When Stars Align

BY Lee Lowrimore

Behind the Cotton Exchange shopping center in historic downtown Wilmington there is a walkway lined with bronze benches that have a great view of the Cape Fear River. A graceful arbor with flowering vines seasonal plants and distinctive banners blowing gently in the waterfront breeze completes the scene and provides a comfortable place to rest and view the eight-pointed stars that line the walkway.

A nonprofit corporation that organized in 1994 Celebrate Wilmington! began as a partnership between UNCW the (now-defunct) Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear and the community of Wilmington. In 1997 the group developed the idea of a Walk of Fame. The idea was to recognize those people who have lived worked and/or enriched the Wilmington-Cape Fear region and attained national or international recognition in one of the following fields: the arts business education literature broadcasting/television/film journalism sports science medicine the military politics or government.

Roman Gabriel a three-sport star at New Hanover High School who became a starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles was the first honoree in 1997. Since that time 15 others have been so honored their names and signatures showcased in stones with eight-pointed stars set along the walkway.

This number includes sports stars Althea Gibson (2000) Sonny Jurgensen (2004) Meadowlark Lemon (2006) opera star Caterina Jarboro [born Katherine Yarborough] (1999) country music singer-songwriter Charlie Daniels (2001) writers Robert C. Ruark Jr. (2000) and Don Payne (2005) visual artist Claude Howell (2002) and television journalist David Brinkley (2001).

This year on September 28 Dr. James H. Goodnight will be inducted into the Walk of Fame. Dr. Goodnight founded the computer software firm SAS located in Cary and will be honored for his achievements in business as well as his promotion and support of educational programs.

“Anybody can nominate someone for the Walk of Fame ” says Celebrate Wilmington! president Karen Whipple. “Plus we advertise in the local newspapers for nominees.” A committee reviews the details of the nomination letters to ensure a good fit with the mission of the organization and to verify their connection with Wilmington. The committee then makes its recommendation to the board of directors which selects one or sometimes two inductees.

One crucial factor is that inductees must be able to attend the ceremony. “There are numerous candidates that we would love to induct into the Walk of Fame but their schedules do not allow them to attend ” says Whipple.

Strolling beside the Cape Fear River breeze blowing boats motoring out to sea you are likely to arrive at the Cotton Exchange and Wilmington’s Walk of Fame. Take a moment to stop rest and reflect on the names of the people who have been honored with stars. They all have at least one thing in common: Wilmington made its mark on them and they in turn made their marks on the world.

The Rising Star

 Dr. Jim Goodnight founder and CEO of Cary-headquartered SAS one of the largest software companies in the world with 43 000 sites in 111 countries and more than 10 000 employees will be honored on September 28 with a star on the Wilmington Walk of Fame. Dr. Goodnight is listed in Forbes magazine that great chronicler of wealth as one of the richest (52nd on the list) people in America.

Dr. Goodnight and his wife Ann are humanitarians philanthropists and patrons who have changed the state of North Carolina in ways appreciable both immediately and for the future.

Dr. Goodnight a Wilmington native now calling Cary home has founded with his wife the Cary Academy a technology-driven private school The Umstead Luxury Hotel & Spa a Five Diamond-rated destination and turned SAS into a museum-quality executive campus with original art and sculpture pieces.

The Goodnights have also collected and decorated their lakeside home with exquisite and important original artwork and eventually all these pieces will be given to the N.C. Museum of Art.

As part of their community concern and activism the Goodnights have joined the conversation regarding Wake County public school system funding. Ann Goodnight leads a campaign supporting a $970 million bond — enough to build 17 schools and renovate and repair many others. As always Dr. Goodnight supports her and has spoken out for the cause himself.

Dr. and Mrs. Goodnight maintain a house in Wrightsville Beach. — Emily Russell