At 85, Aberdeen's Robert Page Carries On a Proud Name
The Page family sure does know how to make stuff that lasts.
Robert Page says that when he brought in an electrician to work on the house he's lived in since he was a little boy, the electrician couldn't help but comment on the craftsmanship of the home.
"He said, 'Whoever built this house planned for a 747 to land on it,'" Page says.
His grandfather had the little cottage on Carolina Street built in the style of New England homes.
Page has been around almost as long as the house. He's 85 years old, but still practices law in a converted garage behind the house. His office is cluttered with old documents, knickknacks and children's drawings, some from his grandchildren and others from his secretary's kids.
Page comes from one of the oldest families in Aberdeen's history. His great-grandfather, Allison Francis Page, originally named the town Page's Station. He and his brother, Walter Hines Page, sold land to James Walker Tufts that became Pinehurst.
Back then, Aberdeen wasn't much more than a logging stop. His grandfather's brother may be the best-known member of the family. He served with distinction as ambassador to Great Britain during World War I.
The Pages and the Blues were the two main families in early Aberdeen history. The Pages got into everything, primarily logging and banking. Robert Page says his grandfather was an early conservationist, arguing in a series in The Pilot that loggers should plant a tree for each one they cut down.
Robert Page was born in Carthage, where his father, who had been in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War I, worked for a branch of the Page Trust Company.
"That was only a few years ago," he says. "In 1922."
Though he lived in Carthage and Southern Pines for brief stints as a child, Page is proud to say that he lived in Aberdeen almost his entire life. He remembers the Aberdeen of his childhood as the business center of the Sandhills -- larger than Sanford.
"On Saturdays, the farmers and their families would come into town," he says. "The whole town would be full of people."
The Page Trust company operated across a wide area when Robert was a child. He remembers that the bank had more than 10 branches in central North Carolina.
"When the Depression came," Page says, "I can remember this, though I was pretty young. There was a telephone in the hall. I can remember my grandfather on the phone calling the president. He told him that banks were in bad shape."
You already know the rest of the story. The bank failed. Page says that even though his father knew the bank was going to falter, he didn't withdraw any of his personal savings. Young Robert lost $12 of his own that he had been saving to buy a new bike.
"I was always mad at him that he didn't tell me to take my money out," Page says.
The Great Depression hit this area especially hard, because it was dependent on tourist dollars. Page remembers watching the train go by, filled with hobos headed south to look for work or at least seek out a warmer climate.
"It was a disastrous time for my family," Page says. "I was 10 years old, I guess."
His father did various things to keep the family afloat. He worked for the telephone company and started an insurance business with a man named Paul Barnum, a nephew of P.T.
Aberdeen didn't fully recover until World War II began, Page says, and the military presence at Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall brought economic stimulus.
Page went to Aberdeen High School, where he played on the baseball team. He says he wasn't very good (tennis was his sport), but the team needed everyone. He graduated in 1939 and went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Off to War
Page decided when he was 12 or 13 that he wanted to be a lawyer. His mother's first cousin had been one, and Page had always looked up to him.
"I always thought he had a wonderful sense of humor," Page says. "I'd go to the courthouse and hear him appeal to a jury."
Page started law school after finishing his undergraduate work. The first semester was so challenging that Page decided to go in a different direction.
In 1942, he followed the footsteps of his father and joined the Army. He and some friends went to Woollen Gymnasium on May 12 and enlisted.
After training, Page served as an engineer on a B-29 bomber crew.
Years later, he watched his last mission documented in a program on the History Channel. The show told the story of a plot by high-ranking Japanese officers to kidnap the emperor of Japan because they discovered that he intended to announce surrender the next day.
The plot never unfolded because Page's bomber run forced a blackout of the entire city of Tokyo. During the ride home, the radio operator picked up news of the surrender.
"It was a great celebration," he said. "It sure was."
The crew flew the B-29 back to the States on Dec. 4, 1945. Page jumped on a train home in California.
"I went back to law school," he says. "My first semester, I had thought it was the hardest thing. It was so difficult. When I got back, it was a piece of cake. We really had a good time in law school."
One of Page's professors told him that one of the great things about passing the North Carolina Bar is that you can practice law anywhere in the state. But by that time, Page had seen the world and wanted to go home.
"I never liked any place as much as I did the Sandhills," he says.
In 1948, he began working as a prosecutor. You didn't pick a type of law to practice back then, Page explains, and through the years he's been a defense attorney as well as a civil litigator. He also raised a family.
"The finest thing that happened to me in my whole life was in 1951 when I met Mary Spring," Page says.
She was living in Southern Pines because her father had moved there in hopes that the climate would help his tuberculosis. They met at the tennis courts in downtown.
"Mary died in 1999.
"That was the worst thing that ever happened to me," Page says.
They had four children, two sons (Robert and James) and two daughters (Spring and Johnsie) and four grandchildren.
"They're all just great," Page says. "You worry about your children. You never stop worrying about your children. But your grandchildren -- you never worry about them. I think they're just wonderful."
'Keeps My Mind Busy'
During his years in Aberdeen, Page often served the town. He followed in his grandfather's steps and was mayor a few times.
"To me, the mayor's job was a terrible job," he says. "People are always calling you. I was always so glad to get rid of it."
As he's watched Aberdeen grow and change, he says, there are good and bad sides to it. He hates the traffic, longing for the days when his car and the principal's were the only ones parked at Aberdeen High.
Page says he used to talk with his wife about retiring. But when she died, he decided to keep at it.
"It keeps my mind busy," he says. "I don't work very hard anymore."
These days, Page does mostly property law and probate. He works only half-days. He says he used to like to play golf but doesn't anymore.
"I haven't given it up," he says. "It's given me up."
Contact Matthew Moriarty at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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