Residents of Rockingham and Richmond County are grieving the loss of a former teacher, principal, city councilman and friend.
William “Bill” Sherman Blackwell Sr., 87, “was loved and admired by many people in our community,” said Rockingham Mayor Gene McLaurin.
Blackwell died on Thursday morning at Richmond County Hospice Haven in Rockingham.
“Always fair minded in his dealings with others, he was a man of principle and integrity and respected by everyone who dealt with him,” McLaurin said. “Mr. Blackwell influenced and touch many lives in a positive manner. I had the honor of serving with him. He was mayor pro-tem for part of that time so we worked very closely together.
“When I was first elected mayor, Mr. Blackwell took me under his wing, guided me and gave me valuable advice and support. He loved to write poetry and one of my most treasured possessions is a poem he wrote for me just after he stepped down as council member. All of us at City Hall have so many positive memories of this first class gentlemen and devoted public servant. We express our heartfelt sympathy to Catherine and the Blackwell family,” the mayor said.
Blackwell’s lifetime friend and neighbor J.C. Watkins saw parallels in their careers. Both men became teachers and married teachers, then later became principals of Leak Street High School.
“In 1973 I went on the Rockingham City Council as the first black man and I served for 20 years,” said Watkins. “After I stepped down from that, Bill ran for the seat.”
Blackwell served on the city council from 1990 to 2003.
“Mr. Blackwell deeply cared for the welfare of his fellow man and his community,” said Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump. “He gave unselfishly of himself and of his time and talents and Rockingham and Richmond County are a much better place due to his legacy of public service, leadership and dedication. Bill was one of the kindest and most compassionate men I have ever known and I have been truly blessed to have him as both a good friend and mentor.”
“We were just like family, like brothers,” said Watkins. “We both built our homes in the mid-50s. We both raised our families together and have always been good neighbors.”
Watkins said their relationship began before they moved to the East Washington Street neighborhood. Watkins said that when his wife came to teach in 1944, she stayed with Bill’s wife, Catherine. The women got to know each other well. The two couples were married within a year of each other and were involved in each other’s weddings.
“We hunted together, we fished together. We had a good relationship for 65 years or more,” said Watkins. “I went to go see him the other day and he held up his hand and said ‘neighbor,’ that’s how we called each other. Those were his last words to me.”
Watkins said that although he and Blackwell didn’t attend the same church, they served together on the Martin Luther King Committee and the Schoolmasters Club.
Blackwell was teaching at Roberdel Elementary School before he began working with Brenda Baucom.
“In 1976 he and I moved to Cordova School, where he was principal from ‘76 until ‘79,” said Baucom, who served as his secretary for many years. “He was a wonderful man to work with. He was always smiling and always ready to laugh. He was a good Christian man, and he lived that every day. He loved children and all the teachers. He could be a peacemaker when he needed to be. I enjoyed working with him. He always sent me a Christmas card each year, so I’ll miss that this year. He was a fine man and the city will miss him.”
Baucom retired in 2010 from the Richmond County school system.
Funeral arrangements are being made by McLendon Funeral Home. For more information, call 910-652-6120.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 43, or by email at email@example.com.