By Tom Roberts

Posted August 09, 2005 by Myrtle Bridges

My great grandmother gave birth to my grandfather in Fayetteville, NC on August 9, 1889. Tom Rose 
was the seventh of eight children born to George McNeill and Augusta Jane Steel Rose. His middle name 
came from his great grandfather Duncan Rose, but I do not know where his first name came from. He grew 
to be about 5'11" tall weighing 156 pounds with gray eyes. The ladies considered him to be a very 
good looking man with his light brown hair, which turned gray as he aged. He also lost a good bit of 
it before he turned 50 years old. 
My grandfather; born during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the reign of Queen Victoria of England 
and the building of the Eiffel Tower; grew up during the industrial revolution in the 1890's and early 
1900's. In 1900 the population of the United States was around 70,000,000, but only around 4000 people 
lived in Fayetteville. The towns population exploded during World War I with the building of Fort Bragg 
in 1917. Young Tom Rose graduated from Fayetteville Graded School on May 10, 1905 at the age of fifteen. 
The class consisted of eight woman and three men. My grandfather gave an oration " The American Flag"  
during the graduation exercises. In 1905 only six percent of all Americans graduated from high school. In 
addition, the life expectancy in the United States was only 47 years and a large majority of the population 
lived on the farm.
The 1905 Fayetteville, NC Graduating Class. Tom Rose is on the first row on the left and three of the students did not graduate.
After graduation Tom Rose 
attended Horner Military School 
in Oxford, NC in the fall of 1905 
and the spring of 1906. James H. 
Horner, M. A., LL. D., founded 
the school in 1851 in Oxford, NC. 
The school sought to prepare boys 
for college and to develop character, 
first; body, second and scholarship, 
third. In 1913 the barracks burned 
and in 1914 the school moved to the 
Myers Park area of Charlotte. During 
the mid 1910's the school enrolled 
around 150 boys in five grades. 
During the year that he attended 
Horner, he achieved the rank of 
third sergeant company B and 
received four medals. The four 
medals included Drill, Neatness, 
Declaimer and SH. The Declaimer 
medal, for some speaking award, was in the shape of a shield and had two rifles lying across 
each other. The school presented to him the SH medal for some achievement or award.
When he went off to college, he never had any doubt about what he wanted to do in life. As an early teen 
he became interested in electricity and often played with a "shocking machine". Therefore, he 
majored in electricity and graduated from The University of North Carolina (UNC) with a BS degree, 
Certificate in Electrical Engineering in 1910. While at UNC he took courses in English, Latin, French, 
math, drawing and science. The science courses included three years of chemistry and four years of physics. 
During his last three years, he took more than one course in physics each year. These courses must have 
fulfilled his requirement for his Certificate in Electrical Engineering. The courses lasted for one year 
rather than for a semester. He made mostly grades of 3's and 4's his freshman year but improved to 1's and 
2's by his senior year. My grandfather made his best grades in physics [electricity].
On campus he lived in Carr Dormitory for three years and the S.A.E. fraternity hall his senior year. He 
involved himself in a number of activities while at North Carolina including - German Club (a social dance 
club), Gorgon's Head (a social club), Philanthropic Society (a debate/speaking club) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon 
Fraternity. In addition, he played class baseball during his freshman and sophomore years and scrub football 
in his junior and senior years playing quarterback. During his senior year he started on the varsity baseball 
team playing right field and had 12 hits in 55 at bats for an average of 218. The average for all starters 
varied from 148 to 270. Beside his senior picture in the UNC 1910 Annual was the following:"Yet the life 
of a whole life dies When love is done""Corporal"

"Our prize winner in good looks. Has lots of friends and is always making more. Dresses well, but can 
make himself right at home in a pair of overalls doctoring motors, dynamos, and engines. Knows what he 
is about and takes no back talk. Had a beautiful boot on Ed Latta, but deserved it. Has been unfortunate 
in love, and it took him until Christmas to retain his normal happy mood."

