Pierce’s passing leaves huge void

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hertford County lost a true giant on Sunday with the unexpected death of John Pierce.

Pierce, a former Hertford County Commissioner as well as a longtime public servant within his position with the now defunct Winton Rescue Squad, fit the bill of a people’s champion. He always put the citizens of this county first.

John and I shared a passion for volunteer rescue. We both felt these types of organizations still had their place within a myriad of local services. When the officials of this county opted to nudge the volunteers aside, it was a sad day for all involved.

We spent many hours on the telephone and in my office “talking up” the need for volunteer rescue squads to continue. We both felt the county could find a way to allow for volunteers to work hand-in-hand with the county’s paid EMS service. We both noted how this type of scenario works in Bertie and Northampton counties.

But our pleas – his as a county official and mine as a newspaper editor – apparently fell on deaf ears. Our county opted to employ the full-time use of paid EMS personnel. Now, nearly three years after that plan was put in place, the county continues to experience turmoil within that department. Case-in-point is the current search for a fourth EMS Director in three years.

John Pierce’s passion for Hertford County didn’t stop with the EMS issue. Through his leadership, Pierce and a group employed by Newport News Shipbuilding purchased and renovated one part of the old C.S. Brown School in Winton. There, the old cafeteria and gym were turned into areas that were open for community-wide use.

It was within the renovated cafeteria that Pierce hosted several community forums. He invited the general public as well as the mayors of Hertford County municipalities to come and sit down for discussions of how we could all go about making our county a better place. I had the good fortune to attend several of those meetings and found each to be extremely informative.

John was also instrumental in making sure I received the proper credentials to attend and photograph the April 21, 2007 christening of the SSN North Carolina, a US Navy attack submarine. Thanks to John, I got in without a hitch and was able to witness my first-ever ship christening.

Pierce was also a member of the Chowan Discovery Group’s advisory panel. That group just recently staged a unique event at Ahoskie’s Gallery Theater dealing with the history of the “Winton Triangle.” Pierce is a native of Winton and took pride in the history of the “people of color” that helped to shape Hertford County.

I remember the last time I spoke with John at any great length. It was November 17, 2008…his last official Hertford County Commissioners meeting. John had sought reelection last year from the Winton district but was defeated in the May Primary.

On that November night, board chairman Howard Hunter III relinquished the gavel to Pierce, the vice-chair. That classy move allowed Pierce, who never missed or was tardy for any county commissioners meeting during his four years in office, to preside over his final meeting.

And I’ll never forget his words of that night…promising not to go home and “roll under a log.”

As a matter of fact, Pierce urged his peers to think about letting him serve on citizen-based boards appointed by the commissioners.

Knowing John like I do, he would have performed a marvelous job in any capacity.

Goodbye my friend, you will be missed.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.