Gone, but not forgotten for ‘service above self’

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

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Over the course of my 40-plus years in the newspaper business, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have built professional relationships with numerous elected leaders of local law enforcement and county government.

While my job consisted of reporting the news, good or bad, there were times that I silently celebrated the accolades of our local elected leaders, to include their personal triumphs, additions to their family, and other joyous occasions of life.

On the other hand, it hurts my soul when we report the death of one of our local leaders. I could have help written their epitaph as it was my job not only to report the impact they had on our little corner of the world, but to also get to know them personally.

Over the past month, the Roanoke-Chowan area has mourned the passing of five local leaders….three county sheriffs and two county commissioners (actually three commissioners as one of them first served as a sheriff before being elected a commissioner). All were retired from their elected positions.

Northampton County Sheriff Wardie Pernell Vincent Sr. was the first of the recent deaths of local elected leaders. He passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at the age of 74.

One of the first major crime stories I wrote was through an effort orchestrated by Sheriff Vincent. He had put together a team of law enforcement agencies – to include state and federal agents – to perform a round-up of local criminals who had outstanding arrest warrants.

I can’t remember the exact date, but I’m thinking it was in the neighborhood of 2008-2010. Members of the media, me included, were able to ride along with a sheriff’s deputy as the arrests were made.

Vincent began his lengthy career in 1978 when he was sworn in as a special deputy with the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office. He continued in that position until 1983 when he became a full time deputy.

He left the Sheriff’s Office to become a Probation and Parole Officer and later Chief of the Garysburg Police Department before successfully running for Office of Sheriff in 1998.

Vincent retired on July 31, 2013.

Two days after Sheriff Vincent passed away, I got the news that former Northampton County Commissioner Chester J. Deloatch Sr. had died at his home near Rich Square. He was 77 years-old.

I knew very little about Mr. Deloatch until he was elected in November of 2006 to replace the retiring James C. Boone in representing Northampton’s Third District.

Over the course of his 12 years on the Board of Commissioners, Deloatch was a “quiet” leader. He wasn’t the first to speak when the board members were debating an issue. Rather, he would listen intently to the back-and-forth banter between his board colleagues and then offer his opinion.

The end of Deloatch’s political career was ironically linked to how it began as he was defeated in the May 2018 Primary by fellow Democrat Nicole Boone, the daughter of the now late James C. Boone.

Northampton County lost another of its former leaders on Feb. 28 with the passing of Virginia D. Spruill at the age of 87.

She was born in Rich Square on the day after Christmas in 1934; gained her education – first at W.S. Creecy School and later at North Carolina Central University, and then enjoyed a long career as a Social Worker in New York and North Carolina before retiring in 1997.

However, that didn’t stop her from being an advocate for the general public. She was elected in 2000 as a Northampton County Commissioner and served four, four-year terms. During those 16 years she served as Chair and Vice-Chair of that board on several occasions.

During my time of covering the Northampton Commissioners, I found Mrs. Spruill to be passionate about those she represented. She always had the best interests of Northampton citizens close to her heart and didn’t mind standing her ground when debates among board members become intense on occasion.

When you talk about Bertie County “homebodies”, one of the first to come to mind is J. Wallace Perry. The Sheriff, and later Commissioner, of his county was born Oct. 16, 1937 at the Perry homeplace on Wakelon Road near Colerain. He died there on March 5 at the age of 84.

After a stint as Deputy Sheriff, Perry was elected Sheriff of Bertie County in 1982 and was reelected three times after that.

I remember Perry as Sheriff, even though my “news beat” wasn’t in Bertie County during his time with a star pinned to his chest. However, our paths did cross when I covered the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. Perry served four, four-year terms on that board (1998 – 2014), to include several stints as Chairman.

As a former law enforcement officer, Perry was a “no-nonsense” kind of man, always following the rules, but he did have a soft side. Like Mrs. Spruill, Perry always put his constituents first and strived to do what was best for all of Bertie County, not just a certain group.

Another “old school” local Sheriff passed away last week. Elmo Benton died March 9 at his home on Perkins Road near Gatesville.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Benton returned to his native Gates County where he found work as a mechanic and later owned and operated a transport trucking company. He also found time to volunteer at the Gates County Rescue Squad.

Benton was elected Gates County Sheriff in 1986 and served for three, four-year terms.

By the time I began covering Gates County in 2007, Ed Webb was the Sheriff, but I heard a lot of stories about the time Benton was in office.

I met Benton when he was part of Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s annual meetings. He served REC as a committee member and was always near the front door of the meeting place to greet and chat with folks as they entered. I was always included….he was always so gracious and spoke of how he enjoyed reading my articles.

That’s something I’ll always remember about him, as well as fond memories I have of the others mentioned in this space. Thank-you to each, posthumously, for your “service above self.”

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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