Recent gifts will help complete five-bell set at Bell Tower

August 15, 2012
By Bill Krueger

Two recent gifts mean that the five-bell set needed to play the Westminster chimes on the Memorial Bell Tower — currently sounded every hour through a speaker — will be complete in a matter of months.

Ann Fearrington ’72 MR of Raleigh and her two sisters, Florence Fearrington of New York, N.Y., and Jessica Travis of New Orleans, La., are funding the purchase of a bell in memory of their brother, who was a graduate of the College of the Design. Dianne Clinton ’83 of Raleigh and her brother Kevin Speight ’81 of Winston-Salem, N.C., are purchasing a bell in honor of their parents and other family members and the professors who helped them when they were at NC State.

Although the new bells won’t be ready for several months, the largest of the five, a 2,000-pound bell that sounds the lowest chime, will be on display near the Bell Tower during the university’s Packapalooza celebration on Hillsborough Street from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Fearrington’s brother, James Cornelius Pass Fearrington, who was known as Pass, got a job as a fabric designer in North Carolina after graduation and then was quickly hired by a company in New York. But in young adulthood, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

“There was little or nothing they could do,’’ Ann Fearrington says. “It was stunning for his mother. We just couldn’t get beyond it. He was so successful, so adorable, so smart, so loving.” He died at the age of 33 in 1981. “It was a complete heartbreak for all of us… He was a very special, special person.” Pass Fearrington was also a painter, and many of his works are in Ann Fearrington’s home.

Ann Fearrington recently saw a newspaper article about the bells and started thinking about making a donation. “Pass was crazy about music beyond belief,” she says. She talked to her husband and sisters, and decided that donating a bell would be something that would make her brother happy.

Clinton, who has a degree in music from Winthrop University, says she was aware of the mechanical sound of the chimes when she was at NC State.

“For a long time I had thought how wonderful it would be” to have bells in the tower, she says. During a recent visit to D.H. Hill Library with her niece, who is a sophomore at NC State, she saw the display of the three bells that had so far been purchased. “It just knocked my socks off,” she says. “I knew this was something I wanted to get involved in.”

Matthew Robbins with the bell donated by the Class of 2010

Matthew Robbins with the bell donated by the Class of 2010

She and her brother are donating the bells in honor of their parents, Carl and Ruth Speight. Both Clinton and her brother are first-generation college graduates; their father was the first in his family to finish high school. It was her parents’ hard work that helped her get a college education, she says. In addition, the bell honors the many professors she and her brother had who “were so willing to go beyond what they needed to do,” she says. “These were people who were invested in their students.”

Clinton is also hoping to visit the foundry in Georgetown, Ohio, when the bell she is donating is being tuned. The new bells should be completed in the next few months, said Matthew Robbins, director of the Finish the [Bell] Tower project.

The largest bell in the set — which is reserved to chime on the hour — was paid for by the Class fo 2010. One of the other bells was donated in memory of Helena H. Gardner by her husband and their three children; the remaining bell was given by the family of William F. Morris Sr. ’09 and William F. Morris Jr. ’41 in honor of their father and grandfather.

— Sylvia Adcock ’81

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