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Rice leaves mark on area’s structures

Farmville and surrounding communities were heartbroken this month after the passing of Michael “Mike” Rice, a local carpenter and master craftsman whose efforts helped to construct and restore many of the historic buildings and homes in the area.

Mike passed away unexpectedly Friday, Oct. 1, at the age of 65.

According to Laura, his wife of 27 years, Mike began what would become an impressive, lifelong career of construction and restoration when as a young man he attended the skill center in Crewe to learn about carpentry.

He worked for others in his early career before beginning the P & R Construction company with business partner Leigh Parton.

Although Mike worked on plenty of newer buildings, his true passion was restoring old, historic buildings. A known history buff and former reenactor, he loved to learn about the Civil War and to work on homes from that time period.

“He had a specific interest in historical restoration,” Laura said. “That was his thing. He liked to fool with the old things.”

Mike, according to friends and family, liked to do things the old way. He enjoyed studying techniques used by older craftsmen and often used what he learned during his projects.

Over the years, Mike established himself as an expert in his field. He worked on numerous buildings throughout downtown, including the majority of Green Front Furniture, Charley’s Waterfront Cafe, the Mill Room and many Main Street buildings such as Mainly Clay. He also worked on countless area homes including projects for homes on the Avenues nearly as old as the town itself. These examples merely scratch the surface of Mike’s resume.

Family noted Mike always considered himself to be an old-school carpenter. He liked to meet with customers face-to-face and present his bill in person.

“He didn’t cut any corners when he did a project,” his wife noted. “He always did it as he would want it done at his own place.”

He was also known for his level-headedness, friendliness and honor, and his word was his bond.

“If he said he would do it, he would do it,” Laura added.

To have described Mike as a workaholic would not have been untrue, but according to friends and family, Mike hardly ever considered what he was doing to be “work.” He loved what he did, and he was known in the area as one of the best. His work was so popular, in fact, that he seemingly never had to advertise for business, and it wasn’t uncommon for his services to be booked months or even years in advance.

When remembering her husband, Laura noted those who are in business for themselves don’t really have a retirement plan. Mike’s “retirement plan” came in the form of numerous rental properties. In addition to his fine craftsmanship, he was known to have many rental properties sprinkled all over town, and he always had an eye out for a new venture.

Michael “Mike” Rice

“He would come home and say ‘I want to show you this house,’” Laura recalled, “and when he would say that to me, I knew he already bought it.”

Although he was nearly always working, be it through the construction company, rentals or side jobs, Mike did find spare time to partake in a variety of hobbies. A lover of all things history, he was a member of the High Bridge Camp #1581 Sons of Confederate Veterans and often enjoyed hunting for relics with his metal detector. He enjoyed classic cars as well as Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Easily recognizable by his big red truck seen all around town, Mike was also known for his outgoing nature and ease at making friends. He never missed an opportunity to have breakfast with his buddies or lean out of the car window to shout hello at someone he knew.

He loved and took very good care of his son, Adam, as well as his mother who lived to be 102.

“He’s this big strong man, but he did have this very soft side,” Laura noted.

Friends, family, coworkers and former customers were saddened to hear the news of Mike’s passing, but it is evident his legacy will live on in the many lives — and buildings — he touched.

“Mike and I, we worked together for like 40 years,” business partner Leigh Parton noted. “He probably knew more about the old buildings downtown than anybody around,” he said. “He was just a good guy. Anybody that needed help … he was the first one to show up.”

“He was the most coveted carpenter, especially for old houses,” friend and customer Robyn Simpson added. “His work was immaculate. We miss him terribly. Everybody who knows Mike, he’s like your family.”

Pam Butler, owner of Mainly Clay in Farmville, noted Mike helped on a variety of family projects as well as the restoration of the Mainly Clay building. “He was always willing to go that extra mile,” she said in reference to his work on the store. “I wouldn’t have done this without Mike.”

“He did a lot of work on Green Front; really, really good work,” Richard “Dickie” Cralle, owner of Green Front Furniture, said. Cralle, who called Mike his head “re-doer,” noted Mike worked on the majority of the business’ buildings downtown. “You couldn’t ask for a more honest, hard working person … He was my go-to guy.”