Remembering Joel Fleishman (blog by Neill McNeill)

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I couldn’t help but look down and check my coat and tie combination when I learned this week of the death of Greensboro’s Joel Fleishman from pancreatic cancer.  He was the ultimate best-dresser. I never saw him when he wasn’t in a coat and tie. But Fleishman was much more, and his last name meant a lot to me and my family.

Fleishman was from Fayetteville where his family owned a large department store on Hay Street. My grandmother, for many years, was the head cashier at the A&P Supermarket a few hundred yards down from the Fleishman’s store and knew the family.

I grew up in Raeford, a small town about 19 miles southwest of Fayetteville. I have fond memories of  my mom driving me over to “Fleishman’s”  to buy clothes in the youth section on the second floor where one of my mom’s former students, William Daniels, ran the department.

My very first coat and tie came from Fleishman’s. We picked them up on a Saturday and I remember how excited I was at the prospect of wearing them to church the next day.

After walking out of Fleishman’s with a couple of boxes of new clothes (They always put the clothes in boxes instead of on hangars or in bags.), my mom and I would walk a couple of doors down Hay Street to eat hot dogs at the Horne’s Drug Store soda fountain.

Later, in high school, I started buying clothes at the Anderson-Little store at Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville where I got to know the store manager, Mike Slusher. Slusher would later move to Greensboro to work for Joel Fleishman in the store Fleishman ran in Friendly Center for more than 30 years.

When I started work at WGHP in the early 1980s, I’m pretty sure Mike told Fleishman of my connection to Fayetteville and the Fleishman family. I was sitting at Tex & Shirley’s Restaurant in Friendly Center one day when Fleishman recognized me, walked up to my table and began a wonderful conversation about my childhood memories of the family’s store in Fayetteville.

I think Fleishman must have eaten breakfast at Tex and Shirley’s every morning because I saw him just about every time I ate there over the years. Inevitably our conversations would include the UNC Tar Heels.

Joel Fleishman was the ultimate UNC fan and a legend in Chapel Hill. He was the manager of the 1957 basketball team that won the national championship that year. He would also help organize reunions for that team. It  was no surprise when I read in the News & Record this morning Fleishman sent a barbecue lunch to the UNC Basketball Office once a year.

The News & Record quotes Coach Roy Williams calling Fleishman, “a great Tar Heel, a wonderful friend, and a wonderful person.” It also quotes the great Lennie Rosenbluth (a member of ’57 team) calling Fleishman, “the most amazing manager there ever could be.”

Fleishman was also very active as a civic leader.  Among many other things, he served as president of the Greensboro Sports Council. And every time I spoke to the Greensboro Kiwanis Club, he’d walk up and thank me for speaking to the group.

People like this don’t come around every day. Greensboro and UNC have lost a great ambassador.

Rest in peace, Mr. Fleishman. I know you’ll be there in spirit when the Tar Heels play Vermont in Greensboro this afternoon. And the next time I eat at Tex and Shirley’s I’ll be sure to raise a cup of coffee in your honor. I’ll also make sure my coat and tie combination works!

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