ELIZABETHTOWN — Hurricane Matthew, mixed with a little fate, brought two people together in an unlikely setting and resulted in a shared interest.
Earlier this month, Elizabethtown resident Bobby Huggins was on a mission to find a hunting magazine. His search took him to Walgreens on South Poplar Street, where he perused the magazine section to satisfy his quest.
He was soon distracted, however, when his gaze fell upon a special commemorative “Newsweek” magazine about Arnold Palmer, who had recently passed away.
“My dad quickly forgot about his search for the hunting magazine and decided he would get this as a gift for me,” said Britt Huggins, an Elizabethtown native now living in Wilmington. “I have always admired and loved Arnold Palmer, just like so many others.”
As he walked out of the store, Bobby Huggins was approached by a woman who had noticed his magazine purchase.
Britt Huggins recalled the conversation: “Sir, I don’t mean to be nosey but I couldn’t help notice that you purchased that Arnold Palmer magazine,” My dad replied, “Yes, my son has always been a very big fan of his and the extraordinary life he led on and off the golf course.”
As it turned out, the woman — Caroline Knight — had never before been to Elizabethtown but was in the area working for FEMA after Hurricane Matthew. There was, however, another twist to come.
“She began to tell my dad that, 15 years ago, she use to work at a small golf warehouse in Tennessee and they sold Arnold Palmer brand name clothing there,” Britt said. “She also stated that Mr. Palmer would come by the golf shop once or twice a year.
“She told my dad how everything positive that was ever said about Arnold Palmer was completely true,” she added. “He was always so kind and warm hearted towards our staff and myself.”
Her story continued, telling Bobby how Palmer would practice golf with the staff and sign anything they asked him to.
“He would just make us feel so special,” she said.
After the short chat, Bobby turned to get in his truck — armed with a special magazine and story for his son. But Knight wasn’t finished. She quickly asked Bobby to hold on for a moment and went to her vehicle.
When she returned, she was carrying an older-version Bay Hill Club golf hat — signed by Arnold Palmer on the bill of the hat.
“As my dad began to laugh and shake his head in disbelief, this wonderful lady explained to him that Arnold Palmer had signed the hat 15 years ago during one of his visits to their golf shop in Tennessee,” Britt said. “She said she was bringing the hat to her son as a present but, for some reason, felt that meeting my dad was not just a coincidence — and she wanted him to take the hat and give it to me as a gift.”
He went on to say that his father was stunned by the offer.
“He explained to her that he couldn’t accept such a wonderful and precious gift,” Britt added. “Her next sentence has continued to bring tears to my eyes over the past week. She told my dad that ‘I just feel that this is something that Arnold Palmer would want me to do, and I know your son will always treasure this gift from his dad.’”
With those words, Bobby accepted the gift and passed the hat — and magazine — along to his son.
“In essence, Arnold Palmer’s legacy of being not just a tremendous golfer, but a loving and kind-hearted person is continuing to live on each and every day,” Britt said. “I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to meet this lady, but I will be forever grateful that she was so kind as to give (my father) this wonderful story and very special gift.”
Britt said he never had the opportunity to meet Palmer in person, but he has continued to learn about the life he led on and off the golf course — including the three-episode special titled “Arnie” on the Golf Channel, which Palmer was a founder of.
“I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this man and the extraordinary life he led on and off the golf course,” Britt said. “I watched in awe of his ‘Army’ and the amount of lives he touched by being a generous, hardworking and caring human being.
“In this world we live in today, we can all use someone to admire and look up to,” he added. “I want to take the time to thank Arnold Palmer for being that role model to so many people, including myself. He was a true icon and no one will ever have the same swagger or leave an everlasting impression like ‘The King’ did for the game of golf.”
A magazine and golf hat has brought the story full circle.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.