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Wilson lost a little bit of its soul Thursday with the death of Lee Gliarmis.
Most people probably knew him from Dick’s Hot Dog Stand, the world-famous restaurant that his father, Socrates, opened in 1921 and Lee operated from 1950 to the day he died. Plenty of others knew Lee from his work with the North Carolina Baseball Museum and the Wilson Hot Stove League, both of which he played a major role in founding.
Lee’s support of Fike High and Barton College, especially the athletic programs at both institutions, brought him close to many other folks. Then there are the hundreds of young men that Lee coached through Wilson Parks and Recreation Department athletic programs that have grown up and had families, some with kids who later played for Lee.
If you knew “Mr. G” at all, you probably considered him a friend. If you had only met him briefly, it’s likely he made an impression on you. Most of the time that was just by him offering a kind word and that smile, as world famous as Dick’s hot dogs, with a twinkle in his eyes.
I know that I’m hardly alone in uttering this sentiment, but Lee Gliarmis is one of the finest men I’ve ever had the privilege to know. There was never a time I saw him or spoke with him on the phone that I didn’t come away from feeling better. Most of the time our conversations centered around sports, often having to do with the Hot Stove League or high school sports or whatever we ended up discussing. “Mr. G” was 38 years my senior, but there were times when it felt like we were buddies hanging out at the ball field, just shooting the breeze and talking sports. He had that quality, rare among men, to listen to and not just hear what others were saying.
I can think of no better role model than he was. He worked hard at his restaurant, a place that all of Wilson came to think of as its own, but he worked harder for his family. And if you knew Lee, you knew that family always came first. That’s why he came back to Wilson after graduating from UNC. His father could no longer run the hot dog stand, or “store,” as Lee always called it, on his own. Lee’s older brother, Richard, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II in 1944 and so, Lee, a physical education major and three-sport athlete at UNC who aspired to become a coach, put aside his ambitions to run the family business.
For more than 60 years, Lee was at Dick’s every day (except Mondays and major holidays) working alongside his four kids and later, grandkids, when they were old enough to help out while his beloved wife, Janie (the “real hero” of the family as he once told me), kept the Gliarmis household running. His schedule changed a few years ago when Janie became ill and Lee spent more time at home taking care of her. When she moved into an assisted care facility, Lee was there with her every day until she died Feb. 6. There is no better example of true love than the dedication Lee and Janie had for one another.
My heart goes out to Ricki, Soc, Chrisanne and Lee and their families for the loss of both of their sweet parents in such a short time.
It’s well documented what Lee Gliarmis has meant to Wilson over the years through his community service. He helped start the Wilson Hot Stove League in 1975 and its annual banquet is one of the longest continuously running in the state.
Lee was instrumental in the renovation of Fleming Stadium that led to the establishment of the Wilson Tobs summer collegiate baseball franchise, which has been a staple of life in Wilson for more than 20 years. Lee never stopped working to improve the N.C. Baseball Museum and, hopefully one day, the long-awaited third wing of the building will be constructed.
He helped establish the Barton athletic booster club and while his name will always be synonymous with Fike High athletics, Lee always supported all Wilson teams.
His work as a volunteer youth sports coach allowed Lee to help influence the lives of many young men over the years. Especially memorable were his many years coaching the Maplewood Redskins of the Midget Football League, including some classic battles of wits with the late Walter Blake, the Park Avenue Packers head coach. There’s no telling how great of an impact he made on the lives of those young men, but I will guarantee you that just about any of them who played for him have great memories of that special time in their lives.
His involvement with the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame helped keep Wilson visible on the statewide sports scene and while he never sought to be included, his well-deserved induction into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2014 was certainly a special honor to him.
Even with everything he did in his life to help make Wilson a better place, I think his greatest contribution was his kind, gentle manner. In a world full of strife and contention, we often forget how much a kind word and a smile can mean.
Lee never forgot that and we are all blessed to have known him.