I was in Charlotte yesterday to attend a memorial service for the father of an old friend when I ran into a whimsical statue of another old acquaintance. Hugh McManaway used to direct traffic from the median of Queens Road at Providence Road across from his church, the place where he used to eat (once the Town House Restaurant) and the grand old house where he lived most of his life.
Hugh was special. I’m not sure exactly how this specialness would have been diagnosed, but he was innocent and childlike in many good ways.
I first met Hugh one night as I was walking down the street later at night than I probably should have been out. As I walked passed Myers Park Methodist Church, I was met by a large man wearing a hat, raincoat and carrying some pamplets. He introduced himself and handed me the pamphlet which turned out to be some sort of religious tract. I didn’t get to read it before Hugh started talking telling me that he had a key to the church, I think he meant a chapel there. I was sure, for a second or two at least, that I was meeting some sort of prev and that the chapel invite was something else. But that was only for a second or two, Hugh’s voice, his body language and his eyes peering through what I remember were thick lensed glasses told me otherwise. Hugh was just explaining something that was interesting to him and he thought to me.
I saw him other times eating at the Town House where they delivered his meal to him. No money was exchanged. Hugh wasn’t eating for free. His trust fund paid the Town House as it paid his other bills. Hugh was alone by this time and, I didn’t know it, in his decline.
A few years later he would be placed in a nursing home, his house restored and declared historic home (for its architecture — not for Hugh).
Someone, not sure who (statue is credited to Elsie Shaw), memorialized Hugh with a highly polished statue placed at his station in the median. Soon, he became subject to good natured decoration and signs congratulating newly weds (usually those married at Hugh’s church, Myers Park Methodist) and flowers.