‘Front Porch Pulpit’: Fancy a chat? Pull up a chair and sit a spell with Linda
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - If you don’t know Linda Pearce, chances are you’ve heard of her. Her name changed to Linda Pearce-Thomas seven years ago when she got married. She’s the former executive director of Elderhaus; but these days, it’s not her work with the elderly that’s giving her notoriety — it’s her front porch.
“I’d just say, ‘Come see me on the porch,’ or wave and come on up and they would come and sit for hours,” Pearce said.
About a year ago, shortly after moving back into the house she was raised in at Sixth and Wright streets, Linda started inviting neighbors who were walking by to come up on her porch and sit a spell. Before long, the perimeters of her porch went beyond her neighborhood.
High-profile people in the community started dropping by — people like Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams, New Hanover County school board member Hugh McManus, and Dr. Phil Brown, who was the chief physician at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, at the start of what would evolve into deep, candid conversations.
It has been a steady flow of who’s who, but the 70-some-year-old said a person’s title is not what gets them to the porch.
“I just lie in bed and think who would be interesting. I don’t care what you’re doing. I just want someone interesting,” she said.
Over the past year, more than 180 people have come to chat with Linda on what is now affectionately known as the “Front Porch Pulpit.” If you know Linda, you know it could very well be a come-to-Jesus meeting.
“And that’s what I love about her,” said Mayor Bill Saffo. “She shoots straight, she’s tough. The nice thing about Linda is she’s not afraid to ask you the tough questions or give you her opinion.”
Guests like Mayor Saffo know to come prepared to talk about anything. Pearce takes notes during the conversations and then will post about the visit on Facebook.
The porch talks run the gamut — from politics to protests and from taxes to tragedy.
“Like the girl up the street who ended up with her two grandchildren. She was 70 and they were 5 and 8 and her daughter died in Atlanta and she had to take them,” Pearce said as she recalled one of the early conversations.
The porch is usually popping with people around lunchtime, but they know not to come expecting her to serve food.
“I tell people, ‘I’ll give you a bottle of water’ and I say ‘if you want to eat — bring it.’ And they do!,” she said.
Most of the time it’s one guest at a time. Sometimes it’s several.
“I’ve had to put chairs out here,” Pearce said. “Three or four people I had to sit on the steps one time.”
And sometimes there’s a wait, even for the mayor as there was the day WECT filmed a session of the Front Porch Pulpit. That day, soon-to-be-retired city manager Sterling Cheatham was a guest followed by the Althea Johnson, the CEO of Med North, and Deb Shoemaker, a counselor.
The Front Porch Pulpit has become so popular, people are now calling Linda to reserve a seat on the porch. Friends have encouraged her to start recording the sessions. Some have even suggested she explore the possibility of a television show to which she emphatically says “no.” She believes it would completely change what makes the conversations so authentic.
“They would choose their words and I just like natural,” she said. “You know, I’m just — hey — I just like natural people and for people to act like they are. People who put on airs — they don’t sit well with me.”
Pearce grew up on that front porch in the house on Wright Street. Marriage seven years ago took her away. She went kicking and screaming from a modest home in the inner-city to a four-bedroom home with a pool in an upscale neighborhood.
She even tried to convince her husband to build on the property on Wright Street.
“An architect told my husband that we would never get a return on our investment,” she said. “They didn’t know what was getting ready to happen to property. But it made sense and that’s how I knew I loved him — when I moved. I said, ‘Now, I love this man.’”
Her husband, Ferold, sadly, passed away four years ago — only two and a half years into their marriage. She never got rid of her childhood home, so she sold the house in the suburbs and moved back to the inner-city.
It’s the porch — the people —that bring her the greatest peace.
“This is my home. This is where my heart was, and you need to be where people know you. There’s a corner store so if I get to where I can’t go to the store, I can grab one of these people around here and give them five dollars and tell them to bring me a pork chop back,” Pearce said with a smile. “It’s the place I need to be.”
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