James Hunter Tarpley  |  1932 - October 22, 2019

For many years James Hunter Tarpley kept watch over our little business district. Known by many as the Angel of Grandin Village, you could often find him picking up trash in front of the 7-11 on Grandin, sweeping in front of Valley Bank, or conversing with his friends on the benches in front of the Roanoke Co-op or The Roanoke Ballet Theatre. James passed on in 2019, but his spirit will always live on in Grandin Village.

Cloud Bobby Productions

Tarpley Family History

James' grandfather, Stephen, was born a slave on a plantation owned by Robert Tarpley in Swansonville, VA. Stephen Tarpley worked as a blacksmith and iron worker for the Confederate Army in Callands, VA, during the Civil War. An article in an unidentified newspaper in 1939 said he fashioned swords and helped construct breastworks for John and Jackson Hall to help protect Danville from the invading Union Army. Stephen and James’ father, William, worked for Claude Swanson (Governor of Virginia, 1906 - 1910) on his dairy farm.

At the age of 100, Stephen Tarpley was baptized at Tarpley’s Chapel Baptist Church. The church in Swansonville was named for him. It is noted that he had a habit of sleeping on the floor in front of the fireplace where he could reach out and warm his rheumatic hands. His diet consisted of bread and the occasional watermelon. He died of the flu at the age of 110.

James was born in November of 1932, son of William and Hope Faith Charity Tarpley, and grandson of Stephen Tarpley, on a farm outside of Danville, VA. Tarpley was one of nine children reared on the farm in a white clapboard house with a wraparound porch. He shared photos of the place where neighbors came from far and wide to visit. “My family drew people from all around, mostly because of my parents’ kindness,” Tarpley said, describing his mother and father as a warm spot in a cold world.

Tarpley Homeplace

How James came to Grandin Village

James went to a segregated Gretna High School, then worked for Trailways Bus before serving in the Korean War. Along the way he earned a welding license, and later came to Roanoke selling produce. James generally made sure that peace and order were kept throughout the neighborhood. You could catch him planting flowers, pulling up weeds, picking up trash, offering directions to those in need and introducing visitors to "his" village.

James, his sister, Alice, and great-niece, Kellie, at James Tarpley Park

“We’re family,” said Tarpley with pride in his brown eyes. “I sort of watch out for the neighborhood and the bank, and they work with me too — just like a family. Why, they’re as close to me as my own brothers and sisters. I love to make people happy. I’ll do almost anything for anyone; that’s the way my family was, and that’s the way they raised me.”

— James Tarpley


The City of Roanoke and many organizations and businesses within the city have given Mr. Tarpley so many awards, medals, birthday parties, and outstanding achievement honorariums over the years that the local media has effectively lost count. His keen attention to Grandin Village earned him a commendation from the City of Roanoke, when, back in February of 2004, he and three other men apprehended a bank robber.

There is an immaculate park for children across from No. 7 Fire Station on Memorial named the James Tarpley Memorial Park in his honor, and that there are two stars in front of the Grandin Theatre with his name inscribed on them in his honor.

“This corner was nothing but weeds until James came along and created a wonderful place for kids to enjoy. James has helped beautify the entire neighborhood.”

— Robert Boyd

Grandin Village had a treasure in James Tarpley

James with his good friend, Susan Lipes, co-owner of the the Grandin Road 7 eleven

Sam Oakey wrote “an ode” to Tarpley for his seventy-seventh birthday, referring to him as an angel. Hundreds of letters have poured in thanking the “Angel of Grandin Road” for his many kindnesses over the years. He’s paid for funerals, arranged weddings, planted flowers for the children in the park, helped clean out flooded basements, picked weeds, provided counseling for the lonely and depressed, helped the local police, and given faith to the lost.

James has given loans to the wealthy, and he’s given many a free handout to the poor. “I have friends in high places and friends in low places; it makes no difference to me,” Tarpley said.

Mr. Tarpley lived in the Grandin Village area for the last 30 years. He said, “If you love yourself, you’re going to love people.” He believed this idea of love then trickled down to help other people take pride in their neighborhood. James helped all of us who live and work in the Grandin Village to make that extra effort to make good things happen here. Thank you, James, and we glad you chose our village to adopt!