The Horner medals and the UNC baseball statistics are in the possession his late son's children. The 
other information came from the UNC transcript and 1908 to 1911 University of North Carolina annuals.
Sometimes in around 1912 my grandfather and six of the Carolina engineering graduates purchased a car 
and drove it from the east coast to the west coast. Granddaddy said that he joined them by train in St 
Louis, MO, because he had been in Fayetteville, NC proposing to grandmother. He claimed that they drove 
the car across America, and it had a number of mechanical problems including over 200 flat tires. When 
they reached the west coast they backed the car in to the Pacific Ocean. After selling the car they 
returned east by train.
After graduation from UNC my grandfather moved to Schenectady, NY to work as a student engineer for 
The General Electric Company. The average United States worker made around $500 per year or 25 cents 
per hour in 1910. I do not know what electrical engineers made per year, but mechanical engineers 
earned around $5,000 per year during that time or around $100,000 in 2006.
Tom Rose second left on a hike to Helderberg Mountains in New York, Labor Day 1911
The city of Schenectady is located on the Mohawk River 
that feeds into the Hudson at nearby Albany. My grandfather 
claimed in the winters, when he lived in New York, that the 
river froze solid enough for him to walk across. He also 
related to me a story of men cutting ice from the river, 
and storing it for later use the following summer. He enjoyed 
hiking and boating in the summer in New York and took a lot of 
pictures of his adventures. The pictures showed him and his 
friends hiking in rugged territory while wearing ties. These 
pictures are in the position of the author in Greensboro, GA. 
In 1912 he moved to Baltimore, MD to work as an Electrical 
Power Engineer for Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power 
Company located on Lexington Liberty Street.
On a visit home to Fayetteville in the early 1910's my grand-
father met Lila Williams. His brother Augustus, who married 
Lila's Aunt Jean Evans, likely introduced them. They had a 
long distance courtship between Baltimore, MD and Cumberland Co, NC. My grandfather wrote my grandmother a 
number of letters and an eleven page letter dated August 8, 1914 still survives today. Some unedited quotes 
are as follows: "you are, indeed, the sweetest girl in the world…I wish that I could have you in 
my arms….I'l return the twenty-five kisses…if… with me to-morrow…we could go to church 
together and hear a good sermon. We could get a nice Sunday dinner…sitting there overlooking the lake 
with the moon overlooking us, we could tell each other the sweetest story ever told. Oh Lila, how I do love 
you." On October 27, 1914 they married at her Evans ancestral home, Woodland, in Cumberland Co, NC. 
After the wedding, the young couple moved to Baltimore, MD. 

While in Baltimore the members of The National Electric Light Association elected him chairman of the Baltimore 
Consolidated Company Section. He was able to keep the section active (164 members) even during World War I and 
the major flu epidemic of 1919. Information on his activities in this association is in the possession of the 
children of Thomas D. Rose, Jr.
Tom Rose with two unidentified ladies in the mid 1910's
In January 1919 he came down with the flu and traveled to Fayetteville 
to obtain care most likely from his brother Augustus, who was a physician. 
My grandmother, also, was sick following the birth of her second child with 
severe phlebitis. While in NC, he developed very severe headaches. The doctors 
recommended that his teeth be pulled to relieve his headache. The teeth were 
pulled, and he wore false teeth the rest of his life. Doctors often recommended 
pulling teeth as a means to combat and prevent infections from spreading during 
this time. He most likely had a severe infection around his teeth during his 
bout with the flu. This practice shows the primitive nature of medical science 
in the early 1900's before antibiotics.
Later in 1919 the family moved from Baltimore to Fayetteville, most likely 
to be near their families and to get away from the colder northern winters. The 
1920 census listed them living in a rented home on Hillside Avenue with their 
oldest two children and my grandfather working as a buyer in the cotton business. 
The street is just west of downtown Fayetteville. On November 17, 1920 my grand-
father's father, George M. Rose, transferred a lot measuring 100 feet by 267 feet 
on the west side of Hillside Avenue to Thomas D. Rose and Lila W. Rose. My great 
grandfather helped several of his children with a lot so they could build a home. The land originally came from Augusta 
Steel Rose's parents. In the early 1920's, my grandparents, I believe, built a brick front house on this lot on Hillside 
Avenue. The 1930 Cumberland Co, NC census listed the value of the home at $10,000.
Tom Rose with with Lila Williams (seated) in the mid 1910's
In Fayetteville, he worked in the cotton business as Secretary/Treasurer of Cape 
Fear Bonded Warehouse Company until 1923. In 1923 he took a part time job as the City 
Engineer of Fayetteville, a job he held until 1934. He claimed to be an electrical 
engineer working for the city government according to the 1930 census. He took a 
number of pictures of the projects he was responsible for, including the Ray Avenue 
and Halfway Bridge projects, as well as, sewerage disposal projects. The picture album 
is in the possession of the family of Thomas D. Rose, Jr. In 1923 my grandfather, also, 
worked as engineer and manager of the contracts department for Hunter Brothers Electrical 
Company. Sometime later he started his own civil engineering company designing culverts, 
bridges, and disposal plants. The business did well and he made six or seven thousand 
dollars a year during the nineteen twenties. This was a lot of money during the nineteen 
twenties and equivalent to about $80,000 in 2006. In the early 1930's, work dried up 
because during the depression and the area had little need for engineering work. He had 
paid all but the last year or so off on the mortgage on his home that he had built during 
the 1920's. Since he had no money to repay the mortgage, in 1934 the family lost their home 
to the bank. In fact, he amassed some amount of debt during the depression all of which 
he later paid off with interest.

