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‘At least 10,000 friends’: Keith Upchurch reflects on Nugget’s legacy, Duke community response

<p>Keith Upchurch and Nugget after the Class of 2022 Commencement on May 8.&nbsp;</p>

Keith Upchurch and Nugget after the Class of 2022 Commencement on May 8. 

I first met Keith Upchurch, Trinity ’72, and Nugget, his beloved golden retriever, during my first semester at Duke. I would join them on the steps of Marketplace, watching as grinning students stroked Nugget’s fur or fed her slices of apples. 

Throughout my next three years—as a global pandemic forced classes online and dramatically altered the University—Nugget and Upchurch remained constants, there at the benches near the Plaza or outside the Brodhead Center. They seemed immune to change, the same kind smile from Upchurch and Nugget’s familiar mound of golden fur, in season and out. 

And so, like many others, I was both shocked and saddened to hear of Nugget’s death last Thursday.

Her collapse came as somewhat of a surprise to Upchurch, too. When I called him on Monday, he told me that a couple days before Nugget’s death, he had gotten a blood test that showed Nugget’s red cell counts being far below normal. 

“So the vet told me I needed to start thinking about euthanasia. And so I had been thinking about it, but I just didn’t think it was gonna come so soon,” Upchurch said. “But on Thursday morning I just had no choice because she collapsed.” 

Upchurch said that his grief has been coming in “waves.” 

“Sometimes I can make it through part of the day and sort of push it out of my mind for a few minutes, but it always comes back,” he said. “It’s slightly better each day, but only slightly.”  

It’s been helpful to read people’s tributes to Nugget in The Chronicle and to receive kind emails from students, he said. So far, he’s received over 100 emails from people who knew him and Nugget, including from people who graduated years ago. One student has even created an online petition to rename the elevated platform on the Bryan Center Plaza in Nugget’s honor. 

“The only thing that would be worse than her dying was if she died and nobody cared, but that’s certainly not the case,” he said. “She’s had more friends than any dog I’ve ever known. I think if you added it up throughout the 10-plus years, it would be at least 10,000 friends.” 

This past Sunday night, Upchurch returned to campus to have dinner with a student. They sat at Nugget’s favorite bench, a long bench under a tree near the entrance to West Union. Upchurch was wearing his Nugget shirt, and one of the West Union staff recognized him and told him that there was a card outside for him to pick up. 

When he went outside, Upchurch found a poster covered in messages to Nugget.

“There it was on a bench with flowers beside it, and a beautiful drawing of Nugget and all these signatures, very little space left,” he said. 


Keith nugget poster


Upchurch still hopes to keep coming to campus. 

“I thought maybe nobody cared whether I came or not because Nugget is gone, but I’ve already had a lot of people ask me to come,” he said.  

One of Upchurch and Nugget’s final times together on campus was during the Class of 2022 Commencement. It was cold that day, but they stationed themselves next to one of the Wallace Wade exits. When the ceremony finished, Nugget was there to greet the sea of people that came flowing out, including many parents who knew who Nugget was. 

“She was sort of like a dog for all seasons. She loved all people at all times, no matter what the weather was,” Upchurch said. “There was one day when it was pouring rain, and I sat on the bench with Nugget, and she got completely soaked. She loves seeing students so much, and some of them would come up to her during that pouring rain … So when I say she was a dog for all seasons, that’s figurative and literal.” 


Chris Kuo

Chris Kuo is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously enterprise editor for Volume 117.

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