn’t run was if we could retire and travel together. But that isn’t going to happen, so I want you to go for it.”

That’s why I say my support isn’t just’s personal.

I think Elaine Marshall would make a great Senator for North Carolina. This country could use 50 Elaines in its government. I don’t say that because of her political positions but because of who she is. She’s a person of great integrity, intellect and compassion. She’s in public service not for personal aggrandizement or enrichment but to actually serve the public. How refreshing is that? I’ve been a passionate supporter of other political candidacies over the years, and many of those candidates have disappointed me when elected. But then I never really knew them. I never looked them in the eye and saw what they were made of...and I certainly never gave them a hug.

Now we have the chance to send a great lady to Washington. Let’s not miss it.