‘Different’ but ‘decent’

William R. Toler | Daily Journal James “Rebel” Reese stands out by Hamlet City Lake behind the senior center where he’s volunteered for more than 30 years.

HAMLET — James Reese is a little different.

His nickname “Rebel” would tend to suggest that.

There aren’t many 64-year-olds walking around Richmond County with a mohawk, facial piercings and tattoos wearing a handmade denim kilt. In fact, he’s probably the only one.

“I live a pretty boring life,” he said. “Except I tend to be an attraction for the youngsters.”

Reese was born and raised in Hamlet, graduating from Hamlet High School in 1969.

Although he’s left several times, he always winds up back home.

“There’s just something about it that keeps drawing you back,” he said.

Reese joined the U.S. Navy in 1972, serving on the USS Sterett.

He said he had always wanted to go into the military and chose the Navy because of the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial. He, and the rest of the high school, helped raise money to bring the ship to the state.

“I had intended to make a career out of it,” he said, but a massive stroke suffered by his father changed his plans. He was relieved of ship duty and sent back to Richmond County as a recruiter.

Aside from taking care of his parents, Reese has also been heavily involved in the community, including teaching a sewing class at the Hamlet Senior Center.

Reese said he and Viola Reddick are the two longest-running volunteers at the center, with their service spanning more than 30 years.

He is also a member of AMVETS, the Hamlet Lions Club and is the stage manager for the fair.

He was also a member of the Save Our Station committee — which raised $42,000 from selling a cookbook — and was on the board of directors for the National Railroad Museum and Hall of Fame.


Along with his community service, Reese’s appearance is what makes him stand out: from his mohawk — which he went back to about a year ago and tends to vary in color — to more than a half-dozen facial piercings (ears, eyebrows, nose, lips and tongue), to his tattoos.

He said when people see the teardrops under his eye they ask if he’s killed three people and he jokingly replies, “No, it’s the people that I’d like to kill.”

He also has a M-shaped tattoo over his other eye and several tattoos on his arms, including one he got while in the Navy.

Reese currently owns seven kilts, two of which he made, that he wears regularly.

He started wearing them after research suggested that his family had migrated to Georgia from Scotland, after leaving Wales.

Reese said the reason for his look is to prove: “You can be a decent person and still be different.”


“I’m a people person,” he said. “I like making people happy, I like making people laugh. I believe in treating people the same way they treat me.”

Reese said he’s been asked if it bothered him when people stared at him. His reply: “No. If it did, I wouldn’t dress like this.”


“There’s a lot of things that I’m proud of,” Reese said, starting with his four years in the Navy. “I was glad I had something to contribute to the country.”

Another was being on the Save Our Station Committee and looking at the depot, thinking, “I helped do that.”

“The older I get,” he said, “the more things like that become important.”


Reese said his parents were the most important influence on his life.

“I loved my parents dearly…still do,” he said. “They instilled a lot of things into me that gave me my character.”

He said those things included treating others with respect and not ripping them off.

“I like to be able to go to sleep at night and not have a guilty conscience,” he said. “I would like to think my parents are proud of me.”


“Every night we go out,” he said, referring to himself and his three rescue dogs, “for a long walk…around midnight…crank up Celtica Pipes Rock.”


“Keep going the way I’m going, and conquer the bagpipes.”

Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler. Notable Neighbors is a series of personality profiles featuring Richmond County residents from all walks of life. Stories will appear in the Daily Journal on Thursdays and online at YourDailyJournal.com. To nominate a Notable Neighbor, email Corey Friedman at cfriedman@civitasmedia.com.