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NC Governor honors Gatling

AHOSKIE – For one brief moment of his life, Ronald Gatling was at a loss for words here Tuesday.

With a stunned look on his face and his mouth dropped open, Gatling was presented the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the governor of North Carolina on one of the state’s citizens.

The honor was given while Gatling was in attendance at the annual Christmas party hosted by the Town of Ahoskie for its employees. He has attended 12 such events during his service as an Ahoskie Town Councilman. Tuesday marked the end of that service as Gatling was defeated in November’s election, yielding his seat to former Hertford County Sheriff and Ahoskie resident Winfred Hardy.

However, listening to Gatling, the end is nowhere near.

“You don’t have to have a title to be a productive citizen,” Gatling told the town employees gathered at the old Ahoskie High School Band Room for the annual luncheon. “I’m not going anywhere; I plan to be around.”

He continued, “I’m not sad that I was defeated in the election. Rather, I look back at my 12 years on the council and see all the productive things we’ve accomplished.”

Gatling recalled that when he became a council member in December of 1997, the lowest paid town employee earned $9,000 annually.

“We’ve gotten that figure up to $18,000-to-$19,000 now; how could we expect someone to take care of their family for only $9,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve also closed the gap between the highest paid employees and the ones below them. We offer very competitive salaries and benefits for our town employees.”

Gatling said he was also proud to have served during a time where Ahoskie experienced growth.

“For those who say we’re not growing, take a look around town,” he noted. “Look at our recent annexation; a new police department; plans for a new recreation complex and wastewater infrastructure designed to accommodate growth for the next 25 years and beyond. If that’s not growth, I don’t know what is.”

Gatling called the town’s employees, “the finest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”

He also had kind words for those, present and past, he has served with on the town council as well as Ahoskie’s administrative leaders.

“Sure, we have disagreed on certain issues, but in the end we’ve all come together for a common cause and that is what’s best for the citizens of this town,” Gatling remarked.

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn, who presented Gatling with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine on behalf of Governor Bev Perdue, said she will always remember words of wisdom Gatling passed along as she embarked on her first term in office.

“I was unsure of myself at that time,” said Blackburn who, next week, will begin her third term in office. “It was Ronald who calmed my fears, telling me to just be the best mayor I could be. I’ve always remembered that.”

Blackburn added that while Gatling’s term of service may be over in Ahoskie, it may not be elsewhere.

“I don’t see this as the end, but the beginning for Ronald Gatling,” she said. “He’s a young man and already a great leader. I see a bright future for him.”

The certificate presented to Gatling from Gov. Perdue reads in part: I, the Governor of North Carolina, do by these presents confer The Order of the Long Leaf Pine with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary, privileged to enjoy fully all rights granted to members of this exalted order, among which is the special privilege to propose the following North Carolina toast in select company anywhere in the free world: “Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine, the summer land where the sun doth shine, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great, here’s to ‘down home, the Old North State!”

In addition to this prestigious honor, Gatling was also recognized by the town of Ahoskie, through a special resolution, for his 12 years of service.