Published on December 09, 2019

Landmark tree lights way to holiday cheer

Originally published by the Rocky Mount Telegram

tree lighting

After several months of working on the new Nash UNC Health Care Christmas light tree, Eric Watson and Terry Harrelson were ready to test the lights a few weeks before the tree’s official Dec. 3 debut.

And they brought in a special assistant to give a review of their hard work.

Sophia Watson, 6, waited patiently six floors underneath the tree, which was perched on top of the main hospital tower. As she looked up, waiting for the twinkling lights to come on, her dad, Eric Watson, said he had a moment of worry something would go wrong.

“We knew the lights had come on before, but you always worry, when everybody — or someone important — is waiting to see it for the first time, that something might go wrong.”

Sophia was not disappointed and got a special preview of one of the community’s most recognized Christmas decorations. Sophia gave her dad her seal of approval: two thumbs up. Watson said no one’s approval means as much as seeing her so excited and proud.

“It’s pretty neat, to her, that her dad helps to put the ‘big hospital tree’ up,” he said.

Watson insists he didn’t do it alone and that it was a team effort. Along with Watson and Harrelson, Bruce Everette, Josh Overton and David Henson round out the crew that installed the 2019 landmark Christmas icon. Watson said all the guys that helped get the tree up there are happy so many people get excited about seeing it.

Nash UNC Wellness Specialist Bahja Hinton said she’s been following the progress of the tree and was excited to see it lit up.

Hinton said she remembers seeing it on top of the hospital as a kid and thinking the tree meant the Christmas season had officially started.

“I actually remember saying to my parents how nice it was that Santa made sure the hospital had a tree for all of the kids who would spend Christmas in the hospital,” Hinton said. “And of course, wondering how in the world they got that tree all the way up there!”

Hinton said the tree still works its magic for her.

“Even now, seeing the lit tree as an adult always puts me in the Christmas spirit. I still feel that rush of excitement that I used to get as a child,” she said.

The Nash UNC Christmas light tree has been a community Christmas landmark since 1973. This year, the 30 foot-tree went through a major redesign and overhaul. Watson said a new frame was built for the tree, taking several months.

“We did a lot of work on our weekends, tracking down parts and designing it and figuring out how to put it all together on top of the building,” he said.

tree lighting crew

The tree goes up to the top of the tower in pieces and is welded and screwed together on top of the building. It took the team about a month to get it all put together on the roof.

They’ll take it apart to get it down on Dec. 31. Watson said he didn’t know how much it weighed, but it was way too heavy to move in one piece.

Jason Brand, executive director of Life Safety and Facilities Management for Nash UNC, said he’s proud of the work the team did to redesign the tree and get it safely secured on the roof.

“The staff who work on the roof wear harnesses attached to safety points, which limits their risk while working on the roof,” Brand said. “In prior years, a staff member had to climb the radio tower located on the roof to install the lights. With the newly made frame, the team was able to use a telescoping pole that further reduces any safety concerns of climbing the tower.”

Watson and Harrelson are staff electricians and designed the new tree with LED lights to make it more efficient.

Watson said it’s a labor of love.

“Redesigning it was a big project, but the reward in seeing so many people excited about it and thanking us for getting it done ... it makes it all worth it. It really is a neat part of our community and we were all glad to be a part of making it happen.”

“When you’ve helped bring Christmas spirit to people and make them smile, that’s a good day’s work,” he added.