Local officials mourn Wester’s passing

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

EURE – In stature, Paulette Felton Wester was a small woman.

In life, she was as tall as Mt. Everest and her passion was as broad as the Atlantic Ocean.

Gates County as well as the region and the state lost that “giant” on Friday when Wester passed on to a better life. She was 68.

“Paulette was an outstanding lady, one whose main focus was all about the young people of Gates County,” said Doug Lilley, Chairman of the Gates County Board of Education who served with Wester on that public entity prior to her retirement. “When she opened her mouth, it was all about the kids. She may have ruffled a few feathers, but in the end it was all about the children.

“We leaned on her heavily to get things done and she did it because she had so many connections,” Lilley continued. “She was a person you wanted on your side. She done what was best and what was right.”

Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Zenobia Smallwood echoed Lilley’s comments.

“Mrs. Wester worked hard to ensure that the children of Gates County benefitted as much as the other schoolchildren across our state,” she said. “She was a voice in Raleigh, talking with legislators to make sure our students were on equal footing. She was a valuable asset to our school system and the entire Gates County community and will truly be missed.”

As a small child, Wester moved with her family to Suffolk, Va. However, the family opted to move back to their native Gates County, opening the door for Wester to step through later in her life.

“Paulette was a political lioness, not only in Gates County but throughout North Carolina and Washington D.C.,” said Graham Twine, Chairman of the Gates County Board of Commissioners. “Unlike many people that become politically connected, Paulette only wanted what was best for Gates County and never for herself.  Specifically, Paulette worked for many years to ensure that the children of rural northeast North Carolina had the same opportunities at education and therefore life-time fulfillment as children from any other region.  The fruits of the labor done by Paulette are visible and will continue to be so for many years to come.”

“Paulette was a person that was fierce in her beliefs and had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong.  She was the type of person that the world needs more of; someone that wanted to see the greater good transpire without self-aggrandizement,” stressed Gates County Manager Toby Chappell.

A 1960 graduate of what was then Gatesville High School, she worked to gain the equivalent of two years of higher education thanks to night courses taken through College of the Albemarle and Roanoke-Chowan Community College.

For the next 25 years she worked as a secretary and book keeper for Gates County Schools – working at Buckland, Gatesville, Sunbury and T.S. Cooper elementary schools and later at the Central Office. Included that quarter-century of service to the state was a four-year stint as a book keeper at the Hertford-Gates Health Department.

One year after retiring in 1995, Wester went to work as a Field Representative for 1st District Congresswoman Eva Clayton. Her work was rated so outstanding that she subsequently worked for Congressmen Frank Ballance and G.K. Butterfield before retiring on Sept. 30, 2004.

Even in her second retirement, the life of being a public official wasn’t over for Wester. She served as a member of the Gates County Board of Education from December 2004 through September, 2008, retiring three months early due to health issues.

Wester also served her native Gates County in a number of other capacities – a member of the Northeast Tourism Board and the Albemarle RC&D (Recreation, Conservation and Development) Council. In that latter capacity, she received recognition for leading an effort to establish the Gatesville Drainage Project, one that is still ongoing today.

She also served on the Gates County Medical Center Board and the Gates County Commission on Redistricting. Wester was once the secretary of the Gates County Industrial Commission; a past board member of the Dismal Swamp Canal Welcome Center and was a member of the Gates County Board of Adjustments.

In addition to her political duties at the Congressional level, Wester was politically active at home – serving as chairperson of the District 2 (Hall) Precinct; a member of the Gates County, District and State Democratic Executive committees and treasurer of the 1st Congressional District Democratic Party.

She is also active within the faith-based community. She attended Eure Christian Church for many years, serving there as the Church Historian, a choir member, formed a Children’s Choir, formed a Pre-Teen group and taught Sunday School (teen, young adult and adult classes) for 20-plus years. She also taught Bible School.

In 2007 she joined Eure Baptist Church. There she taught Bible School, served on the Youth Council Committee and handled the church’s media releases.

Somewhere in-between all of her life’s accomplishments, Wester found time for her writings.

In 1995, she wrote and published the book: “A Journey in Time…A History of Gates County.” That book received the Willie Parker Peace History Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians.

“A Journey in Time” was also the title of weekly columns she penned for the Gates County Index.

She has two self-written stories (one on Roduco; the other on the White Oak community) that appeared in– “Just Down the Road…In Our Own Words” – a collection of articles published by the Gates County Historical Society.

Wester is a four-time (1996, 97, 98 and 99) winner of the D.T. Smithwick Newspaper and Magazine Article Award; captured the 1998 Joe M. McLaurin Newsletter Award for writing the Gates County Historical Society newsletter and was named the Historian of the Year – East in 1998 by the North Carolina Society of Historians.

On April 7 of this year, Wester received the highest honor bestowed on a citizen of North Carolina – the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, presented on behalf of Governor Bev Perdue.

She is survived by her husband, John G. Wester Sr.; her son, John G. Wester Jr. and wife, Pam; her grandson, Jonathan A. Wester; and her brother, Michael C. Felton and wife, Patricia, all of Eure.

Funeral services were conducted on Sunday at Eure Baptist Church. Burial was in the family plot at Eure Christian Church