The controversy over the Brasstown Possum Drop earlier this year was not the first story of a possum in peril in North Carolina.
NCpedia, the online encyclopedia produced by the staff of Government and Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, documents the story of an opossum named Slow Poke, who had a close call when he came to Raleigh in 1970 to meet the governor.
Columnist Charles Craven described the scene for N&O readers.
Pretty Margaret Anne Wilkes of Spivey’s Corner, who is the possum queen, confided Thursday to Governor Bob Scott that she has never tasted the gamey delicacy. …
Scott promptly invited her to a possum banquet to be held in the Executive Mansion sometime soon. And the possum to be consumed was at that moment in a cage on the governor’s desk. Slow Poke, the possum, moments before had been presented to His Excellency by L. E. Baker of Dunn. Baker captured Slow Poke as he poked across a Harnett County highway several weeks ago, entered him in the famous Spivey’s Corner Hollerin’ Contest’s possum competition, and Slow Poke won the title of “Prettiest Possum.”
Slow Poke is nearly three feet long, 14 inches of him being tail. He will be fattened for a time on sweet potatoes and then “dressed” for the banquet by Clarence McMillan, butler at the Mansion. McMillan prepared possum for Governor W. Kerr Scott, father of the present chief executive.
“It’s almost a state affair,” said Bob Scott. “Three or four forks on one side the plate … four or five knives on the other side.”
Slow Poke will be kept in the basement of the Mansion in a special place for possums. -- The N&O 7/17/1970
Things were looking pretty dire for Slow Poke, until public opinion intervened. N&O writer Jack Aulis explained that Slow Poke had “done more for the lowly animals’ public sympathy image than anything since Pogo ran for president.”
Until now, the only attention most people have ever given possums is to kill them on the highways. And they don’t even do that intentionally.
It’s just that possums are nocturnal critters who walk flat-footed and are slow crossing the roads the governor’s father built for them.
They used to live entirely in the South but they began moving north and west around the turn of the century. (About the time the Democrats came to power in this state, oddly enough.) …
One expert says this proves it is better to be adaptable than intelligent. It is not clear whether he was commenting on possums or politicians. -- The N&O 7/24/1970
Charles Craven reported that the governor was finally persuaded to change his dinner plans.
Gov. Bob Scott got both himself and Slow Poke the possum out of hot water Friday.
Slow Poke … was recently presented to the governor. Scott immediately announced that a possum banquet would be held in the Executive Mansion. A hue and cry from the public went up. “Save Slow Poke,” became the slogan of the day.
At first the governor was adamant. He and his possum-loving cohorts were going to eat Slow Poke.
But bombarded with mail from irate ladies, His Excellency began to waver. So in a stirring ceremony on Capitol Square Friday, Governor Scott granted executive clemency to Slow Poke who grinned happily from his cage.
Slow Poke was released into the custody of the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, to be placed by them at Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County for the remainder of his natural life. -- The N&O 8/1/1970