By Sarah Osborne
There are some things you don’t learn about a person until they are gone. On February 7, 2012, my great uncle Griggs Dickson passed away. Even until his final days at the age of 80, he was quite the character – always a word to say or a sarcastic notion to imply.
In addition to being a well-respected pediatrician in Charlotte, Uncle Griggs was a runner of sixteen marathons, a lover of Beaufort, North Carolina, a passionate supporter of the North Carolina Highway Patrol and an adoring grandfather. Uncle Griggs’ legacy, practical jokes and brash sense of humor are sorely missed.
Though most of Uncle Griggs’ life was well-known, parts slipped through the cracks as he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s and lung cancer. Before his death, my Aunt Polly located a CD with pictures of her father in some unusual looking attire.
Polly could not explain the origin of the photos, and sadly, Griggs’ failing memory prevented him from recalling their purpose. It was not until the night of the funeral visitation that the mystery of the CD was solved.
At the visitation, Griggs’ neighbor, Chas Fagan, greeted Polly with condolences. As Polly and Fagan spoke, it became apparent that he, being a renowned sculptor, had used Griggs as a model for one of his projects. The statue that Griggs modeled for is the famous William Peace statue that sits so proudly in front of Main.
I had just arrived back to my dorm room from a long weekend away at the funeral when I received an email detailing the news of Uncle Griggs’ connection to Peace. I was absolutely stunned. It seemed so surreal and incomprehensible. Sweet memories of my uncle flooded my mind at precisely the same moment as many of Peace memories. My entire family was pleasantly and profoundly astounded. Kin and Peace instantly interconnected and intertwined.
Although she was his primary caregiver, Polly was the most shocked of all. “It was a complete and wonderful surprise,” she said. “Daddy never mentioned posing as a model to any of our family members.”
Fagan explained what it was like to approach my great uncle for a favor. “First off, it’s never easy to ambush your neighbor with the question, ‘Will you model for me?,’” Fagan said. “But Dr. Dickson took it in stride with an amused expression on his face. That expression persevered as I handed him some antique clothes and tied a black bow tie around his neck.”
The bronze statue of William Peace weighs 700 pounds. The drapery of the black morning coat and vest helped disguise the edges of the bench so the entire project could seamlessly meld together.
The process to create the William Peace statue took about one year to complete. Griggs’ photo-shoot in Fagan’s well-lit driveway, countless hours of labor, and unlimited amounts of creativity ultimately culminated in the unveiling on March 14, 2007, Peace’s Founder’s Day.
Comparing the statue of my great uncle in the collection of photographs taken by Fagan to the William Peace statue itself, it is impossible to mistake the resemblance. Fagan had to take picture after picture to achieve views from all angles. A closer look at some of the photographs reveals a glimpse of my great uncle’s beloved Highway Patrol belt buckle. That nostalgic image tugs at my heart strings.
Like countless other Peace women, I have taken a seat next to William Peace. During my first week of college, I sat next to Mr. Peace as I called my mom, excited to tell her about my classes and new friends and anxious to quell the lingering little bits of homesickness.
Just the other week, my friend and I played our old-time tunes with William Peace as our lone listener.
In times of frustration or excitement, I rarely hesitate to take a seat on that concrete bench to confide in someone who will keep my secrets safe. After all of this time, my moments with William Peace are sure to be even more meaningful. When I take my place next to Mr. Peace, I am not only recognizing the great founder of my school, but also the strength of family and the memory of Uncle Griggs.
I doubt I will ever get over knowing that my very own great uncle Griggs was the model for the William Peace statue. It is simply unbelievable.
On the other hand, it makes me suspect that there has always been a reason I have been comfortable talking with that handsome bronze figure. Each time I take a walk across the front lawn or up the brick walkway to Main, I am reminded that life is ever-changing but can always be expected to come full circle.
I miss Uncle Griggs very much, but now I know he’s only a stone’s throw away if I need to chat.