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Bill Blalock, longtime supervisor, recalled

South Boston News
Blalock / May 12, 2021
William E. “Bill” Blalock served on the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors for nearly 50 years before retiring from public service in 2017.

The longtime county leader and farmer died Saturday, May 1 at his home in Baskerville. He was 87.

In a 2017 interview Blalock gave at the end of his career, he credited his father and the values he instilled in a younger Blalock for getting him into public service. Blalock said his father had been President of the Virginia Farm Bureau and a member of the Farm Credit Board. He encouraged young Bill to take an active role in the community.

Bill, as he was known to friends, was first elected to the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors in 1968. He was unseated after his first term but returned to his post by the voters three years later.

Blalock said when he first came back to the family dairy farm in 1957-1958, after graduating from Virginia Tech — then known as VPI, Virginia Polytechnic Institute — and serving a two-year stint in the Army, he had no immediate plans to seek elective office.

He said he was happy breeding cows and running the family dairy operations. He was encouraged by family friends and neighbors to run for supervisor, to be their voice.

Fellow supervisor Jim Jennings likes to tell the story of Blalock as “the rock star.” Jennings recalled walking with Blalock into a meeting with constituents in 2010. When he was introduced by the person leading the meeting, Jenning said Blalock received a standing ovation followed by several minutes of applause.

Jennings said he had been introduced moments before but only received a tepid acknowledgement.

As the applause for Blalock was ending, Jenning said Blalock turned to him with a wry grin and said, “I guess they like me more than you.”

At the time, the county school division was discussing whether to shutter Buckhorn Elementary School and transfer the students there to either South Hill or Chase City Elementary. The school building, located at 500 Lake Gordon Road, was the only facility serving rural students in that area. At its peak, nearly 300 students attended classes at Buckhorn Elementary.

Blalock was the loudest and at times the only voice among board members decrying the proposed closure.

He was unable to block the shutdown of the school. For the rest of his career on the board, he never missed an opportunity to verbally jab fellow supervisors and the School Board for what he said was a wrong decision.

He may have been farsighted. For the past couple of years, Mecklenburg County Public Schools has grappled with finding space for a burgeoning population of elementary students in eastern Mecklenburg County. Both South Hill and La Crosse Elementary, the two primary schools serving eastern Mecklenburg, are bursting at the seams. There have even been tentative discussions about redistricting the students to ease overcrowding.

It’s too late to reopen Buckhorn. After years of neglect, the building is slated for demolition this year.

Blalock was among the board members who saw the need for Mecklenburg County to hire its first full-time administrator to run county government’s day-to-day business. He said when he was first elected, then-Circuit Court Clerk Nat Hutcheson would oversee county operations. Being in charge of both circuit court and the county was too much for one person. Blalock said of the board’s decision to hire a full-time administrator, “We decided it was the thing to do.”

Wayne Carter, county administrator since 2004, is only the third person to serve in the position. During the 2017 interview with The Sun, Blalock gave Carter high marks for his performance though he often liked to “poke” Carter during board meetings — like a father cajoling a wayward son.

Blalock always had a twinkle in his eye as he would rib Carter about spending recommendations or proposed tax increases, issues that were important to Blalock.

He explained his most important job as a county supervisor was to “use enough judgement to not get the County into a financial situation that would require ongoing tax increases.”

When discussions would come up about the need to build new school facilities in Mecklenburg, Blalock’s standard reply was that kids could learn just as well on a wooden bench as in a fancy classroom. He felt tax dollars were better spent fixing and maintaining existing facilities, instead of building new ones. “We need to keep up what we’ve got. Make it work as long as feasible. Be sure to look at all alternatives.”

Those who were frugal with a dollar found that Blalock was their biggest advocate. When the local volunteer fire departments were struggling to raise enough money to sustain their services, Blalock led the charge for the county to fund them.

He reminded other supervisors that the men and women of the fire service volunteered their time. They not only kept the citizens safe, but they also took on the added responsibility of fundraising to cover operational costs — turnout gear, training, equipment and more.

Blalock was notoriously stern with people or agencies he felt were making empty promises to the citizens. His favorite bully pulpit topic was his opposition to VDOT’s six-year road improvement plans. The SYIP is a document that VDOT requires each county to adopt annually. It outlines planned spending for transportation projects over the ensuing six years.

Blalock railed against a plan that changed priorities every year. He said county residents could put no faith in the document which one year would include their road on the list of those to be paved but the next year would not.

Blalock often called the document the “50-year plan.” He questioned why the Board of Supervisors would waste time voting on something that to him was nothing more than an “empty promise.”

He said he was saddened by many of the younger people running for public office in recent times. He was quick to point out that his criticism was not of anyone locally but at the state and federal levels. He said they’re getting into government service for the wrong reason. “They don’t run to serve or to better the system.”

When asked to describe his legacy, Blalock replied, “I was a true conservative. I’m still that way. You’ve got to be able to spend what you need to get things done but you don’t throw your money away.”

His advice to future leaders — always take a second look before making big decisions and remember that it is important to bring attention to issues, even if you can’t change the outcome.

In 2018 the Virginia General Assembly commended Blalock for a distinguished career in local government and recognized him as “the longest tenured county supervisor in the Commonwealth,” according to the Virginia Association of Counties.

Blalock was a lifelong member of Bethany Baptist Church where he served on the board of deacons, sang in the choir, served as clerk and trustee and as the substitute Sunday school teacher for his adult class.

He was twice named Virginia’s Outstanding Young Farmer and twice appointed to the Virginia Milk Commission, once by Governor John Dalton and then by Governor Mills Godwin.

Blalock was a charter member of the South Hill Ruritan Club, member of the Federal Land Bank Board, and South Hill Masonic Lodge #297. He also served as President of Cooperative Milk Producers, as a board member and President of the Virginia State Dairyman’s Association and Virginia Holstein Association, and President of the Colonial Farm Credit Board.

Blalock is survived by his wife, Doma Ferguson Blalock, daughter Scarlett Courter and husband Carlton, and grandson James Carlton “Carl” Courter IV. A funeral and burial were held Tuesday, May 4.

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