Humorist Oscar Wilde once observed, "With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone."
With that maxim in mind, we went looking for a few Chattanooga-area men we thought might have a few wise words to impart, men who seem to have the hang of this thing called life, at least from outward appearances.
They include educators, a radio personality and a gentleman barber, men who have shared their wit and wisdom one-on-one and among the masses. They are men who have gained from their life experience and whose character has been enriched by the lessons they have learned along the way.
They are men others look to for advice. Men who mentor, sometimes unknowingly. Men who lead by example.
For us, they are sages for the ages. Here are some of the life lessons these wise guys have to offer.
ROLAND CARTER, 77
After a combined 49 years of teaching music at the university level, first at Hampton University, his alma mater, and later at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Roland Carter has retired from active duty. But he stays plenty busy.
In June, he received an international Master of Spirituals Award for his work preserving the religious music of African Americans. In December, the Duke University Chapel Choir previewed one of his musical settings in a Christmas Eve special that aired nationally on CBS. The choir will premiere that setting and a second he has arranged for them at a concert in April.
Carter taught, mentored and toured with hundreds of students over the years — giving his only son, whom he adopted as a 5-year-old 36 years ago — "tons of sisters and brothers." He considers them all his children.
"The thing I've always told my kids is you can be whatever you want to be," says Carter. "I guess it's probably related to one of the song settings of a Langston Hughes poem I did about holding fast to dreams."
Hughes' "Dreams," published in 1932, opens with the line "Hold fast to dreams."
"No dream is yours alone," Carter says. "You must share it. You can't attain that thing you want by yourself. You must share it. Then the dream becomes real."
Carter says he has never aspired to simply teach music. "I teach music as a discipline for life," he explains. "You use the discipline of music as a means for living. That is powerful to me."
EARL FREUDENBERG, 69
With almost 55 years in broadcast journalism — which netted him the title of Tennessee Broadcaster of the Year in 1981 and a 2019 induction into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame — "Hey Earl" Freudenberg is still on the air at Chattanooga's WDYN.
"I used to be the baby of broadcasting," he laughs. "Now I'm the old guy."
His years in broadcast journalism taught him the wheres and whens of expressing his personal opinions and the importance of fairness.
"I always thought that we as reporters need to be the eyes and ears of the people," he explains. "If you want to do your opinion, get an editorial column or a talk show. If you're a reporter, report what you see. That's our job. The whole time I was doing news, that's what I tried to live by. There's a difference in being a talk show host and a journalist. I tried to keep the two separate."
That sense of fairness has served him well in his personal life, too.
His best advice: "Be honest."
"I always told my children and grandchildren, 'Tell the truth,'" he says. "The truth may sting sometimes, but truth is the truth, and it always prevails.
"In my job, that's what I tried to do. Sometimes you can keep your mouth shut. If somebody asks a question or makes a comment you don't agree with, you don't have to respond. You're still being honest.
"Don't open your mouth when you don't have to."
FRANKLIN MCCALLIE, 79
Retired educator Franklin McCallie says the best advice he was ever given was also the most difficult to follow.
"My mother, my wife, many wonderful friends and all the outstanding school counselors with whom I have worked said the same thing: 'Listen first,'" he says.
"As a high school principal, I often had situations where I needed to jump in immediately to halt a problem. Afterwards, I would listen to causes to adjudicate the situation.
"However, for the same number of times, if I had been more actively listening to those around me — whether students, teachers or parents — I could have made better decisions before major problems developed. Many times, I was too busy 'doing' rather than listening."
He offers this example of the payoff of listening.
"As a high school principal, I was walking through the counselors' hallway during a class period to my next meeting. A female student sat crying on a bench. I stopped to find out the problem. She said to me through tears, 'Last night my dog died.' I sat with her for two minutes, gave her a hug, and asked her to go to class when she felt she could. Then I moved on to my meeting.
"Two months later, our 13-year-old Yorkie, Benjy, died. I hurt far worse than I had ever imagined for this lovely little dog in our lives. I also remembered and hurt for how little attention and comfort I had given to my student two months before.
"Unbelievably, almost a month later, as I walked through that same school hall, I saw another female student sitting on the same bench crying. I sat down beside her and asked why she was hurting. She said, 'My dog died last night.' I hugged her immediately and asked her to tell me about her pet. She talked, and I listened for about 20 minutes to her warm reminiscences of 'Dollie.' Then she said, 'I think I need to go to class now. Thank you for sitting with me.' She left, and I sat for two more minutes, and cried."
VIRGIL MCGEE SR., 86
For barber Virgil McGee, the secret to success is to follow your passion.
"I recommend to anyone and everyone to determine what they like to do and go for it," says McGee, who came by that mantra the hard way.
He literally was born and raised in his father's barbershop, a storefront connected to the family's living quarters. McGee and his two brothers followed their father's example to become barbers. His son and a nephew also have continued the family tradition.
After finishing high school at Howard, McGee attended Tennessee State College in Nashville. His room was a makeshift closet, which he converted to a barbershop. He earned a degree in accounting, but cut hair for the four years he attended Tennessee State.
When he received no replies to his resume following graduation, McGee joined the U.S. Navy, serving for 22 years and advancing to the rank of commander before retiring in 1979.
When he returned to Chattanooga, he opened a barbershop, Live and Let Live on East Eighth Street, "in the same block that I was born and grew up in," he says.
McGee says he cherishes the relationship between barber and client. Some clients confide secrets. "I would say I get a little bit of everything," he says. "Some of it I don't want to hear."
Some clients fall asleep while he's cutting their hair or shaving them. "I tell them that I actually feel good when they do that," he says. "It shows they've got confidence in me. If I go to sleep on my preacher, he doesn't appreciate that."
McGee still works six days a week and has regular customers. Retirement is not a consideration, not after reading about the death of the world's oldest barber, Anthony Mancinelli of New York, who died at age 108 in September after 96 years of cutting hair.
"I've got a long ways to go," McGee says.
McGee says his granddaughter, a senior at Girls Preparatory School, is the recipient of much of his advice these days. He has driven her to and from school each day since she started high school while her mother works in Atlanta.
"She drives now, and we talk," he says of his granddaughter. "She has a lot of questions that she asks me. She's awfully concerned about how males act."