We’ve all lost a friend in the Bow-tie man

Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

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He’s been called a grand gentleman of the South.

Other lifestyle accolades include honesty, fairness, generous, and always entertaining.

But to many, he’s simply known as the “Bow-tie man.”

John Cotton Pierce Tyler died Tuesday, Oct. 5 at the age of 76. John served overseas in the U.S. Army and then came back to his native Bertie County. He helped with the family farm in the Roxobel area, as well as having a hand in the family’s antique business.

John was sworn-in as a magistrate, serving in that role for six years. In 1984, was appointed as Clerk of Bertie County Superior Court. He liked that job so much that he sought to seek the office via an election….and he won then, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again!

For 29 years, Bertie County residents and visitors were always warmly greeted by this dapper southern gentleman when they had an appointment with the Clerk of Court. Whether an individual was seeking info on a District or Superior Court case, or paying a fine, or was involved in the administration of a decedent’s estate, John Tyler’s broad smile and his charming way to speak with you on a down-to-earth level made anyone visiting his office feel at ease.

But what about those bow-ties?

“It’s a nice little calling card,” Tyler said in an interview with this newspaper on the eve of his final day in office in early 2014. “A lot of people may not know my name, but they all seem to know the Bow-tie man at the courthouse.

“Sometimes when I walk past someone (in a store) on a Saturday in a sweatshirt, they almost fall out because I’m not dressed up and I’m not wearing my bow-tie,” he added.

Tyler said he borrowed the idea of the bow-tie apparel from perhaps one of the best-known politicians in the State of North Carolina – former Secretary of State and Gates County native Thad Eure.

“I met him as a boy and he used to come by and see my father [former Bertie County Solicitor Ernest R. Tyler] and he always had his bow-tie and straw hat,” John recalled during the 2014 interview.

Next to his bow-ties, John was also known for other distinguished, dapper apparel – which sometimes includes a seersucker suit or sportscoat.

John had a great sense of humor. He was a college student at ‘Carolina (UNC), Chowan, and Campbell.

“I had an affinity for schools that started with ‘C’,” he laughed during the 2014 interview.

As a newspaper reporter/editor, I was a frequent visitor to the Bertie Clerk of Court office to dig into court records or on occasion just to sit for a few minutes and “chew the fat” with John. Our chats would more than likely center on college athletics. He was a diehard UNC man; I preferred the Red-and-White of NC State….so it’s a safe guess that our discussions would be “lively” at best. But when we parted company, we were still friends.

Professionally, John was a stickler for North Carolina’s General State Statutes. I would often turn to him for his advice on untangling all the legal terms and definitions within state law. One hundred percent of the time, his interpretation of those statutes were accurate and he had a gift of explaining them to me in simple, but effective, terms.

I recall someone years ago casting doubt on the powers possessed by an elected board of county commissioners. John Tyler quickly stepped in and cited portions of NCGS 153A-12.

“North Carolina counties are legal entities capable of holding and managing property and possessed with many powers conferred on by law. Through its Board of Commissioners the county exercises its powers and discharges its responsibilities. Except otherwise directed by law, each power, right, duty, function, privilege and immunity of the county shall be exercised by the Board of Commissioners.”

In his 2014 farewell interview, John Tyler shunned the spotlight when it came down to revealing why his office ran like a well-oiled machine for nearly 30 years.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without a lot of good help,” he said while rattling off the names of the deputy clerks and assistant clerks that have served during his long tenure. “They’re been my right arms and made my job fairly easy. They kept up with the paperwork and I just tried to deal with the folks.”

Tyler also credited his relationship with attorneys, judges, and others involved in the judicial system.

“When you stop and think about it, our system of justice, from the sheriff and magistrates working: one issues and the other one serves, my office preparing the dockets and issuing the subpoenas, it’s amazing how well it all works,” he said, all without taking any of the credit of being an important cog in that wheel.

My relationship with John also included a professional link with his wife, Marti. She retired from Ridgecroft School, serving as their Community Relations / Alumni Director. Marti was often my number one source of information at Ridgecroft during her years there.

John’s obit noted that he passed away because “his heart finally gave out.” With my dealings with John over the years, I knew he had heart trouble. But I also knew, as did so many others, that his heart was as big and wide as the Chowan River….always looking to help others in need, or just to share a laugh and make you smile when he sensed you were not having a good day.

That’s the John Tyler I’ll always remember.

Rest in peace, my friend….hope you and Coach Dean Smith are sitting side-by-side up in Heaven sharing stories of UNC basketball.


Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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