This is a Carolina blues song for one of the Triangle’s unsung heroes: Spurgeon Fields III.
Fields, a Raleigh attorney and former assistant state attorney general under Roy Cooper, died last month after a valiant struggle with cancer.
Fields was brilliant, selfless, gifted, with a wry sense of humor, a ready smile, and generous spirit, albeit tough as nails.
“He was one of the few real brothers in Raleigh,” my cousin and fellow journalist Barry Saunders said after he found out Spurge died.
Spotting Fields, wearing a beret or newsboy cap atop his head while strolling along the sidewalks in downtown Raleigh, never failed to brighten our moment.
“Harlem Brown!” I would yell at him. With a ready smile of recognition, he’d throw up a hand or fist in reply and roll toward us.
He was a helluva cat.
Spurgeon Fields III was born in Raleigh on February 11, 1956 to Spurgeon and Ernestine Fields. The second oldest of three children, he grew up in the city’s Walnut Terrace and Apollo Heights communities.
One of his sisters, Rosalind Fields Arnold, told a congregation of mourners last month that while growing up, family members called her older brother “Plinky” or “Plink.”
“I worshiped him,” Arnold said, while describing an older brother who enjoyed building model airplanes and cars and loved chemistry sets, “books, books, books,” and comic strips.
Spurgeon was such a voracious reader. He read the labels on food cans, made it a point to correct his younger sister’s grammar, and introduced her to jazz. In addition to his beloved UNC Tar Heels, he loved dark roast coffee and food.
“He loved food like nobody’s business,” Arnold said.
Spurgeon Fields graduated in 1974 from Raleigh’s Enloe High School, where he was elected to serve as the school’s first Black student body president. He earned an undergrad degree from UNC-Chapel Hill where he studied English and political science before “breezing through law school” at Villanova University, as his sister Arnold put it.
“He was always the smartest person in the room,” she said.”He was always the life of the party.”
While studying at UNC-Chapel Hill, Fields in 1976 was one of 16 students who chartered the Mu Zeta Chapter of the historic Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, whose members include Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, and Dick Gregory.
Highlights of Fields’s legal career include his work with the late prominent attorney Carlton E. Fellers and advocating on behalf of clients in cases across the state.
He served as an assistant attorney general in the NC Attorney General’s Office from 2001 until 2006. The bulk of his work with the state consisted of representing the department of transportation in condemnation actions, his cousin, Marjorie Fields Harris told the INDY.
In 1981, Fields along with Fellers was one of the founding members of the Capital City Lawyers Association (CCLA) in Wake County. CCLA’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the local citizenry, most particularly in underprivileged or under-represented communities through service, scholarship, and education,” according to its website.
Fields served as president of CCLA from 1997 through 1998, and again in 2001. The CCLA’s other co-founders include retired NCCU law school professor Irving Joyner and current state Supreme Court associate justice Michael Morgan.
The parking lot overflowed with vehicles late last month at Redeeming Love Missionary Baptist Church where family, and friends, along with members of the legal community and college fraternity gathered for a late Saturday morning memorial service to celebrate Fields’s life.
Brotherly love was a recurrent theme throughout Field’s life, as evidenced by his two sisters’ moving tributes and the parade of men from his college fraternity who attended the service to pay their respects.
The more than two dozen fraternity members paid tribute to Fields during the memorial service, where they acknowledged a fellow brother “called from his task to the reward of noble thought and deed that would serve to deepen their memory of him.
Spurge gave love, even when didn’t have to. On the morning before his service, a longtime friend and neighbor, Dawn Formey, called and asked if she could catch a ride with me to his memorial service.
“One day, I had to go to court in Raleigh, and I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Formey told me that morning. “I saw Spurgeon, and told him what was happening and he told me not to worry about it. He would handle it for me. I never forgot that. I just want to go pay my respects.”
Fields’s longtime romantic companion, Mary Linda Hall, recalled meeting him for the first time, when she was working as a juvenile court counselor in Wake County.
The one thing that stood out was his love for kids,” she said. “I had a kid about 13 years old who was locked in detention on a felony charge of drug trafficking. He was from out of state and was apprehended at a local bus station. Spurgeon went into the cell in his suit and sat on the floor with this terrified kid. After that, I knew he was special.”
During his final days, while struggling with a terminal illness, family members said he still had a way of bringing people together. Friends streamed in and out of his hospital room, bringing food, or simply to sit by his bedside.
“It taught me a lot about what friends are,” said sister Rosalind Fields Arnold.
Arnold remembered a talented, charismatic, funny, smart attorney who loved his alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, and who made an incredible impact at the Wake County courthouse, while working to make sure that his clients were treated properly.
Recently retired Wake County district court judge Lori Christian said that Fields often kept a blue Tar Heel cap in his bag and donned it as he left court. She pulled out an aged cap and lovingly tugged at the brim as she wrapped up her tribute during the memorial service.
Arnold said her brother had taken on his Carolina blue wings.
“Let’s all put our Carolina blue wings today in remembrance of Spurgeon,” she said.
There’s something to be said about family members choosing a clergy member who actually knows the person being eulogized.
Mark T. Gibson, the senior pastor at Redeeming Love Baptist, who delivered the eulogy, met Fields through his romantic partner, Hall, who is a member of the Redeeming Love church congregation.
Gibson said one of the things he and Fields shared was a love of music.
“Don’t let the robes fool you,” the elegant pastor said before announcing he planned on attending an upcoming Frankie Beverly and Maze concert.
Gibson also drank deeply from the same wellspring of wry, rib-tickling humor Fields loved.
“In the words of Elizabeth Taylor to her third husband, I won’t keep you long,” Gibson promised before beginning a thoughtful, finely wrought eulogy.
Gibson didn’t wear the congregation down with a meaningless sermon of foreboding that warned of finding Jesus before it’s too late. Nor were there hollow reassurances that Spurgeon’s eternal soul was at peace because he “found God” before he died.
“Spurgeon was in Christ,” Gibson said, before delivering another needed punchline. “I didn’t say he was in church.”
The themes of friendship and brotherhood wove throughout Gibson’s eulogy. He recalled a man who suffered in silence with a terrible illness that took his life, yet still encouraged others. He spoke of the friends who remembered Spurgeon’s quiet goodness and his love of life; who stood with him during his final days.
“Spurgeon made lots of friends,” the pastor said. “A man that has friends must first show himself friendly.”
After the service, Harris, Fields’s cousin, recalled his love of music, and said she intended to listen to the Stevie Wonder song “As,” along with some George Clinton or Grateful Dead later that day to honor his memory.
“He was such a special person,” she said, “and I hope he found peace and happiness as he transitioned.”
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