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Tommy Critcher of Boone proudly displays the folded American Flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on his birthday in April. Photo by Sherrie Norris

Originally published: 2013-06-11 19:02:13
Last modified: 2013-06-11 19:04:01

Flag becomes treasured gift

by Sherrie Norris

When Tommy Critcher of Boone celebrated his 80th birthday on April 23, he thought his party was the only surprise that his family had in store for him.

A few weeks later, he received a gift from his children that brought him great pleasure -- an American Flag.

It wasn't just "any flag," Critcher said, but rather, the one that had flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on his birthday that had been folded and boxed with a certificate of authenticity signed by Stephen T. Ayers, architect of the capitol.

"On behalf of her siblings, my daughter, Charlotte (Hampton) had made arrangements with our congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, to have this flag sent to me," Critcher said. "It means the world to me. I never knew something like that was possible."

For Critcher, a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, having such a symbol of his country's history in his possession is something that leaves him filled with emotion, if not completely speechless.
"You won't find Tommy very often without something to say," said Robbie Critcher, his wife of 57 years.

"I just would never have thought of my young'uns doing something like this for me," Critcher said.
The flag that found its way to the Critcher home couldn't have been welcomed by a more patriotic individual -- someone who stands strong in his belief as an American and as a Christian.
"It all goes hand-in-hand," he said, and the pattern that he chose for his life.

Critcher was one of 13 children raised on the family farm in the Bamboo community where he has spent the majority of his life, with the exception of the two years he served in the military.

He was no stranger to patriotism and hard work, even as a youngster, when "it took a lot to feed a big family," he said.

Critcher and his brothers followed in the footsteps of their father as a farmer working in cattle and produce, the latter, in particular, providing a livelihood for most of the family and the foundation on which the locally based Critcher Brothers business was founded many years ago.

Having to devise their own brand of entertainment as youngsters, Critcher and his brothers played a lot of baseball, most of them becoming a part of the Bamboo Baseball Team with their cousins and neighbors that traveled as part of a regional league.

In later years, those same men took up golf together. Critcher and his wife also loved to bowl and travel -- making several trips to the west coast, to Florida and to Canada.

"Most of his activity these days is turning on the television and sleeping," said his wife with a chuckle, later admitting that he still stays "pretty busy," around the family farm with his cattle.

He is also a driver for several local automobile dealerships, taking cars from one destination to another on a regular basis.

Critcher has always had a strong presence in his community as a good neighbor and active member of Mount Vernon Baptist, where he was a long-time usher. He has also been active in the Watauga County Republican Party, having served for at least 25 years on the executive board, as well as on the Town of Boone's Fire District Board (15 years) and the N.C. Farm Bureau board of directors.

What one might consider a "unique" hobby for a boy from Bamboo, Critcher collects elephants -- ceramic, wooden, porcelin, you name it.

That started, he said, when at a political function many years ago, he won the auction bid on an elephant donated by Rep. James Broyhill.

Through the years, Critcher, as well as his family and friends, have added to his collection, bringing the number of elephants in his home to more than 200.

"Anytime I go off somewhere, I always try to pick up another one to remind me of my visit," he said.
Critcher and his wife met while he was hospitalized with serious injuries after a traumatic car accident when he was 22. Robbie was a nurse's aid, and the rest is history, they said.

Together, they welcomed four children into the world and have eight grandchildren. The unexpected death, nearly two years ago of their son, Donald, left a painful void that nothing will ever fill, they said.

Critcher is a man of many talents, a keen sense of humor and varied interests, who said his American flag is one of the most special gifts he's ever received. It's also one, he said, that will soon be preserved in a special case and cherished forever.