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Dunn leaves imprint at Barton, in Wilson

Paul Durham
In this Daily Times file photo from Dec. 22, 1993, Bobby Dunn, left, poses with Barton College President James Hemby on the announcement of the Dunn Family Endowment Fund for the college. Dunn, who died Friday, Aug. 5, at age 84, was a staunch supporter of his alma mater, where he played basketball and tennis, as well as the Wilson sports community at large.

The voice was unmistakable, serving as its own caller ID when Bobby Dunn rang the Times sports department, usually in search of a score for his beloved Barton College men’s basketball team. Providing it was never a chore since it always gave me a chance to chat with a guy who probably has seen as many Bulldogs sporting events as anyone not employed by the college. 

Dunn, an Edgecombe County native who came to Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College to play basketball and tennis in 1956, and soon become a standout in both for the Bulldogs. Dunn liked Wilson so much, he made it his home for 66 years until his death Friday at the age of 84.

Talking to folks in the community about sports is an enjoyable side benefit to being a sports writer and I loved talking to Mr. Dunn as much as anyone. First of all, he was a true fan of Barton athletics, especially the basketball teams, and it was a pleasure talking shop with someone like Bobby Dunn. He’d always apologize for the interruption and I would assure him that it was no trouble at all to talk to him for a few minutes. Sometimes he’d call back for scoring updates. As the years went by, the ability to view Barton games live online and his diminishing health meant fewer calls to check on his Bulldogs, but I knew he was out there listening and then reading our stories about the game and the team.

I’ve written this before about other people but towns like Wilson need people like Bobby Dunn. He wasn’t just an ex-athlete turned fan for his alma mater. He gave generously to Barton, both in time and resources. He was enshrined in the college’s athletic hall of fame in 1991 and was named the college’s alumni of the year in 2006. He later earned the C.J. Johnson Award for his lifetime contributions to Barton. A longtime member of the Bulldogs booster club and a former president, Dunn was recognized as the top booster for the 1986-87 school year.

There was rarely a time when his health was flourishing that Bobby Dunn wasn’t at his traditional spot just inside Wilson Gym, watching his beloved Bulldogs play. Even in recent years when he was less mobile, Dunn would be stationed at his post, intently watching the action.

Dunn, who was a New York Life insurance agent for more than 40 years after a brief spell coaching high school sports in Virginia and Nash County, continued to stay active in athletics throughout his adult life. He played tennis regularly at a high level until golf took over as his main sporting activity.

Bobby Dunn also had an impact in the lives of hundreds of young men by teaming with Pinkie Jefferson to coach the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department’s Midget League football team, the Recreation Park Colts, for many years. Later, as his own sons, Lee and Michael, grew up and became standout athletes at Fike High, Dunn was there every step of the way.

Whether it was organizing golf tournaments at Wilson Country Club or coaching youth football or providing support in many ways to not only Barton College athletics but numerous other endeavors over the years, Bobby Dunn made a difference during the time Wilson was lucky to have him as not just a resident but an invested community member. While he loved watching Barton teams play, Bobby Dunn was never just a spectator. 

With his booming voice and commanding presence, Dunn was a familiar face around town for many years. During his induction into the Barton Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991, then Times sports editor Tom Ham recalled Dunn’s penchant for pulling up beside people he knew at stoplights and, after urging them to roll down their windows, cracked as many jokes as he could before the light turned green.

He got involved in his community and Wilson was the better for it.

I will certainly miss those calls from Mr. Dunn as well as seeing him at Barton games, but I know that he’ll still be rooting for his Bulldogs from above.