Last Saturday afternoon, James Hunter Tarpley caused a group to assemble as only the “Angel of Grandin” could—Mayors (current and former), policemen, firefighters, a prominent local developer, and people from all walks of life. As those who gathered to celebrate 86 years of Mr. Tarpley’s life— especially the most recent decades Grandin Village was blessed with his presence—told story after story of his kindness, helpfulness, and a good dose of stubbornness, the contributions of Mr. Tarpley upon Grandin Village became clear.
I had the honor last year of playing a part in recognizing Mr. Tarpley as Roanoke’s Citizen of the Year, a well-deserved addition to his previously awarded Key to the City for his conduct in disrupting a crime many years ago. But it is actually knowing Mr. Tarpley as a fellow 7-11 patron and Raleigh Court resident that I treasure more. Many a weekend morning while retrieving my Super Big Gulp did I see Mr. Tarpley perched in his chair scratching away at his latest lottery ticket or deep in conversation with someone from the neighborhood. Most evenings on the way home from the Municipal Building, I saw Mr. Tarpley tending to the park that carries his name, sweeping a sidewalk clean, or sitting upon a bench—a well-deserved break.
How did this humble man end up with a park named after him, a star in front of the Grandin Theater, the subject of a mural, and the reason so many gathered on a Saturday afternoon? Simple. He cared. He cared for and about others, he cared that his park was clean and brought joy to area children, he cared that others were safe, and he cared that people had a bit of joy in their lives. He cared for Grandin Village and its many people, regulars and those just passing through. As Ed Walker said on Saturday, a good portion of what makes Grandin Village such a special place owes something to that magic brought by Mr. Tarpley. His presence will be missed. His absence presents a big challenge to the rest of us, to care where he no longer is able, and to keep that magic alive.
So, we say goodbye to Mr. Tarpley, but more importantly we say thank you. Thank you for being so real, so authentic, for caring for so many, and most of all for showing us how wonderful life can be when someone takes the time to see others and do what they can do to better the lives of others, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
Roanoke will miss you, Grandin Village will miss you, and I will miss seeing you on those mornings. May we do your legacy justice.
-- Bob Cowell