Polson packs ’em in at Herb’s Bar-BQ

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 4, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Friends, fans and family lined up outside Herb’s Bar-BQ Friday night, exchanging hugs and handshakes with the television producer who once served burgers and cherry Cokes to many of them.

Beth Polson, Emmy-awarding winning television producer, author and former waitress at the Carolina Road eatery, held a book-signing of her latest novel, &uot;Secret Santa,&uot; there this weekend. The book, co-authored by Robert Tate Miller, was published last year, just months before The Polson Co. turned the book into a television movie.

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Over the years, Polson’s career has taken her far from her native Gates County, N.C., home, where her 95-year-old mother, Pearl Polson, still lives. But she has never strayed far from her roots, say long-time friends who were among the estimated 200 people who stopped by Herb’s for the signing. Polson, now a Los Angeles resident, usually comes home once or twice a month, whenever her mother has a doctor’s appointment.

Usually, she doesn’t have a lot of time to visit old friends while in town.

That didn’t bother Cypress Chapel residents Betty and Walter Bryant, waiting patiently for the crowd to dissolve as they shared a heated Moon pie – a dessert they often had at Herb’s during their courting days more than five decades ago.

&uot;I know Beth Ellen because she lived next door to my grandparents,&uot; said Betty Bryant.

&uot;She the same as she’s always been.&uot;

Larry Williams, a friend of Polson’s since grade school, agreed.

&uot;We had the longest (school) bus ride in the county,&uot; he laughingly recalled. &uot;Beth used to smuggle Pepsi and Lance nabs onto the bus.

&uot;And Beth was 14 when we won a dance contest at the Pythian Castle (in Suffolk). We each received a case of Coke as a prize.&uot;

Williams, who keeps in touch with Polson, isn’t surprised by her successful career.

&uot;She’s the same today as she was a teen-ager,&uot; he said. &uot;She was always focused and interested in people and life around her.&uot;

Beginning in the late ’60s, Polson, a graduate of Old Dominion University, spent a decade working for the working for both The Virginian-Pilot and its predecessor, the Ledger-Star. She left in 1975 to work as a documentary and investigative producer for NBC News.

Today, Polson, who has produced television movies and specials since 1981, has a plethora of awarding-winning – and oftentimes holiday-related – productions behind her. Her most popular holiday movies include &uot;Santa and Pete,&uot; &uot;The Christmas Wish,&uot; and &uot;The Christmas Box,&uot; and &uot;Guess Who’s Coming for Christmas.&uot;

Polson always tries to produce films that send a message to its viewers.

&uot;I’m a people person, first and foremost,&uot; Polson said. &uot;All my stories are driven by people…with one consistent message that lifts the human experience.

&uot;It’s important to me to tell stories that have an afterlife, that give people something to think about the next day.&uot;

All of her movies are steeped in family values, agreed the Rev. Cameron Currin, pastor of

Eureka Baptist Church in Gates County, and his wife, Wanda.

&uot;She’s a down-to-earth person who hasn’t forgotten where she came from,&uot; said Currin, who has known Polson for nearly a decade.

&uot;Her movies are wholesome and clean, what people really want to see,&uot; Wanda added. &uot;They have homespun values.&uot;

In all of her productions, Polson sends a private greeting to her friends and family back home by referencing her Gates County connection.

For example, Corapeake Rest Home is one of the sites featured in &uot;Secret Santa.&uot; Years ago, she even included Herb’s Bar-BQ in one of her movies.

&uot;I do it because I’m very proud of my roots here.&uot;

Polson autographed more than 100 copies of her book Friday and another 25 people placed orders. She will be returning to Herb’s for another signing from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 6.

&uot;This feels like a reunion for me. It like a great trip down memory lane for me,&uot; said Polson. &uot;I’m always surprised to see this many people turn out for a signing.&uot;

Herb’s is usually quiet on weekends, with a handful of faithful regulars who come out for dinner. But once Polson’s followers arrived Friday, there was standing-room-only in the tiny restaurant

Michelle Horton, a regular weekend diner, came in at 5:30 p.m. for dinner. Nearly four hours later, she swapped seats to have Polson autograph her two books.

&uot;This is pandemonium!&uot; said Horton, a guidance counselor at Nansemond Suffolk Academy. &uot;I’m just here to watch.

&uot;I’ve never seen Herb’s like this! It’s great!&uot;