LUMBERTON — Nancy French had “to do a lot of sneaking and a little bit of lying” to keep a secret from her husband, B.G., but says “it was worth it.”
B.G. French, a longtime Lumberton businessman and owner of Lumber River Real Estate, was surprised on Feb. 15 when he received a key to the city and the state’s highest civilian award, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, all while enjoying food at one of his favorite restaurants, Candy Sue’s in downtown Lumberton.
“It was an absolute and complete surprise, but really humbling,” French said as he reflected on that night.
French was lured to Candy Sue’s by Nancy and their two children, Berry G. III and Mary, and their families after being told they were just going to spend some family time together, according to Don Metzger, a member of the City Council, who helped get Feb. 15 proclaimed as B.G. French Day in Lumberton.
Myra Norton, Greenstate Landscape and Nursery, was also in on the surprise, and decorated the restaurant’s banquet room as Lumberton River Real Estate. There were a lot of other people who also had to keep a secret for several weeks.
“It was priceless,” Metzger said. “It had to have been at least 200 people who came.”
Metzger said he contacted Sen. Michael Walters in October to see if he would approach the governor about awarding French the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. He then spoke with Mayor Raymond Pennington about awarding French the key to the city.
According to the Long Leaf Pine website, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine honors people who have made a significant contributions to North Carolina.
French, a Lumberton native, attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After he graduated in 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy for three years. Discharged in 1969, French spent seven years in the banking industry. In 1977, he returned to Lumberton because of his interest in Lumber River Real Estate.
According to information provided by French, the company was established in 1945 when his father and two friends, Franck McLeod and Erwin Williams, started Lumber River Discount Company to finance cars. The three of them asked William Lennon, who was currently serving in the Pacific in World War II, to come back and become a partner.
In the early 1950s, Lumber River Real Estate was formed.
“I ended up buying them out,” French said.
French said he is most proud of The Oaks, a 400-acre residential area in North Lumberton that includes a professional office park.
Lumber River Real Estate moved from building model homes to building larger and more upscale homes in The Oaks. French is credited with transforming some of Lumberton’s most rural areas into residential neighborhoods, building homes for people of all economic levels.