Archived Story

Obici was ‘great American success story’

Published 10:32pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013

You don’t have to be a ‘nut’ to enjoy Suffolk. I covered the area for about 25 years, commuting from my N.C. home — an easy drive along ‘un-busy’ highway 32. I would have enjoyed being a resident but, at that time, my trio of kiddies wanted to stay with friends and family.

Also, my wife was born and raised in Hertford, and it would have taken a stick or two of TNT to get her to live anywhere else. At the time, TNT was sort-of expensive.

Suffolk was my second home — or first if you count sentimentality. For about 10 years I narrated the annual parade sounding, at times, like the poor man’s Don Rickles, making minor semi-snide remarks, but only to those I knew would not sue.

I did a play or two at the old King’s Fork Elementary School, and had a great time playing Neil Simon’s slob in “The Odd Couple” which, by the way, was held over for an extra performance.

Recently, I called someone I knew many, many moons ago and tried to explain who I was until, finally, Edison’s invention shone above her well coiffed head. “I remember. You were Mr. Obici.”

For several years, whenever the occasion arose, I portrayed Amedeo Obici, wandering about and answering questions about the gentleman, acting like I knew what I was talking about. I will say, that in my necessary research I learned to really like and respect the Planters founder.

Nowadays, the great American success story is about someone taking over from daddy. Not so with Mr. O. His success story was really Americana — the bootstrap variety.

Anyone who has been in Suffolk for at least 18-1/2 months knows the story of the immigrant who came to the U.S., unable to speak English, but able to use his common sense and business sense to build the world famous nut empire. One thing you may not know is that he invented a method of skinning and blanching peanuts, “so the roasted goobers came out clean,” according to Wikipedia.

And, of course, to honor the city, and his wife, he formed a corporation that became the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital.

I had different Mrs. Obicis each year. The only one I remember was an Indian lady (the country, not the tribal) named Minnie and, as was in real life, she was taller than her abbreviated husband.

The honorable goober is celebrated with the annual Suffolk Peanut Fest. The 36th such event will take place Oct. 10-13 and, as always, there is some very good entertainment.

This year’s headliners will be Sawyer Brown, proud owners of several gold and platinum albums.

Their hits include “Some Girls Do,” (really?), “Step That Step” and my personal favorite, “The Dirt Road.”

The other name entertainer is Tate Stevens, winner of the second season of “The X Factor,” so you know he is no small potato.

As we get closer to the fest date, we will tell you much more about those folk.

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The son of a close friend of mine has written the next Hallmark Hall of Fame play which will be aired Aug. 9. It has to do with teachers. Watch for the name, Todd Mattox. No musical violence, i.e. — no sax or violinists.

In a future column I will tell you about his dad, Gregory Walcott who, among other things, was one of the stars of the original, “87th Precinct,” and he was the bad guy in four Clint Eastwood westerns. His dubious claim to fame was starring in the movie dubbed by most critics as, “the worst film ever made” — a gem called, “Plan Nine From Outer Space.”

I will also tell you about a good friend who taught Marilyn Monroe how to sing in the movies.

Lot of other stuff, so stay tuned.

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I never met Tarzan, Jane, or the chimp, but I did become good friends with Mike Pierce, whose grandpa introduced the vine swinger to the world — Edgar Rice Burroughs. Mike’s dad played the jungle cat in two early movies.

Mike was stationed at the old marine base in Edenton, N.C., and he and his absolutely gorgeous wife, Jan, spent a fair amount of time with us.

Ironically, my son, David, lives in a log cabin surrounded by five acres of trees ‘n stuff and, the partial remains of the old marine hospital is on his land. Small world.

Finally, hope you and yours are enjoying the good, ole summertime with its weather alternating between wet and blast furnace.

I lived in Nome a few years and, recently, temperatures there went up to the 80s. I don’t think anyone there owns a pair of shorts, or even a bikini. That kind of temp is unheard of.

Usually, when you go to the beach there, on the Bering Sea, you wear a parka.

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Glad to see Garth Brooks returning to the musical scene. He is talented, innovative, and a thoroughly nice guy who, even when at his busiest, takes time to converse. I had a couple of good interviews with the gent.

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Finally, kudos to the inventor of the mute button, enabling us to shut up that dopey, irritable Cox Communications father. No. 1 on the aggravation scale.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.

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