The Intrepid Nonagenarian
Brunswick County native WJ McLamb, known for his philanthropic spirit in his home county, has no plans to slow down at 90.
In 2020, when COVID-19 ravaged the United States and stay-at-home mandates were enforced, Michael McLamb went to speak to his mother, Sibyl. He told her he was worried about his father, WJ, because he was “going everywhere.”
“I told him, ‘Son, you get a rope and you come help me tie him up. I can’t stop him.’”
Sibyl understands William Joseph “WJ” McLamb, the man she married 69 years ago. “He has never stopped,” she says. “He just works, works, works.”
“My father’s still going strong,” Michael adds.
On October 21, 2021, WJ doesn’t hesitate when urged to blow out the 9 and 0 representing his age on the cake in the clubhouse at Meadowlands Golf Course. After the clapping subsides, McLamb asks, “Is there something special about being 90?”
McLamb waits for the yesses and murmurs to quiet then credits others for helping him achieve his successes through the years. He never mentions that he has contributed to Brunswick County’s financial and educational development and is one of the county’s foremost philanthropists supporting fraternal, social, religious, animal and educational causes. Instead, he says, “I haven’t quite gotten everything done yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve been working on projects since 1952. It’s been up and down a lot of times, but it’s been good.” He accepts the knife to cut the first piece of cake then sits next to Sibyl while family members gather around the couple.
At an earlier meeting, this visitor notes McLamb is trim and has few facial wrinkles although his gray hair is sparse and he uses a cane for support. “I have a bad hip and hurt my back, which made it worse, but other than that I’m in good shape,” he says. “If I could just walk without a problem, I’d be all right. I have really never slowed down.”
He sits with back straight and arms resting on the pads of his chair in his office at the Meadowlands, the golf course he owns, ready to explain how he has a trail of successes through his 90 years.
Several rows of papers form a line across his polished mahogany desk, which doesn’t allow space for a computer. He faces away from the scenic view of the water that separates Hole 1 from Hole 18.
“I have never used a computer myself,” he says, whipping his glasses off and leaning forward. “I never really wanted to do computers. All I needed to know is if the financial statement was correct.”
That attribute has earned McLamb multiple dividends, which leads to another attribute: generosity. And Brunswick Community College (BCC) has been a major beneficiary. The first permanent building on the BCC campus was named WJ and Sibyl McLamb Building in 2013 and after renovations, it was rededicated in 2017.
A few weeks after Dr. Gene Smith became president of BCC in January 2019, McLamb called him. Smith explains that McLamb wanted to talk about ways to improve education in the trades.
“I was impressed by his passion for Brunswick County,” Smith says. “I had a five-year plan for equipment I needed, and he helped us reach that five-year plan in about five months.”
McLamb’s donations allowed the college to purchase not only equipment that helps students receive industry-recognized certifications, but also the vehicle it uses to recruit students. McLamb says he hired hundreds of carpenters, plumbers and other tradesmen for his various companies throughout his career and knew the importance of having qualified workers.
His own father, Willie Joe, finished seventh grade but cultivated a knack for running a business. He owned a general store, selling everything from groceries to fertilizer. He started a construction business and invested in heavy equipment to clear land and build roads. McLamb learned to use that equipment but says he knew he “had to learn more.”
After graduating from Shallotte High School, he enrolled at Wake Forest before it became Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Without a major field of study in mind, he came back home after two years. His father had bought the Dodge/Plymouth dealership in Shallotte, and WJ took over its management.
Sibyl recalls at 14 admiring the handsome 17-year-old WJ in his National Guard uniform when he arrived at a birthday party. Three years later at another birthday party, the two met again. After that encounter, WJ McLamb pursued the woman he loved, and Sibyl abandoned her intention of studying to be a dietitian at Wofford College. The couple married August 30, 1952. He was 20, and Sibyl was 17. Three children followed in quick succession.
McLamb read a great deal and realized the future was expanding and Brunswick County would, too. He wanted to be in on that expansion so he began buying land.
“I felt there was a good opportunity for prices to increase,” he says. “I saw we were very rural, but we had the opportunity to change things.”
In the ’60s he developed Bonaparte’s Retreat, the first subdivision in Brunswick County and advertised in a New York real estate magazine. He convinced BEMC and ATMC to put lines underground instead of overhead. Bonaparte’s Retreat II followed, and he included paved roads and pressed the county to improve the water and sewer systems. He continued to build roads across both North Carolina and South Carolina and drove about 1,000 miles a week.
“He is resilient,” says daughter Sheila. “That has served him well.”
“He was actually one of the few people who travelled outside of the county,” adds his daughter Teresa.
McLamb says he had one regret. He was away from his family too much. “My family always comes first,” he says. “I figured learning to fly was a necessity.”
“He had never been in an airplane,” Sibyl says. “He got books and studied them.”
After months of instruction, WJ felt confident flying solo. By 1970 he had his own Cessna and built the airport at Ocean Isle Beach so he could keep his plane there. His vision expanded, and in the ’90s he decided to build Meadowlands Golf Club in Calabash, although he didn’t play golf. It opened in September 1997.
“He’s a hard worker,” says Mary Nigro, manager of Meadowlands snack bar.
“The man still has his finger on the pulse,” says Chuck Bench, mechanic at Meadowlands.
“The man is amazing,” adds Ranger Tom Schou.
McLamb then saw more possibilities. He sold his investment in Brunswick Plantation and bought land to expand the 200 acres his father bought in 1939 and built Farmstead Golf Links, straddling both Carolinas. He added a special attraction and made the 18th hole par 6.
“Most people never heard of [par 6] at that time,” he says. “I thought it was a novel idea.”
The course opened in 2001. After 20 years, McLamb sold the course to a developer, and it closed October 31, 2021.
“Now my grandchildren have come along, and I felt I had to look out for their future,” he says. The McLambs have five grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Grandson Jakob McLamb is Meadowlands pro shop manager and co-owner of the course. His wife, Jessica, says she admires WJs determination and kind nature.
“He’s a rock in our family, like a foundation,” she says. “He’s there for all of us.”
“He’s given a house to many members of the family,” Teresa says.
“I’ve helped a lot of people,” McLamb says. “I’ve never wanted to take advantage of anybody. I’ve always wanted to be honest and straightforward and be considerate and honest with them.”
Sibyl accepts WJs penchant for being organized and neat “although it doesn’t bother him to be 10 or 15 minutes late,” she says. He likes to surprise her, and she tells of the weekend he flew them in his plane to The Greenbrier, the luxury resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. “He didn’t tell me where we were going,” she says.
Their life is quieter now, although WJ goes to his office every day and enjoys spending time with his family.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Sibyl says. “I’m really proud he’s mine.”