Jim Covington Sr. was known to most as the owner of Jim’s Hot Dogs and Hamburgers for 56 years, but he was remembered for much more Wednesday.
“He touched the lives of thousands and thousands of individuals,” Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said at a celebration in the Burlington Shrine Club on Plantation Drive of the N.C. Department of Transportation’s naming an interstate bridge in Graham after Covington.
Of all the things Covington, who died Nov. 19, was sometimes tearfully remembered for, his 38 years organizing the annual Shriners fish fry to raise money for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, and all the children it helped, was the one people came back to the most.
“There could not be a greater honor than having the bridge right down from where I growed up named after Jim Covington,” Johnson said.
Covington, 86, died not long after finding out his friends and the Graham City Council were trying to get the bridge over Interstate 40/85 at Jimmie Kerr Road named for him. They succeeded, and while an N.C. DOT crew was putting the sign up Wednesday, about 100 people were at the Shrine Club to honor Covington, including many relatives, members of the county Rescue Unit and the N.C. Highway Patrol, Mebane Fire Chief Bob Louis, Johnson, County Manager Craig Honeycutt and N.C. Secretary of Transportation Nick Tennyson.
“Daddy did know about” the bridge dedication, son David Covington said. “It was one of the few times I’d seen him speechless.”
Covington was working at his restaurant at East Webb Avenue and West Elm Street until last summer, when his health started failing. Over the years, he also led the local Bingham Masonic Lodge and Shrine Club, was an active lifelong member of Hawfields Presbyterian Church, and was treasurer of the county Rescue Unit for a very long time. Much of Covington’s work for the community was through the Masons and particularly the Shriners — he was one of just three 33-degree Masons in Alamance County, David Covington said. One of the others was Jim Covington Jr.
Born and raised in Hawfields, Covington was working for Melville Dairy when he and his wife Barbara opened a Tastee Freez franchise. They became independent after about 28 years, and the restaurant became a local fixture.
Everyone, including Lash Wrightenberry, the friend behind the bridge naming, remembered Covington making them laugh often at themselves. After leaving the hospital for a serious health issue, Wrightenberry told his wife he wanted one of Covington’s milkshakes, and Covington delivered one of the tallest he could make right to his house.
“And on the top, Jim wrote, ‘We miss your big mouth.’”