As he sat next to his produce stand in Hampstead, Robert Carl Huggins enjoyed sparking conversations whenever people stopped to buy fresh fruit and veg.
Many of them have become more than just customers.
“He had a lot of friends and he touched a lot of lives,” said his pastor Danny McLamb.
Now McLamb and members of the community are saying goodbye.
After complications from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Huggins died on Thursday at the age of 75.Her funeral is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Jones Funeral Home Chapel in Holly Ridge. Visitations will be from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the funeral service will follow.
In recent years, Huggins has struggled with health issues and has been hospitalized. But once released, he continued to operate the stand at Sloop Point Loop Road and US 17.
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The corner has become synonymous with Huggins.
“He had a pacemaker with a defibrillator that was implanted,” McLamb said. “Every now and then he had heart problems and things like that, but he liked selling products, being with people.”
“He sort of became so famous”
According to his friends, Huggins was born with a speech impediment, but that deterred his positive attitude. He grew up in the town of Tar Heel, County Bladen, where his father and stepmother operated the Log Cabin restaurant. Somehow it always worked.
About seven years ago, McLamb and Huggins developed their friendship at The Gathering in Surf City. When McLamb became a pastor at Salem Baptist Church in Sneads Ferry, Huggins joined the congregation.
Huggins worked in the maintenance of the town of Surf City for a few years and in an effort to stay active he came up with the idea of starting the stand when Social Security wasn’t enough to get by.
He was on his way to Columbia, South Carolina to pick up his produce, but with the help of friends, he found a place closer for fruits and vegetables in Raleigh. For his birthday a few years ago, church members bought Huggins a van after his vehicle broke down so he could continue with his vans. Gordon Maxwell, owner of Goldsboro Milling Company, also donated a house to him to live in.
Huggins was also a religious man who always told visitors what God had done for him. He had a book on the booth for people to write down their prayer requests. McLamb held the book in the church during the service so that members could pray for them.
“This is one of the reasons he has become so famous,” he said.
Mr. Carl’s Corner
As the development of supermarkets continues, people selling roadside products are becoming increasingly scarce. For Hampstead residents, the connection with Huggins not found in busy stores with checkout lines will be missed.
“He’s one of those people who just wanted to do it for the community and make this product available,” McLamb said. “He was talking to people and cheering people on. Every time I said, ‘Carl, I hope you have a good day today and sell a lot,’ he would always answer me and say ‘well, if God wants me to have this, I will have it, and if he doesn’t, I won’t and that’s okay. ‘”
After school, Michele Mitaritonna-Lechmanick stopped by the booth with her sons, James and Daniel, for a snack before talking to her for a few minutes and heading home. It started about a few years ago.
“My son Daniel would say ‘Mr. Carl has the best tasting apples’,” she said.
Depending on the dinner plans, Mitaritonna-Lechmanick would have fresh peppers, tomatoes or other fruit. She also liked to collect flowers.
“His presence around the corner will be missed,” she said. “It was his corner and now everyone will think of him when they pass.”
Tiffany Fudge said her tomatoes are also a local favorite. She spent time visiting Huggins in the hospital and bringing him popsicles with water when he could only have ice cubes. Huggins said he loved the area so much that he would leave rehab treatment early just to come back. Their friendship began two years ago when she stopped and one day helped him settle down.
“As a thank you, he gave me tomatoes and they were better than any other tomato I had bought at the store,” Fudge said. “I kept going back. It was really him more than the vegetables why I was going there.”
She would take her children to visit to join the conversations. Huggins also went to some of her daughter’s football and baseball games to show her support.
“You could tell he really wanted to start a family and he considered the community itself to be his family,” Fudge said. “It’s the sweetest thing he’s ever talked about.”
Huggins had no family in the Hampstead area and was widowed after the death of his wife, Shyrl Ann Huggins, in 2008. They did not have children, but had several pets.
Shyrl Ann’s cousin Gail Davis said he was a tall man and noted his resistance to returning to the produce stand.
Fudge’s neighbor, Leilani Hamm, placed a flower and a note near a tree where he sat to honor her. Before he died, Hamm would visit him in the hospital and couldn’t wait to celebrate his next birthday with him in August.
“The people of Hampstead really loved him,” Hamm said.
Members of the community plan to honor him at his production site.
Many have expressed their condolences to Huggins, with some saying he is now continuing his product stand in Heaven. Fudge plans to place his photo on the tree in Hampstead, as a forever reminder of what he meant to Hampstead.
“If there is an afterlife or anywhere his spirit is going to reside, it will be that tree around the corner,” Fudge said.