One, Two Punch
David and Betty Huskins make a
in Raleigh for their beloved mountain counties
By Kevin Brafford
Huskins prefers eating at the stylish Village Tavern in historic
Reynolda Village near downtown Winston-Salem. David Huskins prefers
Dockside Seafood, a no frills joint in neighboring Clemmons.
Generally, it’s not unusual for a wife and husband to like different
restaurants as their favorite places to dine. Yet in this instance
there is, because the Huskinses call the tiny mountain community of
Linville Falls their home.
When business calls the Huskins, though, it frequently requires them
to make the long trip from the mountains to Raleigh. “There’s
rarely a week that goes by,” says Betty, “when one or both of us
doesn’t go to Raleigh. We even used to keep an apartment there.”
“From our driveway to the parking deck across from the Legislative
Building,” says David, “it’s 227 miles.”
That building might as well serve as a satellite office for both David
and Betty Huskins. Together they run Ridgetop Associates, a management
and governmental affairs consulting firm that dates to 1985. Their
hands are in any number of other arenas as well — in April, in fact,
Betty accepted the position of vice president of public affairs and
corporate development for AdvantageWest, the regional economic
development partnership that represents 23 western counties in the
To be movers and shakers in Linville Falls might not say a whole lot.
But to be movers and shakers in Raleigh while living in Linville
Falls, well, that’s another story.
“We have some rules of thumb that we try to adhere to when we’re
going to Raleigh,” says David. “First, we want to leave in the
morning no later than 5:45.”
“And,” adds Betty, “if we don’t leave to come back home by
4:30, we’ll stay until 6:30 or 7.”
The strategic planning is all in the name of traffic on Interstate 40,
be it gridlock in the Triad or the Triangle. “The big question every
time,” says Betty, “is can we make it through Greensboro?”
Unfold a map of North Carolina and first locate Winston-Salem. Next
look to the east and pinpoint Raleigh. Easy enough, right? Now look
back across the state, west of Winston-Salem and try to put your
finger on Linville Falls.
Here’s a hint: It’s not too far from Marion and just off the Blue
Ridge Parkway. Linville Falls — not to be confused with the nearby
town of Linville — boasts an intersection, a closet-sized post
office, a gas station where you can actually get a flat tire changed,
a nice restaurant and a quiet, comfortable lodge. The latter two help
keep David and Betty right where they are, because they own the
Linville Falls Lodge and its restaurant, Spear’s BBQ & Grill.
They’re mountain folks, through and through. He was born in Marion
and she in Spruce Pine (a little more than five months apart in 1949)
and you wonder how it took them 30 years to meet. Maybe it’s because
he grew up in Charlotte, where he lived with his mother after his
parents divorced. Still, he spent long stretches of summers traveling
these out-of-the-way two-lane roads visiting his father and
But their paths didn’t cross until 1979, five years after David had
purchased a decaying seasonal lodge from his father and all but
declared himself a bachelor for life.
“I spent my time between here and Spruce Pine,” says David, who
held a couple of positions at Mayland Community College from 1974-79.
“I hired a staff in the summer and we worked on this place, getting
it in shape.
“I was pretty much of a confirmed bachelor. When I got to be 30, all
of my friends were married and had children or had been married and
were divorced. I thought that if I didn’t find anybody in the next
two years, the plan was that I’d just wait until I was 40 or so and
work on developing my career.”
Betty Queen interrupted the plan. She had just been hired to head
Mitchell County’s first economic development commission and was
known for having a broad range of talents, including a keen eye for
art and design.
It just so happens that David needed her services. “I knew nothing
about putting together a brochure, and a guy told me that I should go
down and see Betty Queen. ‘You’re a lot like her,’ he said. I
asked him what he meant and he said, ‘Well, she’s kind of
unconventional in that she wants to do everything different from the
way everybody wants her to.’ Of course, I had the same
They clashed about as much as they clicked, which ended up being a
good thing. “I have to be careful how I phrase this,” Betty says.
“My first impression of David was that he was cocky and arrogant. I
saw him as a challenge — a very interesting and exciting
As fate would have it, David was asked to become Mitchell County’s
first county manager a few months later. He and Betty were still just
casual work acquaintances at the time, but he expected that to change
— and he expected to be her boss.
It didn’t happen that way. “The county had a population of about
13,000 at the time and I was excited because I’m thinking that I’m
going to get to run everything. But she was the only one that I
couldn’t control — she was this independent department down here
with an autonomous board.
“The county manager ought to be able to tell the economic developer
what to do, but it wasn’t that way.”
A good thing, as it turned out, because their independence helped
cultivate a personal relationship that began in earnest on a cold
mountain Saturday night in January of 1980.
“I got a phone call one Friday afternoon out of the clear blue sky
and he said, ‘I thought maybe we might we might go to the basketball
game at Appalachian State.’ I about died laughing, but he was
serious and said that we’d take my two sons (from a previous
marriage, ages 11 and 9 at the time).”
“We went to the game,” says David, “and had a blast, then went
and had pizza afterward. It was a great day.”
They dated heavily for about six months. Professional had become
personal, and David was glad that he wasn’t her boss. On Dec. 7,
1980, they got married.
“My kids fell in love with him before I did,” says Betty. “They
knew what they were doing all along.”
