By Jason Grubbs
Arnold King – 1944 – 2019
That was my first thought when asked to write a perspective piece on my good friend and mentor, the late Arnold King. He was a man who accomplished such great things, and left behind such a legacy for his community, and trying to describe his impact was a daunting proposition at first.
I started by first trying to list all of the accolades he received over the years: induction into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor Pat McCrory…virtually every major award presented by the Kernersville Chamber of Commerce (including one which is now named in his memory)…nearly every award and recognition ever presented by Rotary International or the Rotary Club of Kernersville…the list goes on and on. I soon recognized that is not where Arnold would want the focus to be. A man of great humility, who preferred to work behind the scenes and who eschewed the spotlight, Arnold would want the focus to be on “doing” rather than talking about honors he had received.
I recalled a conversation Arnold and I had about a year before his death. I was privileged to serve with Arnold on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board. We often rode together to our late-afternoon meetings in Winston-Salem, with me driving and him in the passenger seat as the “navigator,” working our way through all the Business 40 road closures. These rides together were a time that I came to treasure. Always a somewhat private man, alone in my truck, with nobody else around, Arnold opened up in a way that he did not do with just anyone.
Arnold and I shared a great many interests, not least of which was sports, particularly college and local high school sports. This particular day, as we navigated around yet another traffic tie-up, we began discussing coaches, and the impact they have on lives. I listened as Arnold described his relationship with his high school basketball coach, the legendary Gray Cartwright, who coached Arnold at Mineral Springs High School, and then went on to a storied career as the men’s basketball coach and Athletic Director at North Forsyth High School. It was clear how much Arnold revered Coach Cartwright, and that the lessons Cartwright imparted off the court were what Arnold valued the most about their relationship. We agreed that coaches – at least the really good ones – teach lessons that stay with you long after your career as an athlete ends.
As I reflected on that conversation, the thought occurred to me that, despite his many careers (trucking company executive, retail entrepreneur, real estate agent and investor), Arnold may have missed his calling: he would have been one heck of a coach. His competitive spirit, attention to detail, and ability to motivate people would have made his teams incredibly formidable.
In that moment, the realization hit me that, much like that one coach who makes all the difference in the life of an athlete, the lessons that Arnold taught by the way he lived his life will be, for many of us, perhaps his greatest legacy.
Here is just a small sampling of those lessons:
1. Dream big, but don’t just dream, make it a reality: Always willing to “Dare mighty things” as President Theodore Roosevelt once said, Arnold had a passion for Kernersville that was unmatched. There are so many good things happening in Kernersville now (the hospital, much of our commercial development, road improvements, etc.) that were part of a vision for our town he had 20-25 years ago. He had an ability to communicate that vision, to unite people around it, and to convince them that it was not some crazy dream – it could become a reality if we planned for it, worked for it.
2. Make the most of every day: I don’t think I have ever known someone could squeeze as much out of a day as Arnold King. He had an uncanny ability to, as Rudyard Kipling put it “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” He was a man who was not afraid of hard work and who pursued excellence in everything he did. I don’t know that I ever saw him do anything halfway, or in a sloppy manner. He was always prepared, always put together, yet he never seemed to be in a hurry – there was always time to answer a question or give you advice.
3. Remain humble: As mentioned before, Arnold often preferred to work behind the scenes to make things happen. He was an example of President Harry Truman’s quip that it is “amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” He didn’t like to be recognized individually for what he often saw as group accomplishments, even when he was the one who led the way.
4. Pass it on: Take the time to pass along your wisdom to those who will follow behind you. From the dozens of students he tutored through the Rotary Club’s “Study Buddy” program at Cash Elementary, to a whole generation of our town’s civic and business leaders, Arnold took the time to impart lessons about leadership, service, and how to make a difference. His ability to bring out the best in people, made you want to strive harder and to reach for excellence yourself. The seeds he took time to sow will continue to bear fruit in our community for years to come.
5. Leave it better than you found it: Many people are surprised to learn that Arnold was not a Kernersville native, because he very much claimed Kernersville as his hometown. Arnold’s mother’s family (the Sears family) was from Kernersville, and he developed a love for our town early in his life, often coming to town to work in the tobacco fields or rabbit hunt with his uncles. That love of this little town was a driving force behind so much of what he did. His service to Kernersville left a mark on our town that will not be forgotten for many generations.