People make our lives richer

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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Our county has always been made richer by the people who have lived here. Here are a few thoughts on three who died recently.

• Robert W. (Bobby) Wright Jr. was a longtime employee of Gwaltney Motor Company. Bob somehow turned that job into a ministry to the community’s elderly, especially widows. I vividly recall that while my mother was still driving (she did so for way too long) it was Bob Wright she called whenever her car had a problem.

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He would, in her words, “take care of it.” And he did, but not just for her. Elderly people all over Smithfield and northern Isle of Wight depended on Bob’s goodwill, and it was bountiful. Of course, Bob’s nature didn’t just happen. He came from a family of good neighbors. His mother Virginia was a longtime telephone and police dispatcher known for “taking care” of things, and his father Bob was forever helping neighbors in need. It was something of a family trait, and darned good one.

• Martha Powell exemplified the best in grassroots politics. She was a Republican when that was practically a bad word in old Democratic Isle of Wight. When Linwood Holton ran in 1965 against local favorite Mills E. Godwin Jr., Martha stood right alongside Holton, never wavering from her stand as a proud Virginia Republican.

Four years later, she worked as hard as any party member in Virginia to get Holton elected, and he was, becoming the first Republican governor in Virginia since Reconstruction.

About 25 years ago, Holton attended a reception hosted by the Virginia coalition for Open Government at the College of William and Mary. Talking with Anne and me, he recalled that we were from Smithfield. Did we know Martha Powell, he asked. Of course, we did, and he made me pledge to extend his gratitude once again for her help in his campaigns.

Political parties have justifiably earned a bad reputation in recent years, but love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are vital to democracy. And neither party operate without their “diehards.” Martha Powell was one, and I salute her for it.

• Carlin Taylor was a native and lifelong resident of Smithfield. He was deeply involved in his church, Main Street Baptist, and in a number of business ventures, but I remember him as the tireless defender of Smithfield Packing’s employees, whom he represented as business manager of the Food Processors Local union.

Virginia has always prided itself as a “right to work” state and, as a result, union representatives have never been terribly popular among Virginia’s business community.

That didn’t bother Carlin Taylor. He was an unapologetic representative of the people who stood along the kill and cut floor lines eight hours a day. Whether negotiating a contract for the full work force or representing an employee who felt he or she had been mistreated, he pressed labor’s position to the company’s management. Whether he made great gains for workers or not, he was their voice for nearly two decades and earned their respect along the way.

Three people, each with their own personality, with their own contribution to the community, and their own place in local history.