An ode to self
9/14/2023, 6 p.m.
About six years ago, Neverett Eggleston Jr. sat in a narrow back entry of Sugar’s Crab Shack, the popular Chamberlayne Avenue eatery that his son, Neverett A. Eggleston III, opened in 2016.
The seafood walk-up, like most new Richmond restaurants that elicit a buzz, seemed to always be crowded with people lined up throughout the day to place their orders.
And rightly so. Everything on the menu— fried whiting, fried oysters and homemade crab salad sounded oh-so-delicious!
But on this particular day, Mr. Eggleston wasn’t really focused on the food or the restaurant. Rather, he was prepared for the job at hand – talking to a newspaper reporter about the Metropolitan Business League and why he helped create the organization in 1968. In his hands were copies of his neat, three-page résumé dated 1990, a weathered newspaper photo, and an ode that he wrote in 1955, the same year he graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in business administration.
Beautifully and simply stated, with some words capitalized for emphasis, Mr. Eggleston’s 22-year-old self had written:
“To THINK ONLY OF THE BEST and to WORK ONLY FOR THE BEST and EXPECT ONLY THE BEST. TO just be as happy about the success of others as I am about my own. To FORGET THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST and PRESS ON TO GREATER THINGS OF THE FUTURE. To wear a cheerful smile at all times. To give so much time to the improvement of myself that I do not have time to criticize others.”
Certainly Mr. Eggleton’s choice of prosaic words at such a young age, are prophetic.
“To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to greater things.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Eggleston, who died on Sept. 8 at age 90, started or was involved in more than one dozen businesses. In doing so, he followed his own voice.
Whether it was working as the manager of his father’s Eggleston’s Hotel in Jackson Ward in the 1950s and early 1960s, as an investment securities salesman, running a gas station, or opening one of the first Black-owned Golden Skillet restaurants, Mr. Eggleston obviously was fearless. That was no small feat given the segregated era in which he was born and endured a good part of his life.
Despite any barriers he may have encountered —and as a business man there no doubt were many—Mr. Eggleston persevered. And while building successive enterprises, he also found time to secure a private pilot’s license while also indulging in photography, building model radio control planes and playing chess.
He was, in short, a renaissance man.
Again his words, perhaps, provide a clue to his drive.
“To give so much time to the improvement of myself that I do not have time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”
That day at Sugar’s Crab Shack, Mr. Eggleston said one reason he, along with Stafford Flowers and Garfield F. Childs Sr., started the MBL was because African-Americans weren’t allowed to join the Richmond Chamber of Commerce or the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Thus, when the MBL was created, he said, black business owners were eager to join the organization, which was linked to the National Business League founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington.
In addition to the programs, training and networking that MBL provided, its members wanted a sense of unity, said Mr. Eggleston.
His final sentence on that stained sheet of plain worn white paper provides further proof of his intention.
“I LOVE LIFE, THE PEOPLE AND THINGS AROUND ME. I AM THANKFUL FOR BEING WELL BLESSED.”
Rest well, Mr. Eggleston. And thank you for all that you provided Richmond for nearly 70 years.