‘They built something from nothing’

By on July 1, 2023

Clark Twiddy moderates a discussion with panelists (left to right) Chris Sawin, the president and CEO of the Outer Banks Community Foundation; John Harris, the founder and president of Kitty Hawk Kites; Tess Judge, a local businesswoman and community leader; Charles Evans, a former Nags Head mayor and state legislator. (Photo by Corinne Saunders/OBV)

Panel discusses movers and shakers in Clark Twiddy’s ‘Outer Banks Visionaries’ book

More than 200 people attended a lighthearted event that was both an author reception for Clark Twiddy’s new book, “Outer Banks Visionaries: Building North Carolina’s Oceanfront,and a panel discussion with some of the people featured in it at Jennette’s Pier on Thursday, June 29. A social time with charcuterie, beverages and live music took place from 6:30 to 7 p.m., with the hourlong panel discussion from 7 to 8 p.m.

“’Entrepreneur’…is a French word. It means to build something from nothing. They built something from nothing, and it’s the Outer Banks we all inherit,” Twiddy said as he introduced his panelists. They included John Harris, founder and president of Kitty Hawk Kites; Tess Judge, a local businesswoman and community leader; Charles Evans, a former Nags Head mayor and former state representative; and Chris Sawin, the president and CEO of the Outer Banks Community Foundation.

“In 1974, a young man named John Harris was hanging out in the [popular Nags Head nightspot] Casino and said, ‘I want to start a hang-gliding company. People said, ‘You’re crazy; it will never work,” Twiddy recounted.

Harris told attendees that he got laughed out of one Kitty Hawk realtor’s office after proposing to start a hang-gliding company. But another realtor, Stan White, “didn’t laugh at me” and gave Harris a lead on the Casino’s garage—including an outhouse—which Harris rented for five years “until we proved that we were going to survive” and were candidates for a loan.

“That was the start of Kitty Hawk Kites, and what I think is arguably the business that defines the Outer Banks,” Twiddy said.

David Stick, Andy Griffith, Ray White, George Crocker, Edward Greene, Martin Kellogg and Jack Adams established the Outer Banks Community Foundation (OBCF) in 1982, and 40 years later it “has twenty-five million in assets to share,” Twiddy noted.

He asked Sawin what those founders would have thought about the foundation if they were here today. “I think they’d probably be pleased with how far the organization has come, but I think they’d also be pushing us as hard as ever,” Sawin replied. “The need in our community is always one step ahead of the resources available to address those needs.”

About two decades ago, the North Carolina Community Foundation made an offer for the OBCF to become one of their affiliates, such as the one operating in Currituck. But the board members vehemently rejected that in favor of remaining locally run, according to Sawin. “I think it’s really paid off,” he added. “The work and the growth of our organization is really because of the work of those seven individuals” who founded it.

Judge recalled following her late husband Warren to the Outer Banks from Greensboro in 1989 despite “thinking he’s having a midlife crisis,” she told event attendees. “Back in those days we didn’t have a hospital. We had our wonderful Doctor [Walter] Holton, who’s with us tonight.”

Warren Judge was instrumental in establishing the Outer Banks Hospital, according to Twiddy’s book.

Evans, meanwhile, said he’s always enjoyed helping people and that he opened his law office in 1973 and soon after also began his stint as an elected official. He grew up in Manteo just blocks from the late Marc Basnight, whom he credited for much of what has transpired on the Outer Banks. “We are still realizing the benefits of that today and we will for time to come,” Evans said.

Basnight features prominently in Twiddy’s book, and a photograph of him is on the cover.

“How does a guy who grows up in Manteo…how does he become the longest senator pro tem in the history of North Carolina, and how does he build bridges in 1992 and four-lane highways that link us to the world?” Twiddy asked.

“I think the reason Senator Marc Basnight was so successful was he always wanted to look at the one reason we could do things instead of the ten reasons we couldn’t,” Judge said.

Sawin added that Basnight’s repeated pressuring of former Governor Jim Hunt for more funding for the University of North Carolina system led to Western Carolina, Elizabeth City State University and Fayetteville State University being “entirely free for most students.”

Clark Twiddy addresses the crowd. (Photo by Corinne Saunders/OBV)

“Now the question becomes, based on your journey, what is your challenge for those who are inheriting the world you built?” Twiddy asked panelists.

Evans said the community needs “to maintain the integrity of the Outer Banks” for future generations, while the other three panelists pointed to housing as the main challenge.

“I think collectively we have to do something to support twenty- and thirty-year-olds,” Sawin said. “It’s getting to the point where they can’t afford to live here. I don’t know how it happens, but the challenge I see for us is to make it so that young people can start and sustain careers on the Outer Banks.”

“We definitely need for the community to come together and figure out where some multifamily homes can be built or something that is high density enough to bring the costs down for those young people and give them a place to live,” Harris agreed.

Twiddy signed books, which were available for purchase, after the panel discussion. He told the Voice he was encouraged by the large event attendance: “That tells me there’s a real interest in the past, so I think it’s cool.” He noted that book proceeds will go to the OBCF to fund college scholarships.

“Our entrepreneurs and builders are still here, and we should listen and understand their journey, to understand where we’re going,” Twiddy told the Voice.



  • Surf123

    Lots of self-celebration and self-promotion. Of course there has to be the remark about housing. It’s all talk because nothing will done. The real estate in the county with exception of mainland Dare has a best use of vacation rentals through rental agencies or the online only agencies. No local can pay in a year what can be earned in 3 months. Mainland Dare is where the housing has to be.

    Sunday, Jul 2 @ 9:55 am
  • Entrepreneurs?

    Surf123 hit the nail on the head. The local business community never misses a chance to lobby for high density government subsidized housing.

    The panelists pointed to housing as the main challenge;
    “We definitely need for the community to come together and figure out where some multifamily homes can be built or something that is high density enough to bring the costs down”

    Unfortunately, we can’t build our way out of our local worker housing problem by building more local housing. Given the high demand for new housing on the Outer Banks most of any new housing that is for sale will be bought by non-locals. For every local buyer there are 10 or 100 buyers from VA, MD, PA, etc. Likewise with any new government subsidized rental housing. For every local rental applicant there will be 10 or 100 non-local applicants.

    We can’t build our way out of our local workforce housing problem. The increase in demand for services created by new residents will just make our current local workforce housing problems even worse.

    Sunday, Jul 2 @ 8:23 pm
  • WeSellOBX

    Sounds like a pretentious group! Lots of patting one’s on back. What have they done to promote working people on a minimum wage? Not One Thing.

    Monday, Jul 3 @ 12:39 pm