Remembering Relvin Vaughn ‘R.V.’ Asbury Jr., 81, stole downtown buildings’ demolition notes to preserve Port City history

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Relvin Vaughn 'R.V.' Asbury Jr.
Relvin Vaughn ‘R.V.’ Asbury Jr.

When the City of Wilmington Public Works Department planned to pave over the brick streets in downtown Wilmington in lieu of repairing them, Relvin Waugh “R.V.” Asbury Jr. refused to allow it.

In fact, he helped organize a protest movement.

Along with many others, Mr. Asbury ran from his office with a shovel in hand to “scrape and kick the asphalt off the bricks as fast as the city put it down,” according to Charles Boney, who’d known Mr. Asbury over four decades.

Janet Seapker, a longtime friend, laughed as she recalled the event, her favorite part being when a local security company stood in solidarity with Mr. Asbury’s efforts and sent security guards to the intersection of Fourth and Orange Street to protect the bricks.

“The city relented, and I thank R.V. every time I ride down the brick-lined streets in the Historic District,” Mr. Boney said.

Mr. Asbury died July 26, 2015, at the age of 81.

George Edwards, the executive director for the Historic Wilmington Foundation, has heard Mr. Asbury’s name frequently over the years due to his important role as an early preserver of historical Wilmington. At the foundation, incorporated in 1966, Mr. Asbury served on the first board of directors and was hired as the first executive director in 1972. During his tenure, Mr. Asbury put his foot down to preserve the history of the Port City.

Mr. Asbury’s passion for preservation was cultivated in the 1960s when he worked as an office clerk at Boney Architects, according to Mr. Boney. The preservation movement was in the beginning stages and the firm’s office was located in a historic home on South Fifth Street in downtown Wilmington. Boney Architects worked to preserve homes in the Historic District and meeting clients of the firm who were interested in preservation helped boost Mr. Asbury’s interest.

Ms. Seapker met Mr. Asbury shortly after he was hired as the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s director and she admired the enthusiasm Mr. Asbury brought to preservation, his advocacy a quality she rarely found in others. He went above and beyond to save historical buildings, so much so that he’d walk around downtown, checking for condemnation notes from the building inspector at that time, whom Ms. Seapker was convinced hated older buildings due to the number of them he tried to tear down.

This included Mitchell-Anderson House on Orange Street which was built in the 1720s, making it the oldest building in Wilmington. When Mr. Asbury found the inspector’s note, Ms. Seapker said he ripped it off and brought it to the other two incorporators of the foundation, Tom Wright and Kelly Jewel. Mr. Wright bought the building to save it from destruction.

“He was just such a dynamo for preservation,” Ms. Seapker laughed. “[It is] astonishing to think about all the places he had a hand in preserving.”

A preservation fund was created to continue these efforts, Ms. Seapker said. Many dues that were paid to the foundation went straight into the fund to purchase condemned buildings, renovate them and then sell the property to a new owner with restrictions on what the new owners were able to do or change.

As the director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, Mr. Boney believes that Mr. Asbury helped make Wilmington one of the most recognized districts in the state for its history.

“The city owes a great debt to R.V. for his work.”

Mr. Asbury was born July 30, 1933, son of the late Relvin Vaughn Asbury Sr. and Margaret Grant Asbury Garris. He was preceded in death by his younger brother, Clayton Grant Asbury and second wife, Joy Falls Asbury.

He is survived by his loving companion, Jo Smithwick Hayes, of Jacksonville, Florida, who has been at his side with love, encouragement and faith throughout his illness. Also surviving are his first wife, Dolli Blake A. Albrecht, of Hampstead and their three children, Andrew Asbury (Teresa), E. Caroline A. Johnson (Jerry) and Priscilla Anne Asbury; two granddaughters, Gretchen Alexandria Johnson and Stephanie Elizabeth J. King (Justin), of Raleigh; sister, Betty Elders (Gene), of Austin, Texas; and four nephews, Clay Asbury, of Atlanta, Greg Asbury, of Charlotte and Ian and Michael, of Austin, Texas.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 30, 2015, at Andrews Mortuary, Market Street Chapel. A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, July 31, 2015, at the funeral home with interment to follow at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington.

The family would like to thank St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church for all their acts of kindness and support.

Memorials may be made to St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 12 N. 6th St., Wilmington, NC 28401 or Kimball Memorial Lutheran Church, 101 Vance Ave., Kannapolis, NC 28081.

To view the full list of Port City Daily obituaries, click here.

Amanda Thames is the obituary writer for Port City Daily. Reach her at 910-772-6319 or obits@portcitydaily.com.