A friend of a friend-Bill Mason and Raymond Pennington-January 4

One thing I have learned is that good friends have other good friends. This is a series of stories about friends of my friends.The post below is the story on a friend of a friend for January 4, 2015.

Dr. Raymond B Pennington is a friend and mentor to me. Raybo as his friends and family call him hired me in 1977 as Assistant Basketball Coach at UNC Pembroke which at that time was known as Pembroke State. Ray retired from UNC Pembroke in 2001 but stayed involved by serving on the UNCP Board of Trustees from 2009-2013. He was a great coach, Director of Athletics, Professor, and pillar in our community. He has been inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at East Carolina University and UNC Pembroke. Ray is still active and currently serves as mayor of Lumberton NC.


He has been part of all the career opportunities I have had and I am indebted to him for his friendship and loyalty.

Ray had a great friend at Pembroke named Bill Mason. Bill and Ray came to the university in the same year 1963. Bill served as Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs from 1963 to his retirement in 1991. He served three chancellors and handled the financial affairs for a growing University. At UNCP, Mason had a reputation as a good steward of the University’s and the state’s resources. In all, he served the State of North Carolina for 39 years. Bill died on August 31, 2010 at the age of 82.

The Friend-RAY PENNINGTON-depicted below


The Friend of the Friend-BILL MASON-depicted below


Ray’s story on Bill Mason and their Florida scuba trip

Bill and I were best of friends. We even purchased a beach home together. We took a lot of trips together both professionally and personally. Each and every time traveling with “Billy Boy” there was going to be some type of adventure.

Bill Mason loved to travel and explore. In the 1980’s I purchased a boat and we decided that we were both going to get certified in scuba diving and take a diving trip to the Florida Keys during a Pembroke Spring Break. We enrolled in a course at Pembroke and in the span of a month we passed the course. We hooked up the boat to my van and we headed off to Florida. Upon arrival we found a dive shop and got some guidance on a good place to dive. The shop owner warned us to monitor the tides and watch our oxygen tanks closely.

We couldn’t wait and off to the marina we went with the boat. In a matter of minutes we were on the water headed off to our location. Bill was excited and wanted to get into the water immediately. We rushed to get our gear on and in minutes we were diving right on top of coral and schools of tropical fish. It was beautiful and I had to forcefully tell Bill we were close to our time with the oxygen and needed to head up to the boat. We surfaced full of manly pride on our newly acquired diving skills. What we were not proud of at that moment was our navigation and captain skills. Bill and I jumped off the boat without putting out the anchor.

We looked on in horror to find a boat a good 200 yards away from us. We started swimming but the cautionary tale from the dive shop owner was proving to be prophetic. The tide we were warned about was now racing and try as we might we could not gain on our small boat. Bill told me he was feeling exhausted and he could not swim anymore. Bill offered up a plan. He would stay on the surface and wait for a passing boat and that I should go to the bottom and run on the soft sand towards the boat. He being a nautical genius surmised that running below the surface would be faster than swimming since the tide was just on the surface. I being the unquestioning friend dove to the bottom began running for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes I surfaced to see if progress had been made.

When I surfaced I had formed a conclusion along with facing a new dilemma.  Bill’s plan of me running on the bottom was flawed the boat was no closer. My new challenge was that Bill was not on the water’s surface. I immediately began calling for Bill and got no response. I began to dive looking for my buddy. After about 10 dives I surfaced exhausted and was quite sure Bill had drowned. All kind of thoughts were going thru my mind what was I going to tell his wife.

After about 5 minutes I saw a boat headed my way. I got its attention and it came and got me aboard. I frantically told them about my buddy and my boat floating away because of the decision not to launch the anchor. They decided to take me to my boat so we could use two boats to search for Bill.

When we got to the boat the rescue boat put me out in the water alongside my floating vessel. They immediately sped off to where I had been picked up to look for Bill. As they drove off I discovered a second seafaring mistake that we had made. We did not put out the ladder to get back in the boat.

My boat had high walls on the side and there is no way to enter from the rear. I was able to get my tank over the side with a thud and moan. I struggled half exhausted but somehow got over the top railing all the while faintly hearing moaning from the other side of the boat. When I got onboard I found Bill laying down holding his side moaning. I was shocked and relieved all at the same time.

Bill told me that a passing boat had picked him by. He got dropped off in the water and he too discovered no ladder. His climb over the railing resulted in him falling on his left side onto his dive tank breaking 6 ribs. “Bill Boy” couldn’t move, barely talk, or laugh. After a couple of weeks the story became legend and we did a lot of talking and laughing about our diving/boating blunders.

Our dive trip was cut short but the memory lives on forever.


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