Orange County

Dean Smith’s grave in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery receives a final marker

The headstone of the legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
The headstone of the legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery. bthomas@heraldsun.com

It’s late November and not all of the leaves have fallen. Reds and orange linger in the branches over the old graveyard.

Time and rain have worn various epitaphs illegible.

Students have gone home to eat sweetmeats and nibble off turkey bones with family.

Nineteen-year-old George Clarke was the first person buried here after he died in late September 1798.

Though, one gravestone looks new.

Its medium-gray granite has been purposefully left unpolished to camouflage its age. But the stone, unspoiled by time’s waters, stands out.

Carved letters read, “Dean Edwards Smith / February 28, 1931 – February 7, 2015.”

The former UNC men’s basketball coach retired in 1997 after winning two national championships and as the most successful college basketball coach at that time, with 879 career victories.

The new marker was placed over his grave on March 11 this year, replacing a temporary stand-in.

The air feels cool and the November light casts a little dimly, as it drops shadows through the last of the high-up, yellow leaves.

A family friend, sculptor Robert Mihaly, made the marker. He and Smith’s widow, Linnea, brainstormed for over a year before settling on a look.

The top of the headstone is shaped like a book turned open to its middle. Where the pages meet, a sharp crease falls inward toward sturdy binding.

Mihaly left room for chiseling Linnea’s name in the stone … one day.

The Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower chimes the noon hour as two ladybugs crawl across the pages of the old coach’s tomb in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

The graveyard was purposed for the internment of 18th century students who fell ill at school and whose studies remain incomplete. A low rubblestone wall first stacked in 1835 encircles the dead.

Smith rests under an oak tree.

Surrounding headstones share names with many of the university’s lecture halls.

Notables like Charles Kuralt and Frank Porter Graham are buried here among the 1,700 graves behind Paul Green Theatre. The hallowed ground spans seven acres.

The air feels cool and the autumn light drops shadows through the last of the high-up, yellow leaves.

Standing beside Smith’s burial plot, you can see Carmichael Arena across the street, and small clusters of basketball fans clad in blue disappear into the entrance.

The UNC women’s basketball team was to soon play UNC-Wilmington’s Seahawks. Only the women play basketball in Carmichael now.

Time and rain have worn various epitaphs illegible.

Smith became the UNC men’s basketball head coach in 1961.

For decades, Smith coached his young men in Carmichael Arena, because, the grand 21,750 seat-capacity Dean Smith Center had yet to be constructed – in his honor.

The granite of the coach’s gravestone feels chill to the touch.

Smith became one of the first white coaches to recruit an African-American athlete in the South with the 1966 recruitment of Charlie Scott.

These days, the men’s home basketball games are played in “The Dean Dome.”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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