Nearly 60 years have passed since prominent and popular Lookout Mountain college student Grace Moore – the niece and namesake of the famous singer – died in a car accident, but it almost seems like yesterday to Hugh “Banjie” Goodman Jr.
A University of North Carolina student at the time, he happened to come upon the accident outside of Chapel Hill shortly after it occurred and learned a short time later his old friend from Chattanooga who was visiting UNC was involved.
“The whole deal is still so very vivid in my mind!” he said in a recent email regarding the tragic ending of the life of 19-year-old Miss Moore, the well-liked 1958 Girls Preparatory School May queen and member of the Lovemans department store family.
Goodman’s comments had come after I had written a story in December about taking a trip to the University of North Carolina, one of several visits I have made there in recent years to enjoy the small-town campus and watch some Tar Heel basketball.
I had gone by the University of North Carolina library to see if I could find any previously unknown information about the unfortunate event, which has always intrigued me over the years due to all the positive comments I had heard about Miss Moore. And then, as a naturally curious person, I figured I could also maybe find the location outside of Chapel Hill where the Feb. 21, 1960, accident had occurred.
While I did find some information in some old local newspapers on microfilm and in the UNC yearbooks found at the school’s Wilson Library, I was not completely clear where the accident occurred.
But I went ahead and wrote about the search and visit to UNC in a story that was posted about a month ago. That prompted the email from Mr. Goodman.
During a follow-up telephone interview, Mr. Goodman – who received his nickname as a young child because a woman house helper in
Old Hickory, Tenn., thought his brown eyes could be described as “banjo eyes” – gladly recalled that sad time.
A 1956 Baylor School graduate who grew up on Signal Mountain and whose father worked for DuPont, Mr. Goodman said he was attending UNC as a Morehead Scholar and was a member of the Tar Heel golf team.
He had been dating at the time Kathy O’Lenic, now Kathy O’Lenic Hill, who was a 1958 GPS classmate of Grace Moore and attended St. Mary’s College, which is now just a preparatory school in nearby Raleigh. Miss Moore was a sophomore at the now-closed Briarcliff College outside New York City but had come down to UNC along with college friend Judy Searl from New York for some social activities.
At the time, the popular German dances were being held, a rite of passage that had evidently been started by a German club at UNC years before.
Mr. Goodman said he remembers that Miss Moore’s date for the weekend was David Loughlin, a former McCallie School boarding student and Blue Tornado basketball player who was from Henderson, N.C., in the Eastern part of the state.
He was a member of Zeta Psi fraternity. Although Mr. Goodman said he was not with Miss Moore or any of the fraternity members that weekend, he said that fraternity did have the reputation at the time of being the biggest partying Greek organization on campus.
He was a member of Alpha Tau Omega, he said, and had been to the “Zete” house once during freshmen rush.
He said Miss Moore did not seem like a big party girl, though. She was well liked and, unlike some GPS girls, had been friends with and dated both Baylor and McCallie boys.
He said she could best be described as vivacious.
“I wouldn’t call Grace beautiful,” he said. “But she was always sunny and had such an effervescent personality.”
A former college classmate recalled in a previous story I wrote that this girl with dark-skinned features and dark hair did have plenty of would-be male suitors, though. The classmate recalled Miss Moore’s mailbox often having letters in it from college men wanting to date her.
And her female friends always spoke very highly of her character traits.
Mr. Goodman also knew the family and said that Miss Moore’s mother, Mrs. Robert (Marian) Powers, was a very “elegant” woman who unfortunately saw her first two husbands die both before and right after Grace’s death. The first one was Grace’s father, Lovemans executive Jim Moore Sr., who had cancer.
At the time period of Grace’s visit to UNC, the visiting girls would usually stay with women around town in their homes, Mr. Goodman said.
Mr. Goodman said that Sunday afternoon, which was a gray, late winter day, he was taking his girlfriend, Miss O’Lenic, back to St. Mary’s. It was located about 28 miles from Chapel Hill on North Carolina Highway 54.