During the depression he struggled mightily to support his family by moving from one place 
to another as jobs became available. He first moved his family from Fayetteville to 
Charlotte and then, in September 1934, to Chapel Hill, NC working as an engineer for 
the Federal Government with the Public Works Administration, the Construction Division. He served as resident and 
traveling engineer inspector and then the state engineering inspector. The job required a lot of traveling across 
all parts of North Carolina. He did not like to travel and did not like working for the federal government so, 
as soon as, the economy improved in 1938, he returned to private practice working in the Gilbert C. White Company 
in Durham and then Mr. Breeze's Architectural Firm in Shelby, NC. His family moved to Shelby in late 1938 and then 
in late 1940 they returned to Chapel Hill. He continued to work for Mr. White until 1946 when he again established 
his own engineering firm. While self employed, he designed the Lake Fisher Dam, a water treatment plant for the 
city of Concord, the Richland Dam for Greensboro, and a sewage treatment plant for Chapel Hill. At some point during 
this time, he became part time city engineer for the town of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina. For 
six months during World War II, he taught mechanical drawing in the math department of The University of North Carolina.
Tom Rose in the early 1930's
On July 6, 1949 the city of Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen elected Thomas D. Rose town 
manager starting on July 15 at a salary of $5,000 a year or about $40,000 in 2006 
dollars. He served for twelve years under three different mayors and his salary ranged 
from $4800 to more than $6000 per year plus up to $800 in a car allowance. The citizens 
elected the Mayor, a part time position, and the Board of Aldermen. The Aldermen then 
elected the town manager, who worked full time running the day-to-day affairs of the 
city. The Chapel Hill Weekly newspaper reported, "If there was ever a case of the 
office seeking the man, not the man seeking the office, this was it. The aldermen…
offered him the post, but he declined because of his unwillingness to quit his profession 
of engineering." After reconsideration for a few days he accepted the position. 
Years later he admitted that he was not making a very good living at engineering during 
and after World War II. My grandfather earned the respect of the mayors and the University 
of North Carolina administration and he, with his engineering background, did the job with 
great distinction. On July 10, 1961, at the age of 71, he announced his retirement as Town 
Manager effective September 1, 1961. He claimed that Chapel Hill needed someone younger to 
manage the rapidly growing city.

On August 14, 1961 the Mayor and Aldermen of Chapel Hill gathered at their regular meeting. 
Alderman Giduz, acting as spokesman, read the following unedited statement of appreciation 
to Thomas D. Rose. "During the last dozen years the Town of Chapel Hill has tripled in size, budget, problems 
and opportunities. An able public servant has competently handled all four of these matters. Thomas Duncan Rose has 
been a Town Manager who truly sensed the spirit of Chapel Hill. Though a civil engineer by profession, he has been 
a town manager who realized that this municipality is not so much an area of 2,500 acres, nor a taxable valuation 
of $30 million, as it is home of 12,000 persons who know it as the Southern Part of Heaven.
During his tenure Town Manager Rose has been totally concerned with the welfare of the town - concerned even at 
the cost of his own health. He has been careful, cheerful, forthright, and completely sincere. He has handled the 
public treasury with the responsibility of his Scotch ancestry, while planning for the future of the growing Town
with the vision of his long years of experience. His associates on this Board of Aldermen could cite the many 
accomplishments of Thomas D. Rose in terms of the Town's added physical assets. But they prefer to declare more 
simply, and most sincerely, that he has made this municipality a better place in which to live.
In speaking (sic) the gratitude of all citizens of Chapel Hill the Board of Aldermen hereby formally expresses 
its appreciation to Town Manager for his capable and devoted public service and further declares its pleasure 
in the realization that the Town will continue to enjoy his services as the Town Engineer."

After his retirement from the city on September 1, 1961 he opened an office in the Vine Professional Building 
to do municipal and civil engineering design and to carry out his duties as Chapel Hill city engineer. He designed 
a sewer plant for Hillsboro as his first project. This engineering firm later became Rose, Pridgen, and Freeman. 
They designed dams, sewerage disposal plants, etc. He worked with this firm until he sold his interest to his 
partners in his early 80's.
My grandparents lived in Chapel Hill in their ladder years and were greatly respected by their family and friends. 
They loved being home and having their children and grandchildren pay them a visit. They lived a very modest lifestyle 
rather than living high like so many families do today. This helped them during the ups and down of the economy. 
I remember my grandfather as a bright man of great integrity. He was friendly but a very conservative and unassuming 
man. I believe, as a young man he most likely was outgoing and fun loving. This is based on pictures taken of him 
in the 1910's in a party setting and because of all of the social activities he was involved with while at The 
University of North Carolina. Age and the depression most likely had a great effect on him. As a young man my 
grandfather had a great interest in gadgets. He would be truly fascinated with all of the computer/cell phones/digital 
cameras, and other high tech gadgets of the 2000's. During the 1920's he purchased the first radio in the neighborhood. 
These early radios did not have speakers, only earphones. If two people wanted to listen to, for example, a sports 
event, one would remove the earphones from the headset and each person would hold one of them next to their ear. He 
kept up to date on the latest cameras and took and developed lots of pictures of his family and events during the 
first half of his life. 
My grandfather was involved in the community activities; he served in the Rotary Club, as president of the club, and 
as a member of the University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill serving on the board of deacons and as an elder. He 
was a quiet, honest, decent very well respected engineer. While running his own business during the 1960's and 1970's 
he had the reputation of being an excellent engineer. He received a lot of business and, for the first time in his life, 
was financially secure. He was reluctant to sell himself, so most of his private engineering work came by word of mouth. 
My father, who was an excellent salesman, once said with my grandfather's engineering talent and his sales talent they 
would have gone far as a team. 
Family in late 1930's Eliza, Sara, Annie Lea, Tom, Lila, and Tommy
My grandfather was very bright and loved to 
read history, particularly about the Civil War, 
Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. His father had 
served in the Civil War, and this must have peaked 
his interest. He studied his family history as 
early as the 1950's and helped his nephew Ben Lacy 
Rose with the book on Alexander Rose and his 
descendents. He loved sports and closely followed 
UNC football and basketball. He and his daughter 
Sara would diagram each play during a Carolina 
football game. He also enjoyed baseball since he 
played it as a young man. I can remember visiting 
him while in his 80's and being amazed at his 
knowledge of the statistics of the major league 
baseball players. In his retirement, he enjoyed 
being a ham radio operator and communicated with 
people from all over the world. He volunteered at 
the local hospital assisting and reading to older 
patients, who were most likely, younger than him. 
I also marveled at his intelligence and how his 
mind was as sharp as a 90 year old as it must 
have been as a 40 year old.

Politically he was a very conservative man. He read extensively about Barry Goldwater and was elated when Mr. Goldwater 
won the Republican nomination for President in 1964, but disappointed when Goldwater did not win in November. I believe 
many of his conservative beliefs were formed during the depression while working for the government and seeing all of 
the waste.
My grandfather was basically healthy all of his life, although he had sinus problems and suffered with stomach and 
intestinal maladies during the second half of his life. In addition, he struggled with respiratory problems in the 
winter. These problems improved after he retired from the town of Chapel Hill. His doctor claimed he had a heart 
attack in the late 1950's after he complained of chest pains. This was one of the reasons he gave for retiring as 
Town Manager of Chapel Hill. He, like many men of his time in North Carolina, smoked for at least 75 years, first 
cigarettes and later a pipe. In September 1981 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His cancer spread fast and he died 
on December 26, 1981. His death certificate indicated he died of a melanoma that resulted from a spot on his neck, 
although he had developed lung cancer before the melanoma was discovered. I last visited him in August of 1981 while 
he and my grandmother were living at Carroll Woods, a retirement community in Chapel Hill. His energy level was very 
high for a 91 year old, and his mind was sharper than mine. He is buried beside his wife in the University Cemetery 
in Chapel Hill, NC. Throughout his life he demonstrated the virtues of honesty, morality, responsibility, hard work 
and devotion to his family. He became a great role model for his grandchildren and hopefully his young descendents 
who read his life story will be so inspired.

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