Lincolnton-native Josie Graves is the stateâ€™s oldest licensed auctioneer.
â€œMy license number is 89, and Iâ€™m 89 years old,â€ she said.
She began her career in her 50s and is still active in the profession. As a professor at Lenoir Community College, the Kinston resident has taught thousands of aspiring auctioneers.
â€œYou meet so many different people,â€ Graves said. â€œI feel like I have children from all over North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.â€
Gravesâ€™ husband was killed in an accident eight years ago, and she says teaching is â€œthe only thing thatâ€™s kept me going.â€
She enjoys working with young people, and while sheâ€™s known to have a sharp tongue, her students have a near-perfect record of passing the state licensing exams.
â€œSheâ€™s an inspiration to me,â€ said Bobby Crowell, Graves younger sister. â€œI think itâ€™s remarkable. I hope I can stay on my feet and do as well as she does.â€
Crowell, who is 10 years younger than Graves, has always been the baby of their family.
Growing up with four sisters, Graves became Crowellâ€™s caretaker â€“ especially after their father and older sister died in a plane crash in 1932.
The crash left their mother a widow at the age of 40, but she still managed to take care of her crippled mother and four surviving children and run a boarding house.
â€œJosie was just like Mama â€“ determined and strong-willed,â€ Crowell said.
Crowell loves to watch her sister in action. A few years ago, Graves came to Lincolnton to participate in a benefit auction at First Baptist Church.
â€œSheâ€™s so vivacious and assertive and puts so much of her personality into her work,â€ Crowell said.
As a professor, Graves does her best to teach her students the art of auctioning.
â€œItâ€™s just like youâ€™re an entertainer,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™re an actor. Youâ€™re entertaining the public.â€
She can usually tell which of her students will become successful auctioneers. Their enthusiasm gives them away.
â€œItâ€™s like everything,â€ Graves said. â€œYou get what you put into it. Thatâ€™s the main thing.â€
And while sheâ€™s a tough teacher, sheâ€™s also a good friend and contact. Graves regularly connects her former students with jobs.
â€œThey call me to get an auctioneer because Iâ€™ve taught them from everywhere,â€ Graves said.
Auctioning is Gravesâ€™ third career â€“ sheâ€™s also been a secretary and dance instructor.
These days, she gets the most joy from teaching the tricks of the trade. She teaches three 12-week courses every year in which she imparts her wisdom about auctioning off everything from knick-knacks to expensive antiques.
She also has control of â€œJosieâ€™s tableâ€ at her local Bogangles, where she meets with friends every morning to drink coffee and discuss the latest news. If any other patrons try to take a seat at the table, theyâ€™re quickly shooed away.
Another thing that impresses her little sister?
â€œShe comes home every Thanksgiving and drives in four hours from Kinston without stopping. She comes straight up and makes it in four hours,â€ Crowell said. â€œThat amazes me.â€
by Sarah Grano