Surry mayor makes history

Published 3:14 am Wednesday, July 8, 2020

In his new role as mayor of Surry, Bennie Savedge is part of a historic moment in the town’s history.

Although Savedge is the first African American to hold the position, he’s humble about the achievement and focused on the future rather than the past. His agenda for political success is simple.

“Everybody knows one another, everybody is kin to one another, so it’s just a community thing,” Savedge said. “The main thing is everybody working together. That’s the only way you’re going to have something. You have to pray and let the Lord lead you and guide you.”

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The town’s population is a few hundred people. Its budget for the 2021 fiscal year is $175,000. But Savedge sees that size as an advantage — it facilitates connections and a sense of collaboration.

He credits a neighbor for introducing him to public service and politics. The neighbor took him to a town meeting. Savedge became part of the planning committee, then he was elected to town council. That introduction led to more than two decades of ongoing public service in Surry, including a term as vice mayor.

When the town’s outgoing mayor, Will Gwaltney, decided not to run again, “I went on and ran and put my name in the pot,” Savedge said.

As a lifelong resident, Savedge remembers the way things used to be.

Decades ago, “they said we had two or three car dealerships, and we had one to two stores, we had two banks and the Trailways and Greyhound bus used to stop here in Surry. It seems like there was a little bit more going on then than there is now.”

He attended L.P. Jackson High School and graduated with the class of 1973. The former high school in Dendron opened in the era of segregation. The building was torn down in the 1990s. Savedge is also a veteran, having served in the Army.

On June 25, Savedge was sworn in again, this time on the steps of the county courthouse.

As mayor, he plans to focus on quality of life issues, especially those that affect older residents — attracting a grocery store, adding new businesses and building more sidewalks. “We’ve got a whole lot of elderly people in town and they just can’t get out like the younger generation,” Savedge said.

Surry County Sheriff Carlos Turner is among those who are excited about Savedge’s new role.

“I’ve known him and his family for years and known him to be an outstanding public servant and person in the community,” Turner said. “I think him serving as mayor will do the town very well.”