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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

No. 107 Harkers Island "Professionals" Part 3 "Raymond Guthrie"


One of the men whom people on the Island looked to was Raymond Guthrie (b. 1916) He lived almost directly across the road from our house and I knew him well. For years he ran a little store that was known  simply as "Raymond's Store" even after he had passed it on to others. But he was best known, especially in our neighborhood, as our community “lawyer,” despite the fact that he had never studied for even a day in a school of law. So, obviously he was not an attorney in a technical sense, but without so much as a high school diploma he was the one people looked to when they needed to make their case in the form of a letter.

Raymond Guthrie, the Island's "Lawyer"
When did people go to Raymond for help? When a catalog order from Sears-Roebuck didn't show up or arrived already broken; when an outstanding bill came from a lender who threatened collection; when a appeal was needed to a congressman for a son or husband who served in the military and wanted a transfer closer to home, or when someone needed to complete an application to work for at the military base in Cherry Point or on the ferry that left from Cedar Island. For these and a hundred other scenarios, Raymond Guthrie could prepare a letter to plead your case - and usually for a fee of five dollars or less.

Raymond never married. He shared a home with his parents and a brother, Charlie Callis (b. 1914). After the passing of their parents the brothers grew increasingly eccentric and became the subject of gossip. They seldom ventured far from our neighborhood, leaving only in their fishing boat to go sink-netting at and around Cape Lookout. But they, especially Raymond, had a cosmopolitan interest that was evidenced by the piles of magazines and newspapers that crowded his living room floor and tables. And he would tell us stories of calling telephone information, a toll free call then, to distant parts of the world just so he could say "I spoke to someone last night in New Zealand, Portugal, or Kenya!" Charlie Callis, who had served in the army during World War II, would sometime disappear for weeks at a time, only to return home and announce that he had been back to Scotland visiting war-time friends.

Eventually, their home, once immaculately kept, became a haven for feral cats and other animals. He even had a pig that grew so large that it could no longer stand on its own. Eventually, in a case that drew national attention -- yes national -- the two were blackmailed for the return of one of their favorite cats ("Cry Baby"), with a ransom demand of more than a thousand dollars. Happily for Raymond, and for the cat, their pet was returned without any injury and the perpetrator was arrested.
Charlie Callas Guthrie while serving in WWII

But now, two decades after both brothers have passed and their house completely renovated, Raymond is remembered mostly as an advocate and attorney who could write and say things on paper in away that his friends could appreciate, and that others would understand.

In more ways than one, the Island that I knew as a boy was a web of shared skills and talents that more than substituted for the lack of trained professionals. In a very real sense, because of people like Charlie Nelson, Maxwell Willis and Raymond Guthrie, Harkers Island was a “barter economy” when it came to professional services. There were many other men and women who had special talents that were known and utilized by their families, their neighborhood and by the whole Island.

The professional offices of Beaufort and Morehead were much farther away than the actual distance that could be shown on a map. Even if they had been closer, most Islanders could not have afforded their services. But because we had each other, that distance and price didn’t matter quite as much.

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