Betty stayed as director of the EDC until the following year and David
remained county manager until 1985. He had opened a small family
restaurant adjacent to the lodge in 1978 and both saw the two
businesses as a labor of love — with an emphasis on labor.
“This was home for us and we didn’t think that was going to
change,” Betty says. “When David left the county, for one year we
focused on this business. We took all of our money, all of our
retirement and dumped it into expanding this restaurant. It was pretty
scary. The night before it opened, I panicked, wondering what would
happen if it didn’t work.”
Not to worry. David, who has degrees or certificates of educational
achievement from no less than five state universities, had done his
homework. “When we decided to expand the restaurant, we figured out
that we wanted to focus on barbecue. I did a lot of research on
barbecue and found out that if you wanted a successful barbecue
restaurant, it had to carry somebody’s name.”
That somebody’s name was Spear, the middle name of David and
Betty’s youngest son, John, a freshman at Louisburg College, and
also the name of David’s grandfather. The restaurant, which operates
daily during high season and on weekends from November through
mid-April, maintains a family flair — the middle son, 32-year-old
Eric Queen, is its manager (the oldest son, 34-year-old Marc Queen, is
the head golf professional at Foxwoods Country Club in Harrisonburg,
Va., and has one son with another baby on the way).
“I can’t imagine there being a better place to grow up,” says
Eric. “I was 10 years old when David married my mom — he likes to
say that he married us — so I came straight into the business world.
I remember having to get toilet paper for somebody in the middle of
the night. But I wouldn’t trade it all for anything.”
Later in 1985, David and Betty founded Ridgetop, in part because the
latter was tired of the former offering too much free advice. “David
is bad about giving away his services,” Betty says. “It got to the
point where I thought it was crazy, so I said we should just start our
Their client list numbers well more than a dozen and a mention of
their names or appearances at the Legislative Building brings an
“It’s nice to walk into that building and the legislators know you
by name,” says David. “Being political animals, we figured out
early on that if you weren’t at the table when decisions were made,
then you had no way of helping to influence those decisions. That’s
important for our people.”
The reference is to the residents of Western North Carolina. “We
recognized that we’re in the mountains, in a small population that
sometimes feels disconnected by geography. So we feel the need to be
at the table, to built alliances and partnerships with legislators. To
be frank, sometimes our own legislators up here, while good people,
have not exactly been power brokers.
“Sometimes the state has a one-size-fits-all mentality, and we work
to broaden that public policy.”
Hence the weekly roadtrips to Raleigh. For every mile that’s been
logged, for every legislative concern that’s been doggedly tackled,
David and Betty have garnered that much more respect.
“I don’t know how they maintain the schedules that they do,”
says Phil Kirk, who, as president of NCCBI and chairman of the State
Board of Education, can speak to a busy schedule. “They are tireless
workers and a unique and amazing team. They are special, special
people who care greatly about where they live.”
They’re proud of their many accomplishments, but perhaps none more
so than the development of Smoky Mountain Host, a public/private
partnership for regional tourism development, in the early 1990s.
Betty worked as an economic development consultant to Macon County,
and she and David helped recruit the first two manufacturing
industries to the county’s industrial park.
Tourism development for the region, and in particular a visitor’s
center, however, required state money, and they lobbied hard for a
meeting with then-Gov. Jim Martin. The proposal was to build the
center on Highway 441 south of Franklin with public money that then
would be operated privately.
The governor embraced the idea and Macon County soon had the $2.1
million necessary to build its visitor’s center. Today, Smoky
Mountain Host has about 300 members and is considered a model for
public/private partnership in the tourism industry.
“One of the things that we really believe in is that things work
best when the government and the private sector are in partnership
with each other,” David says. “Gov. Martin really liked that
concept. He said, ‘We’ll build that visitor’s center and y’all
will have to take it from there.’ That’s all we wanted.”
Six additional visitor’s centers in outlying regions of the state
have been constructed since, David says, although not all have been
public/private partnerships. “I think it would be safe to say that
Smoky Mountain Host has played a huge leadership role in the tourism
industry,” Betty says. “It has forged new legislation and really
has been the lobbyist for the industry.”
Each also has been instrumental in the building of AdvantageWest.
“By building alliances with legislators,” says David, “we were
able to be at the table when the regional economic development
partnerships were being formed.”
The idea was to develop the three regions of the state that were the
most economically distressed — the west, southeast and northeast.
But initially the western counties in the plan extended only to the
immediate counties surrounding Buncombe — the Asheville area. That
didn’t sit well with David.
“I told them that this needed to be bigger and that it needed to
include tourism,” he says. “Well, they only wanted to tax the
hotels and motels — that was it. I felt like that if they didn’t
have a tourism voice at the table, then tourism would be shoved
outside — and that the partnership would only be for industrial
“So we got tourism involved and we’ve benefited greatly since. At
Advantage- West, I’d say that we’ve supported tourism bigger than
any region of the state.” Betty continues to advance tourism
economic development at Advantage- West in her role today. “It’s
been a gratifying and rewarding experience,” she says. “I’m
working with the best of people.”
And David continues to do what he can to promote the region as well.
As a member of NCCBI’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors,
he was asked to bring in at least two new members. He’s brought in
15 thus far.
Eric Queen’s proud of that fact, although he wishes his folks would
slow down and take more time for themselves. “They stay on the go
seven days a week, year-round,” he says. “But that’s who they
are. They’ve always put other people first.”
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