illoughbyA friend of a friend-Alton “Tunney Brooks – Paul Willoughby-April 14

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 for April 14, 2015.

My goal in 2015 is to learn or get re-acquainted with 365 people and doing a daily post on the “the friend of a friend” is helping me get closer to my goal.

This will be a bittersweet week for me as a friend and member of the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees will be attending his last meeting as he has termed out. He has served on our board for eight years (2007-2015) and his name is Paul Willoughby. During his 8 years he was very supportive of our athletic program during my tenure as Director of Athletics. Prior to him serving on the UNCP BOT he was one of the key supporters in getting football off the ground at Pembroke in 2007.

Paul and his wife Pat have been part of the UNC Pembroke for a long time. They both graduated from our university and their son Rex was a standout on our UNC Pembroke golf in the early 2000’s graduating in 2004. When it comes to first class families that have truly demonstrated a love of their alma mater the Willoughby’s are at the top of the list at UNC Pembroke.

(l-r) Rex Willoughby, Kelli Gregory Willoughby (Rex’s Wife), Paul Willoughby, UNCP Carmen Calabrese, and Pat Willoughby

paul_willoughby family

Paul Willoughby graduated from UNC Pembroke in 1974 and went on to become a high school football coach at Lumberton HS. Paul was a good coach and learned a lot from his high school coach and mentor Alton “Tunney” Brooks. Pat Townsend Willoughby was a 1976 graduate from UNCP and she was an outstanding high school basketball player in Robeson County. She has been inducted into the Robeson County (NC) Hall of Fame for her scholastic accolades.

After being a coaching for a few years Paul decided to explore the corporate world and landed a position at West Point Pepperell in Lumberton, NC. In his own words “After four years, my boss at WestPoint Pepperell – a guy who I learned so much from – called me in one day and fired me”.  Paul has often told me and others that moment was the turning point in his young life.

Paul made a decision with Pat’s support to take their bittersweet experience along with their life savings to McDonald’s, where he has been happily ever after, almost. Without pay, he worked for most of a year at several restaurants and attended “Hamburger U” in Chicago, IL., to gain experience, and hope to get the opportunity to lease his first restaurant in Durham, N.C.

He got that chance and it was a turnaround project of a corporate-owned restaurant. The Durham, NC store was not doing well, but Paul and Pat as a team liked what they saw and decided to go forward. When they wrote them the lease check, they had $800 left. On top of that it was long days in 1984 with son Rex, two years old, sleeping on a desk at the store until his daycare center opened.

The work ethic and sacrifice have paid off today. Pat and Paul Willoughby have five McDonald Franchises including one on Franklin Street in the heart of Chapel Hill NC. Their son Rex is the manager of one of their stores located in Pittsboro, NC. The lessons they learned as high school athletes and coaches have been applied to the business world and it has resulted in success.

Paul Willoughby is a loyal person especially to his high school coach Alton “Tunney” Brooks who passed away in May 2012.




The Man


Coaching up boys to become men

Alton “Tunney” Brooks died at age 84 on May 4, 2012.

Brooks was a three-sport athlete at Wilson, NC old Charles Coon High School, where he led both the basketball and baseball teams to state championship appearances. He then attended Wake Forest University, where he received affirmation of his leadership skills by being named captain of the basketball and baseball teams.

Brooks made his coaching debut at Edenton’s Holmes High before arriving in Lumberton in 1959. For the next 31 years, Brooks coached the Pirates in baseball, basketball, football and even golf, a sport that would become his own passion later in life.

During his Lumberton coaching tenure, Brooks mentored current East Carolina University football coach Ruffin McNeill, former Lumberton High football player and coach Gil Carroll, ex-Pirate basketball stars such as Zeke Lorick and Alfred Douglas, and  of course Paul Willoughby.

Tunney Brooks kept receiving awards after he was done coaching. Some of the Tunney’s awards and honors include being named to the N.C. Athletic Directors and N.C. High School Athletic Association’s halls of fame. The football stadium in Lumberton NC bears his name, as does an endowed scholarship created at UNC-Pembroke. That scholarship is the largest athletic scholarship at the university and was created by former players and admirers like Paul and Pat Willoughby who were very generous in making this scholarship become a reality

Photo of Coach Tunney Brooks sitting at Scholarship unveiling.

(back row) l-r Charles Jenkins, James Granger, Paul Willoughby, Johnny Strickland, and Dan Kenney. (front row) Dave Bullock, Coach Alton “Tunney” Brooks, and Bruce Mullis.


Every fall I look for the recipients that receive the A.G. “Tunney” Brooks Student-Athlete Endowed Scholarship. I remind them what Paul Willoughby said about his high school coach and friend when that scholarship was dedicated:  “Coach, I love you, thanks for giving us trust, structure, and a belief that we could do more”.

I remind the recipients of the Tunney Brooks Scholarship that someone believes in them and they are capable of doing more.

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