However, about 15 miles outside of Chapel Hill, they came upon two cars that had wrecked, and the site of a car fire was evident as well. He thinks the accident must have taken place about 30 or so minutes earlier, as any ambulances had already taken the injured parties away.
He had no idea who had been in the accident, but when he and Miss O’Lenic stopped at a shop that served desserts near her campus, an acquaintance there told Miss O’Lenic the shocking news – Miss Moore had been in an accident.
And, as he soon found out, it was the accident they had passed.
“Kathy was totally distraught that her dear friend had died,” he said.
After trying to console her and letting her off at St. Mary’s, Mr. Goodman returned to his ATO fraternity house and found out that one of his friends, Tom White from Durham, had witnessed the accident. Mr. White had been to the Raleigh-Durham airport to drop off his date and was returning to campus when he saw the accident occur about several hundred yards in front of him on a long straightaway of the hogback-shaped road.
“He was one of the first people at the wreck,” Mr. Goodman said. “According to him, these guys (in the car in which Miss Moore was a passenger) are speeding, and the car went off the road to the right. And in trying to get back on, they flipped it sideways and hit the other car (which was heading in the same direction as Mr. White, but ahead of him).
“These people (in the other car) can’t get out of the way.”
According to the news reports I was able to find during my visit to UNC, Miss Moore and Miss Searl were in a 1956 Pontiac driven by Edward Mark Brooke of the Philadelphia, Pa., area. Also in the car was Charles Lefort of Raleigh.
The driver of the other car – a 1952 Ford convertible – was Edward Whitehurst of Chapel Hill.
While the two young women were killed, the three men in the two cars were injured, with Mr. Brooke the most seriously hurt. However, he was photographed later in a North Carolina yearbook, so he must have been able to recover.
Both of the two men with the Briarcliff students were members of the Zeta Psi fraternity of which Miss Moore’s date was also a member.
Mr. Goodman said he heard that the two women and the others had been at a Sunday afternoon social gathering the fraternity had at a place outside of campus that everyone referred to as “the Schoolhouse.”
He surmised that some must have realized the time was getting late and that the girls needed to get to the airport, and he thinks that might have contributed to the fast speed police said that Mr. Brooke was going before the accident.
Mr. Goodman – a congenial and natural conversationalist who recalled growing up on Signal Mountain when it still had numerous Appalachian mountain folk living nearby – also kept up with Grace’s brother, Charlie Moore, and also knew the older brother, Jim Moore.
The latter was an official with Lovemans in Chattanooga before his death in 1991 in middle age.
Charlie, Mr. Goodman said, was a good-looking guy who had played tennis at McCallie and went to the University of Virginia. Mr. Goodman and Mr. Moore went to Vanderbilt law school together before Mr. Goodman ended up in the business world in insurance in Nashville and became well known in Nashville and throughout the state as a golfer and supporter of golf.
Mr. Moore ended up marrying a woman from Newton, Mass., and became very successful in the financial world in New York and lives in the greater New York City area and has wintered in Florida.
“Charlie had a great career,” Mr. Goodman said. “He managed funds and other people’s money.”
As to what kind of life Grace Moore might have had, one can only guess. Due to the time period in which she lived and her popularity, she would have probably married right after college and enjoyed raising a family initially as a stay-at-home mom.
But who knows, as time wore on and she enjoyed good health well into senior adulthood, this woman who would now be 77 might have been able to turn her upbeat and admirable personality into some positive achievement for herself or others.
As longtime GPS teacher Ulrica Whitaker wrote in a touching letter to the editor of the Chattanooga newspaper a month or so after Miss Moore’s death, and which I quoted in a previous story, “Of all the young girls I have been privileged to teach, none could surpass Grace in the warmth of her heart, none could excel her in the beauty of her spirit, and in the brilliance of her personality.”
But, like her famous aunt by the same name, who died in a plane crash in 1947 near Copenhagen, Denmark, Miss Moore’s life was cut short, as has unfortunately happened to a number of others.
And that brings sadness to Mr. Goodman.
“It was one of those young impulsive acts that happened and did not need to happen,” he said of the accident. “It was a real tragedy.”
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To see the previous story on the visit to the University of North Carolina, read here: