Wil­born: ‘friends with ev­ery­body’

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

The search for Charles Wil­born’s best friend is met with a lot of long pauses and brain-rack­ing, be­cause, as his daugh­ter Bon­nie Wil­born puts it, “He was friends with ev­ery­body.”

Wil­born died of a heart at­tack Satur­day at the age of 73, and though lo­cals were sur­prised by his sud­den pass­ing, their sto­ries made it clear Wil­born had used his time wisely, mak­ing friends and a dif­fer­ence every­where he went.

In the wake of Wil­born’s pass­ing, sto­ries about his con­ta­gious smile and ef­fu­sive per­son­al­ity abounded, along with his pas­sion for serv­ing, hum­ble spirit and up­stand­ing na­ture.

“He just lived to serve,” said his pas­tor, the Rev. Wayne Ruther­ford of LifePoint Church of the Nazarene. “That’s what brought him joy. He was just an in­cred­i­ble per­son.”

Ruther­ford will of­fi­ci­ate at Wil­born’s fu­neral, which will take place at noon Satur­day at Cov­ing­ton First United Methodist Church, 1113 Cony­ers St. Visi­ta­tion is sched­uled for noon-9 p.m. Fri­day at Lester Lackey & Sons Fu­neral Home, 1163 Reynolds St., Cov­ing­ton.

Early years

The first­born son of Emory “Bo” and Or­lean “Zell” (Smith) Wil­born, Charles took his re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously and kept an eye on the rest of the fam­ily, en­sur­ing his five sib­lings didn’t get in se­ri­ous trou­ble, said his sis­ter Min­nie Kate Wil­born, who lives in Ox­ford.

“We were raised by our par­ents, but we al­ways had a su­per­vi­sor and that was Charles,” Min­nie said Tues­day. “When (they were) both away from the house, Charles was in charge. What he said goes, and he bet­ter not tell you some­thing and you not do it.

“That’s why we all had so much re­spect for him, be­cause he was al­most like a par­ent. He was the one who used to comb my hair in the morn­ing for school.”

How­ever, his sis­ter was quick to point out that Wil­born wasn’t all busi­ness. He would play ball, dance and even get the oc­ca­sional “whoop­ing” for get­ting in trou­ble with the rest of his sib­lings.

But he had an un­canny drive and ded­i­ca­tion.

His drive served him well on the farm, where the fam­ily worked for its food and shel­ter. Though he was born in Mor­gan County, the fam­ily moved to ru­ral New­ton County when Wil­born was young and rented a house in the Mans­field area, Min­nie said, work­ing the land for the prop­erty’s owner, while re­ceiv­ing shel­ter and food.

Though cot­ton and corn were the cash crops, the

fam­ily grew all sorts of fruits and veg­eta­bles in their gar­den and raised chick­ens, pigs and a few calves. Though the Wil­borns weren’t wealthy and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties were sparse, Wil­born was de­ter­mined to go to col­lege. He had to drop out of school to work on the farm, but he would later earn his high school de­gree at the age of 35. He later grad­u­ated with a nurs­ing de­gree from DeKalb Com­mu­nity Col­lege, ac­cord­ing to his daugh­ter and a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view with The News.

“He set his mind to do it and that was it,” Min­nie said.

Man about town

“Some­times I used to think it’s just like a child in a toy shop; there’s so much out there, you don’t know where to stay and try ev­ery­thing,” said Min­nie, when asked about all the jobs Wil­born held over the years. “It was just some­thing he en­joyed do­ing.”

The rea­son so many peo­ple knew Wil­born was that he worked all around town and vol­un­teered at even more places. He worked for years at for­mer cloth­ing shops down­town, in­clud­ing J.C. Poole Co. for 35 years and Co­hen’s Men’s Shop for nine years.

One of his long­time cus­tomers was Roy Car­tledge, who knew Wil­born for more than 50 years, and or­dered two pairs of over­alls ev­ery fall for his fa­ther’s birth­day and Christ­mas gifts.

“He was al­ways friendly, and al­ways help­ful with what you were look­ing for. Any­thing you wanted he would try to get for you. If there was noth­ing you wanted, he would see if he could get it for you. He was that type of per­son,” Car­tledge said. “I’ve seen him a lot around town. I thought he was just a real good man, a down-toearth type.”

Dur­ing part of his time at Poole’s, Wil­born also worked at Peo­ple’s Drug Store and the Bibb Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co.’s mill in Por­terdale. Hold­ing mul­ti­ple jobs was a habit he kept un­til his death.

In re­cent years, Wil­born was a sub­sti­tute teacher at schools around New­ton County, greeter at R.L.’s Off the Square, sales­man at New Shoez and a self-em­ployed tai­lor, some­thing he did for more than 60 years.

Min­nie said Wil­born’s love of sewing started at a young age, and he would prac­tice by mak­ing sim­ple things, like pil­low­cases.

A man of many skills, Wil­born also was known for his cakes, co­conut pies and other sweets, in­clud­ing or­ange balls, daugh­ter Bon­nie said.

“I was a picky eater, but ev­ery­one around town can tell you about it,” Bon­nie said, laugh­ing.

Wil­born loved chil­dren and served as a sub­sti­tute teacher since 2001, ac­cord­ing to the New­ton County School Sys­tem.

He had a par­tic­u­lar con­nec­tion to Heard-Mixon El­e­men­tary School, read­ing at the school him­self and so­lic­it­ing oth­ers to read at the schools’ an­nual Read Across Amer­ica day. He was fa­mous for the red-and-white striped “Cat in the Hat” style hat he wore to read to stu­dents on Dr. Seuss’s birth­day.

“Each time he vis­ited the school, whether as a com­mu­nity leader or sub­sti­tute teacher, he was al­ways en­cour­ag­ing, pos­i­tive and up­lift­ing. His love for chil­dren was ap­par­ent; he treated them with re­spect and ex­pected them to show re­spect for them­selves and oth­ers,” said Heard-Mixon Prin­ci­pal Mar­quita Wilkins.

Many peo­ple spoke about Wil­born’s un­quench­able de­sire to serve oth­ers, as ev­i­denced by the time he de­voted to sev­eral non­prof­its and govern­ment groups.

Look­ing out for ev­ery man

Wil­born served as a city coun­cil­man for 14 years from 1991 to 2005, and is con­sid­ered the first black mayor in the city’s his­tory by the African-Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of New­ton County, ac­cord­ing to its pres­i­dent For­rest Sawyer Jr.

When Wil­born was serv­ing as mayor pro-tem, the mayor re­signed, leav­ing Wil­born to head up the city coun­cil for sev­eral months, Sawyer said.

“Even though he wasn’t sworn in, he served as mayor un­til the next elec­tion,” Sawyer said.

How­ever, the ac­com­plish­ment that most sticks in Sawyer’s mind was Wil­born se­cur­ing city uni­forms for the city’s san­i­ta­tion work­ers.

“They used to have to wear their own clothes, and Charles Wil­born rode on that trash truck one day and went back to the coun­cil meet­ing and made sure the coun­cil passed (a mo­tion) that they would fur­nish uni­forms for the men to wear,” Sawyer said. “He was a good guy. The hum­ble spirit he has is some­thing only God gives. You could al­ways talk to him; whether you were pleased with or dis­agreed with him, you could al­ways get his ear.”

A man of faith

In Wil­born’s later life, Pas­tor Wayne Ruther­ford came to know him well dur­ing the many con­ver­sa­tions the two shared.

“He was not a man with­out a lot of bur­dens, but he car­ried his bur­dens and rose above them. His faith in­spired him and through him it in­spired oth­ers,” Ruther­ford said Tues­day.

The fact Wil­born’s smile rarely left his face was a tes­ta­ment to his strong spirit, as was his unique way of pray­ing.

“Peo­ple loved to hear him pray. He had such a unique and heart­warm­ing way of talk­ing to God; it was in­cred­i­ble. He al­ways had this way when he prayed; he would start out by say­ing, ‘Good morn­ing Lord, just like a per­sonal con­ver­sa­tion be­tween him and God. ‘Thank you for wak­ing us up to­day in our right mind and on this side of the earth,’” Ruther­ford re­called.

“He would al­ways pray for the needs of the com­mu­nity and the needs of the world and would al­ways say, ‘Lord, put me in the path of some­one who has a need.’… He lived with a ser­vant’s heart. He came to serve and not to be served. Every­where he went, he was just so well thought of.

“Ev­ery­body loved him. He served with dig­nity, and he was a dear friend,” Ruther­ford said.

And that was just one of his many best friends.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.