Jim Duncan remembered; worked at PPCC in ‘50s


In his hometown, Jim Duncan will be remembered as a star football player at Reidsville High School and Wake Forest University who went on to become the second Reidsville native to play in the National Football League.

In Canada, he’ll be remembered as the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders when they won the Grey Cup in 1971.

And on the North Carolina coast, he will be fondly remembered as the long-time head golf professional at Morehead City Country Club.

Duncan, a member of three halls of fame in North Carolina, died Jan. 5, 2011, in  Wilmington at the age of 85. He had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease the last four or five years and died Jan. 5 at Clare Bridge Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Community in Wilmington where he had been a resident since March of 2009.

“He had a neat life,” said Lee Duncan, his son, general manager and PGA Professional at Mid Carolina Club in Prosperity, S.C. “He injured his back playing football in New York and that was kind of a nagging thing for him. But he was pretty active through the early 2000s until he settled into the Alzheimer’s symptoms in probably the last five years.”

James Hampton Duncan grew up in Reidsville and emerged as a football star for the Golden Lions under coach Hap Perry from 1939 to 1942.

"He was one of our stars," said long-time friend and schoolmate Jess Moore of Reidsville. "I gave him the nickname 'Hamp' that he had all through high school. We had a great time together."

Moore and Duncan were seldom-used ninth graders on Reidsville's 1939 state championship team and became regular contributors on the team that beat Elizabeth City for the 1940 title.

The 1941 and 1942 teams were also successful but fell short of the state titles although Duncan emerged as an all-state player his senior year.

"Our senior year, we went 8-1-1 and Jim was one of the stars," Moore recalled. "We started the season over in Danville and they were big favorites. We upset them 14-13 and Jim caught the winning pass with a few minutes to go. He went up between two guys and came down with the winning touchdown."

The season ended in a disappointing neutral field loss to Mt. Airy.

"The year before we had the big riot up in Mt. Airy and the next 12 years they played the game at Bowman Gray Stadium (in Winston-Salem). We lost to Mt. Airy in the last 30 seconds of the game."

Moore said one of the things he remembered most about Duncan's high school days was his growth spurt.

"He seemed to get so big overnight," he said. "He was about 5-foot-8 or 9 when he was in the ninth grade but by his senior year in high school he was about 6-3."

Duncan served in the Navy in World War II but resumed his football career at Wake Forest, where he made all-Southern Conference three straight years, earning team MVP honors as a senior in 1949. Following his senior year, he played in both the Las Vegas All-American Classic and Senior Bowl.

He was a ninth-round selection of the Cleveland Browns in 1950 but ended up with the New York Giants.

He played 43 career games with the Giants as a defensive end and had seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. He was the team's co-captain (with Kyle Rote) in 1953.

During his years with the Giants, Duncan spent the off-season in Reidsville and managed the golf shop at Pennrose Park Country Club.

His coaching career began at Appalachian State and he was the Mountaineers' head man from 1960 to 1964 where his teams compiled a 31-15-2 record in five seasons.

He left Appalachian for a professional coaching position in the Canadian Football League. He was an assistant coach for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for four years (1965-1968) and the head coach of the Calgary Stampeders for five years (1969-1973). His 1971 Calgary team won the Grey Cup, defeating the Toronto Argonauts, led by star rookie quarterback Joe Theismann, 14-11.

It was the team’s second championship and first since 1948. Calgary also played in the 1970 Grey Cup championship game under Duncan, who led the Stampeders to 38 wins over his tenure, the fifth-highest total in club history.

“Jim will be missed by the entire Stampeders family,” stated Calgary president Lyle Bauer on the team's web site. “He was a key figure in the history of our organization and he will be missed by all."

Calgary’s long-time broadcaster Billy Powers remembered Duncan's wit in an article at Stampeders.com.

"One night, I was the first one into his office after we got beat 33-0 by BC and I said, ‘Coach, what do you say?’ He said, ‘Billy, we just got beat 33-nothing by BC and we were lucky to get nothing.’ He had some good lines.”

Duncan retired from coaching and returned to North Carolina in 1974 and began a career as a sporting goods salesman.

"When we moved back to North Carolina in 1974, he was one of the first Nike reps," said Lee Duncan. "He did that for five or six years before he got into the golf end of it."

That led to his turning his interest into becoming a full-time golf professional. After serving an apprenticeship at a course in New Bern and earning his PGA status, Duncan was hired by Morehead City Country Club in the early 1980s.

“Jim and I were good friends and we played a lot of golf together,” said long-time Morehead CC member Tom Potter.  “Everybody liked Jim.”

He stayed there until retiring in the early 1990s and moving to Sunset Beach. He played a lot of golf in his retirement and helped with some Carolinas Section events.

He also stayed busy attending Hall of Fame ceremonies. Duncan was inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame in 1985, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Appalachian State University Hall of Fame in 2001.

"When I was in Florence at the Country Club of South Carolina and we had the Nike Tour (now Nationwide Tour events) there, he was my starter on the No. 1 tee," Lee Duncan said, noting he made a lot of friends there.

He regularly attended the Carolinas PGA annual meeting in his retirement.

"He would stand outside and jabber with everybody," his son said. "That's probably what he loved to do more than anything ... talk about the good ol' days."

The old stories flowed in 1993 when Duncan came back to Reidsville for his 50th class reunion, probably the last time he returned home.

"He and I talked about the old days and had a lot of fun," Moore said. "Everybody was still calling him Hamp."

Moore said that was the last time he saw Duncan.

"I talked to him on the phone a couple times after that. I hadn't had any contact with him in seven or eight years. He was just a great guy."

In addition to his son Lee, Duncan is survived by his wife of 59 years, Elizabeth (Lib) Hellen Duncan of Sunset Beach; sister Glenda Caudill of Lexington; daughter Suzanne Stahl of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; son James H. Duncan Jr. of Wilmington; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 15, in Wilmington and a reception will follow at the home of James H. Duncan Jr.