The Professor of People

Reggie Watts never achieved his dream of a career in psychology, but the wisdom he has acquired through life experiences cannot be found in textbooks.

By Terrell Manasco

Images by Blakeney Cox

In the Spring of 2001, Reggie Watts was chased through the streets of Athens, Greece by stray dogs.

“I’ve got my backpack on, a pair of leather sandals and shorts, just kind of be-bopping through there,” Reggie says nonchalantly, relaxing in a recliner at High Point Furniture. “I could stand in the middle of the street and touch the houses. Stray dogs everywhere, I mean, it’s like pandemic. I go down one street, turn a corner, and there’s two dogs laying at the end of the street. And there’s nowhere for me to go except forward or back the way I came. I’d never been scared of dogs in my life. I take two steps toward them and they raise their heads and their ears perk up. I was like, ‘Uh-oh.’ I bend down, try to be nice and call them. They tore out after me, barking. My adrenaline kicks in and I start backpedaling. And they’re gaining on me, they’re right on my heels. They chased me down a couple of streets and up a few flights of stairs. My heart was pounding and I’m thinking, ‘I’m about to get rabies from some dogs in Athens, Greece.’

Fortunately, Reggie escaped without becoming a Greek doggie snack. “I bet it took me three years after I got home to get over that,” he says, shaking his head.

Reggie grew up with his older brother and two sisters in a rural area of Arley. “It was like a hobby farm, with chickens, pigs, turkeys, ducks, cows, and horses,” he says. “We didn’t have cable until I was in high school because it wasn’t available there.”

While attending Walker College, Reggie became fascinated with psychology. “Jon Mayhall just made it so captivating that it caught my interest,” he says. “After that first Psychology 101 class, I couldn’t get enough of it. I took every class he offered.”

But over time, he began having doubts about a career as a psychiatrist. “I had grand dreams of going on to be the modern day Freud,” Reggie admits. “As I progressed, I realized it really didn’t work that way anymore. You’ve got the clinical side and the cognitive side. I was more interested in the cognitive side, why people do what they do. Psychotherapy, what Freud did, is now really within the realm of a counselor. Psychiatrists mainly deal with medication.”

Then during Reggie’s freshman year, his high school best friend, T.J. Ganey, was killed in an automobile accident. Reggie was devastated. “That was a turning point,” he says. “They didn’t make them any better than T.J. He was a Christian and a friend, and he didn’t succumb to peer pressure. If he knew doing something was wrong, no matter how bad you ragged him, he wouldn’t give in.”

While Reggie and his friends struggled to cope with T.J’s death, his high school guidance counselor, Ralph Williams, gave him some advice. “I’ll never forget, he said, ‘Boys, things like this happen in life. You’ve got to deal with it, or it’s going to deal with you,’” Reggie says. “It took a long time to get past it and move on.”

After Reggie earned his bachelors degree at Alabama, he interviewed for several jobs. He almost became a private investigator—until he went on a trial run with another investigator. “I realized pretty quick this wasn’t for me,” he says.

He began helping out in the family business, Chuck-N-Berry’s, owned by his stepfather and mother, Chuck and Beverly Hockenberry, in the old Engels building downtown. At that time, Reggie wasn’t interested in working in the business long term. “I minored in history and took a lot of art history, so I was saving money to go backpacking through Europe,” he says.

In April 2001, with a passport and a Lonely Planet guide tucked inside his backpack, Reggie caught a plane to Paris. Three days later, he left for Istanbul. “I’d really only planned to go there to see the Hagia Sophia, but I met some people from Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, and we traveled around together,” he says.

Istanbul proved to be a pleasant surprise. “I loved Istanbul. It’s one of my favorite spots I’ve ever been to,” Reggie says. “The people were nice. I enjoyed the Mediterranean food. These street vendors had the kofte [a mixture of beef and lamb] on the spit. That was some of the best food, even better than some of the restaurants.”

Reggie and his new friends toured the ruins of ancient Troy, visited Cappadocia, and saw Hadrian’s Library at Ephesus. Aside from the Athens Stray Dog Chase Incident, there was one other time when Reggie felt uneasy. “My friends were hanging out in this place like a bar,” he begins. “All these people were sitting around…it looked like they were smoking bongs, with water and bubbles. I said, ‘What are these people doing? The police are gonna come in here and arrest all of us!’ It turned out they were smoking apple tobacco through a hookah,” he grins, admitting his companions had a good laugh.

Despite the cultural differences, Reggie says Europeans are not that different from Americans. “One thing I learned is, most people just want to be able to have a life, provide for their family, and just be left alone.”

Six weeks later Reggie returned home and resumed working in the family business, while studying for his masters degree. Then a funny thing happened. “After a year, I got to where I liked the business,” he says. “To do what I really wanted to do in psychology, you had to have a Ph.D, then you’d go on to be a professor. That dream I had really didn’t apply to the modern day world.”

After weighing his options, Reggie became a partner. By then the business was called Old Town Creek Mall, and specialized mostly in antiques. As new furniture gradually replaced antiques, it was renamed High Point Furniture. “The big market is in High Point, North Carolina,” Reggie explains. “High Point is to furniture what Detroit is to cars. It’s kind of the furniture capital of the world.”

In 2007, High Point Furniture moved to their new location on Highway 78, with a 26,000 square foot showroom. “I do the majority of furniture buying, pay bills, managerial stuff,” Reggie says. “Mom handles the majority of accessories; lamps, pictures, flowers, etc.”

Although Reggie didn’t pursue a career in psychology, his life experiences have taught him a great deal about people. “I truly do care for people. I try to treat everybody I meet with respect, and think about how they’ve grown up and how their experiences have shaped them,” he says. “Just try to be patient with them if they don’t live up to your expectations. I get a lot of grief sometimes about giving some people too much slack, and I probably do, but I just think about how patient God has been with me and I try to return that.”

Some degrees cannot be earned in college. 78

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