Raleigh, North Carolina – As a testament to our southern heritage, Raleigh has always loved azaleas. I could celebrate the return of spring the day my grandmother peeked out the window and said, “The azaleas are blooming.”
Over the decades, the flowering of WRAL Azalea Garden has been a constant symbol of the return of spring. Packed with southern flowers – dogwoods, magnolias, hydrangeas and, of course, azaleas – it’s a sanctuary of life in the middle of a busy city.
The weddings started there. Monuments to lost loved ones were left there.
Many people do not realize, however, that the WRAL Azalea Garden is more than just a colorful symbol of southern gardening and heritage: it is part of a decades-long “random act of kindness and senseless act of beauty” that has had a impact on thousands of local people in need.
A tribute to beauty for beauty
Born in 1887 in Ashe County, AJ Fletcher, the founder of Capitol Broadcasting and WRAL-TV, was the son of a Baptist minister. He did simple jobs, such as running stables, delivering groceries, and hanging out at a fruit stand.
In 1937 he founded Capitol Broadcasting along with four other partners. As the success of his radio and television ventures began to grow, Fletcher always looked for ways to give back to Raleigh.
In 1959, three years after WRAL aired, the iconic azalea gardens were opened to the public. “It was just my way of paying homage to beauty for the sake of beauty,” said Fletcher, who had a real passion for azaleas, taking great joy in finding new varieties to show to the community.
He oversaw the planting of 1,000 azaleas.
Unfortunately, three days before the planned dedication of the thousand delicate flowers, Raleigh experienced “three nights of cold in a row,” according to the history of the gardens. When CBC company secretary Scottie Stephenson arrived for work in the morning, she saw Fletcher running around in cold weather, soaking azaleas in hot water to keep them alive.
When asked why he went out of his way to create the gardens, Fletcher said: “I did it because I knew it would be beautiful. It was just my way of paying homage to beauty for the sake of beauty.”
Other tributes to beauty and kindness
Fletcher’s passion for beauty extended beyond gardens. Just a few years later, in 1961, he founded the AJ Fletcher Foundation, which still exists today, providing grants to hundreds of non-profit businesses.
Many local charities have been supported by this silent behind-the-scenes supporter of local benefactors. According to The Philanthropy Journal, the foundation “has contributed $ 35 million to over 300 organizations in North Carolina” over the past two decades. “In 2001 alone, over $ 2,250,000 was paid on existing commitments,” the paper said.
These grants “helped ensure the strength of North Carolina’s nonprofit sector,” the Philanthropy Journal said. They helped pay staff salaries, assisted with resource development and technical assistance.
Over the decades, as azaleas grew as a “foolish beauty act”, just around the corner the foundation provided “random acts of kindness” and the local nonprofit sector blossomed and grew right next to the garden. Fletcher’s azaleas.