ELIZABETHTOWN — Doll Priest stood at the door of the PAC building at Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church on Saturday, greeting people as they arrived and departed with hellos and hugs. And though the smile was ever-present, the tears were always just heartbeat away — not because of why people were there, but because they were there.
“This is all so very overwhelming,” she said. “There are lots of people we know and some we don’t, all here to help. It’s a wonderful community to live in, it really is.”
The event was a community-wide fundraiser to benefit Robby Priest, the East Bladen varsity football coach who was diagnosed late last year with colon cancer. He is currently half-way through his chemotherapy treatments.
The guest book for Saturday’s barbecue plate sale read like a list of who’s-who from throughout Bladen County and beyond — from elected officials, business owners, school personnel, law enforcement and Eagles student-athletes.
One of those who came to show support was Peggy Hester, principal at West Bladen High.
“We have to support each other, and we love the Priest family,” she said as she carried several to-go plates. “Rivalries don’t mean anything in these kinds of situations.”
The nearly three-hour event saw hundreds of barbecue plates sold. There was also a silent auction, live auction, T-shirt sale and #RobbyStrong wristbands for sale. All of the proceeds were to benefit the family’s medical expenses — but Robby saw a bigger picture.
“This is overwhelming,” he said. “I’ve told people we didn’t need the money, because we’d be able to find a way. But I’ve been told a few times that we can’t try to stop the blessings of others — and that’s true.
“But even more than the money, just seeing all these faces and the support is really something,” Robby added.”Everyone is really blessing us.”
If there was one person in particular Robby was happy to see Saturday, it was Vaughn Pauls, Robby’s roommate and fellow ballplayer from his college days at St. Andrews. Pauls is now in law enforcement in Charlotte, and nearly couldn’t make it.
“Honestly, there’s a homicide suspect we’re still looking for and I’m on the case, so I didn’t know until the last minute I’d be able to come,” Pauls said.”But I knew I needed to be here. Robby’s like a brother, and it’s obvious he’s had a huge impact on this community.”
That impact surely stretches through the numerous student-athletes Robby has touched, like senior Xavier Wooten, who was the Eagles’ star running back during the 2017 football season.
“He has always been a positive influence,” Wooten said. “Since my freshman year, he taught me to work hard and stay on the right track.”
Back at the door, one of the necks Doll hugged tight was that former West Bladen football coach, Russell Dove, now football coach at South Columbus High.
“I wouldn’t miss this,” Dove told Robby’s mom. “Robby’s a good man.”
The tears nearly fell.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.