WEAVERVILLE - On July 23, 2020, at approximately 10:30 p.m., Arthur Columbus “A.C.” McCurry took his last breath in the presence of his children, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It was the end of a day filled with storytelling and memory making. It was as if he knew it was time to go.
As the rest of the world wrestled with changing social norms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, A.C. mourned his wife, Lila. She died in March, and while many days and nights have passed since, he would still call out for her.
Even though their families knew each other previously, the couple didn’t meet until the summer of 1950. A.C. was 27 and with his family as they prepared to bury his sister. Lila and her mother arrived at the McCurry homestead to pay their respects – that’s when A.C. took notice of his blonde, younger neighbor.
He found out Lila needed a ride to Asheville each day for college classes. So, A.C. volunteered to be her chauffeur because it opened the door for the two to get to know one another. Shuttling turned into dating and a proposal wasn’t far behind. The Asheville Citizen-Times announced the engagement in April 1951, and the pair married in June, almost a year to the day they met.
Lila was another gift in a long line that came to him from the Flat Creek valley outside of Weaverville. Save for six years, A.C. lived in and around the same place his entire life – starting Aug. 8, 1923. His early days were spent with his beloved father and mother, the late Troy and Ethel McCurry, working the farm on New Stock Road. He was the second youngest in a home that housed 10 people, including his brothers, the late Ray and Carol McCurry; sisters, Margaret Shuford and the late Velma McCurry, Vera Rector and Ernestine Foster Mandeville; and his grandmother, the late Margaret Ann Bailey McCurry.
As a child, A.C. learned a lot from Margaret Ann, whom he called “Grandma.” She was a hearty woman who knew the hardships of life in Appalachia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A.C. remembered her vividly – the things she did, the food she cooked and how she treated people. The pair shared a bedroom, which also meant A.C. was the one who alerted his father that she needed a doctor in the moments leading up to her death in May 1939. He retold that story many times.
A.C. excelled in school – serving as valedictorian of his high school class. In 1941, the Asheville Citizen-Times noted his status as “the best boy citizen” at Red Oak High School, as honored by the Civitans in Buncombe County. His academic prowess earned him a spot at Lees-McCrae College, but war wouldn’t allow him to complete his studies in Banner Elk.
It was early January 1943 when A.C. said goodbye to his family and boarded a bus to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for his training. He was drafted by the U.S. Army where he learned about “sending and receiving Morse Code by light signals,” as well as the “theory of radio and the operation of transmitting and receiving [Signal Corps Radio] Sets 284 and 694 and Walkie Talkie radios,” according to his discharge papers. In the latter half of 1944, he left American soil and headed to France.
He entered the European theatre of World War II at Cherbourg, moving through Saint-Lô and Paris before the end of 1944. His unit supported Gen. George Patton's army in the Battle of the Bulge, which meant he avoided heavy fighting during that campaign. He eventually crossed the Rhine River into Germany in early 1945 at Mannheim, moving north toward Darmstadt and then southeast to Wurzburg – where his story almost came to a sudden conclusion.
As he told it, A.C. was always carrying a radio on his back, which made him a target. At one point, an antenna broke, and he was ordered to retrieve another one. En route to pick up the new equipment, he was caught in a mortar barrage, and A.C. dove into a foxhole. The move worked, but in that hole, he left something valuable – his dog tags. New ones were issued, and he moved with his company through Munich and concluded the war in Austria.
More than 50 years later, a German educator was searching for World War II artifacts in and around Wurzburg. He came across one of A.C.’s dog tags, which started a roughly 20-year pen pal relationship between the two. The pair eventually met in person when A.C. traveled back to Germany to retrace his World War II footsteps. A.C.’s honorable service to his country earned him the Bronze Star as a member of Headquarters Company in the 71st Infantry Division.
After the war, A.C. completed his college education at the then-North Carolina State College. His bachelor’s degree in poultry science set him up for a career as a state egg inspector. It also meant he eventually built his own chicken house across the street from the family home. All the while, he farmed and, eventually, retired from his state job in 1985.
A.C. and Lila had two sons – Arthur “Art,” named after A.C., and Timothy “Tim.” Both boys had a healthy respect for their dad, and they looked forward to his return home each weekend as A.C. often worked on the road. Art eventually married the former Pamela Sexton and made A.C. a grandparent for the first time with the arrival of Bridget McCurry Gossett. A second granddaughter, Rachel McCurry Houck, was born roughly two years later. Tim wed the former Pamela Huntsinger and added three more grandchildren to the family – Kyle and Evan McCurry and Amber McCurry Foy.
Retirement gave A.C. time to travel; support his church, Salem United Methodist in Weaverville; serve as a chaplain in the Veterans of Foreign Wars; work as a lay pastor; read; and make political declarations from his recliner. He often uttered familiar mountain phrases, like “I wished I may never;” “He lives down yonder;” “Lord, have mercy;” and, if someone told him he couldn’t do something, he would retort, “You’ll see!” He learned how to use a computer in the early 2000s and continued to work on his farm and mow the yard well into his 80s. He loved to sing and had a yearning to live and learn that was deeper than that of anyone this writer has ever met.
In addition to those mentioned earlier, A.C. leaves behind his sister, Margaret Shuford and her husband, Gene; great-grandchildren Emily and Tyler Gossett, Piper and Dylan Houck and Killian Foy; grandsons-in-law Dan Gossett, Jason Houck and Cale Foy; granddaughter-in-law Emily McCurry; and numerous nieces and nephews. In addition to his wife, parents and siblings, he is preceded in death by his great-granddaughter Charleigh Foy.
Anyone wishing to sign the guest book and pay their respects may drop by West Funeral Home between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, 2020 (the family will not be present). The public outdoor funeral service is 11 a.m. Thursday, July 30, 2020, in the Veteran’s Section at West Memorial Park on 40 Roberts Street in Weaverville. Reverend Kent Smith will officiate, and there will be military honors. Please feel free to bring a lawn chair and umbrella.
Flowers are welcome or memorials may be made to Salem United Methodist Church, 9 Salem Church Road, Weaverville, NC 28787 or WNC Bridge Foundation, PO Box 25338, Asheville, NC 28813.
INDIVIDUALS WITH A FEVER, COUGH, SHORTNESS OF BREATH, BODY ACHES OR WHO HAVE TRAVELED OUTSIDE OF THE COUNTRY OR TO HIGH-RISK AREAS, PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL OF THE FAMILY AND DO NOT ATTEND THESE SERVICES. MASKS ARE REQUIRED AT THE PUBLIC EVENT AND SOCIAL DISTANCING IS EXPECTED.
Condolences may be offered to the family under A.C. McCurry’s obituary at https://WestFamilyFuneralServices.com.