2017-05-17 / Front Page

Strictly Personal

By Roy F. Chalker, Jr.

I met Wayne Crockett in September of 1952. With a little research I could be more precise because it was our first day of school.

There were only two first grade classrooms, organized alphabetically, so Wayne and I found ourselves with Miss Alice McElmurray, while many of our new friends were in Mrs. Carswell's room. I can’t say for certain, but it's possible that we shared a desk, or at least half of one. The old-fashioned desks were built so that the front of my desk also provided the seat for whoever was in front of me. Alphabetically, Chalker and Crockett were probably sitting pretty close.

Like most little boys, we began our friendship in the schoolyard, shooting marbles, going down the slide or swinging from the “monkey” bars.

Over time, we became Cub Scouts, with my mom as the Den Mother. On father-son outings we would sometimes have to share a dad because one of ours would be busy or out of town.

But the most exciting times were when I’d be invited to ride home with him on the school bus and spend the rest of the afternoon on his farm. Mr. Syms was the driver, and I would watch with excitement when he stopped at the railroad crossings and MY friend Wayne would jump out of the bus, look both ways, cross the tracks and let Mr. Syms know it was safe to bring the rest of the kids across. I thought it was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I should have known then that he was destined for great things.

When we got to the little white farmhouse out on Highway 56, Mrs. Crockett would have something homemade and delicious waiting. After our snack, I always went in to Wayne’s bedroom to pay homage to his bedspread. It was embroidered with a full length picture of Davy Crockett, coonskin cap and all. Also very cool.

Then, for the time we had left, the two of us would take off across the fields accompanied by his big old lab named Foots. Just two skinny little boys being boys, trying to fill the afternoon with as much freedom as possible.

We spent the next 12 years as classmates and the next 50-plus as friends, each of us eventually taking over the family businesses from our fathers and nurturing our Burke County roots.

I got into politics early – in my 20s, Wayne considerably later – in his 50s. I believe we both did it for the same reason – to try to be of some service to the community that helped shape and support us.

I never knew an elected official who took his responsibilities any more seriously than Wayne. Every issue he faced was given thoughtful, careful consideration. His decision on a matter would come only after he had weighed all the options and ramifications. His vote may not have carried the day, but it would have been HIS vote, swayed only by his own convictions.

When the economy slowed down and money was tight, he held fast to his naturally conservative nature and fought hard for budget tightening.

He led the effort to build a new judicial center, but didn’t live to see its construction get underway.

The never-ending problem of animal control in the county concerned him his entire 16 years as a commissioner. He turned to an old and trusted friend, Waynesboro City Councilman Bill Tinley, to head a study group to find a solution.

The recommendations were finished last year, but he won’t get to see them implemented.

I was flattered that he came to me for advice when the hospital fell on hard times a few years back. It was because I had helped resolve a similar problem several decades ago and get the facility back on its feet. He was determined not to let the hospital close, and it hasn’t.

He would call and ask me to attend a commission meeting when big issues came up. We would maintain eye contact during the proceedings, and I could see his reactions by the raising of an eyebrow or that special look he had when his BS monitor kicked in.

Wayne died last week after an unbelievably courageous four-year battle against mesothelioma, the asbestos-related cancer that attacks the lungs. I have to admit that for the first couple of years, I thought he would survive it. It was only after a little research I realized that you don’t beat this type of cancer. If anyone could, it would be Wayne.

His strength finally failed him, but never his courage. Remember, he was the one who crossed the tracks all by himself to make sure it was safe for everyone else.

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