Published: Feb 22, 2013 05:40 PM
Modified: Feb 22, 2013 05:42 PM
CHAPEL HILL - The real estate developer who envisioned turning what was then a pasture into one of the first shopping centers in Chapel Hill has died.
Andrew “Andy” Karras, 90, who developed Eastgate and Rams Plaza, died of pneumonia Thursday. A funeral service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery between Fordham Boulevard and Legion Road.
Eastgate, along with Glen Lennox, was one of the first shopping centers in Chapel Hill when it was built in 1965, said former Chapel Hill Mayor Sandy McClamroch, who owned the WCHL studios that were then located next to Eastgate. Development in the area was new then, and the approval process was easier than today, he added.
“He told me how Eastgate was just a pasture at that time,” said Erika Shearin Karras, his wife. “He sketched his idea for it on the back of an envelope and took it to the Chapel Hill Town Council, and they said yes.”
Karras built about 60 shopping centers from Canada to Florida, concentrated in North Carolina. His local developments also included The Crest at Westend apartment complex in Carrboro, formerly known as Dominion Ramsgate, and the first A&P and ABC stores in the Triangle.
Originally from Charlotte, high school linebacker Karras came to Chapel Hill to play in the Shrine Bowl, the annual all-Carolina high school all-star game. Two coaches from UNC were so impressed they offered him a full scholarship.
“He told them, ‘Don’t worry, I was born with Carolina blue diapers on,’” Erika said. “He told that story to everyone.”
Karras took a break during his football career to join the Navy during World War II as a fighter pilot. When he was discharged in 1947, UNC football coaches asked him to play in that weekend’s game, even though he hadn’t played football in four years. Once back to the team, he played alongside the future NFL player Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice.
He was one of the earliest members of the Rams Club and one of the longest-attending fans at UNC football and basketball games. He attended games for 60 years and last saw the basketball team play at the Dean Smith Center in late January.
Widowed in the early 1980s after the death of his wife Sue, Karres got a new lease on life in the early 1990s when he met his second wife, Erika, who was then a teacher at Orange High School and is now an author. He never had biological children, but thought the world of Erika’s daughters, Liz Hounsell and Mary Shearin, and his granddaughters, who currently attend UNC.
Even at 90 years old, Karras always dressed in full suit, tie and polished dress shoes and would apologize in advance to the CVS pharmacist if he knew he would be coming in without a tie on.
“Everybody wears tennis shoes, but not Andy Karras,” Erika said. “He was just an example of style and love and gentlemanly class. Younger people would come up and tell him that when they reached his age, they wanted to be just like him.”