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South Boston’s late mayor remembered

South Boston News
Abernathy / August 08, 2019

Former South Boston Mayor Glen Abernathy, who led South Boston through its transition from a city to a town, has died at the age of 72. Abernathy was remembered as a leader both in civic duty and in personal life.

Abernathy, originally from Farmville, was a respected pharmacist who moved to Halifax County in 1972 and was mayor of South Boston for eight years from 1996 until 2004, returning for one more term in 2006. He also served on the city and then town council from 1988 to 1995, partly as vice-mayor.

Abernathy’s civic involvement did not stop in the elected office. He joined the South Boston Rotary Club soon after moving, and served as president from 1983 to 1984, when he became chair of South Boston’s Downtown Revitalization Committee. He worked on a board that helped establish hospice services in the area, spent 20 years on the board of directors for Halifax County Cancer Association and served on the board of directors for Halifax United Way.

As mayor, Abernathy’s greatest achievement was successfully navigating the transition from city to town, especially with regards to the boundary adjustments, which were the largest in Virginia history. The reversion process was a new power that the General Assembly had granted cities, and South Boston was the trial case.

“Because South Boston’s transition to town status was unprecedented, the case serves a s the only available guide for other cities considering reversion,” wrote Adele MacLean in a 1996 handbook published by the Virginia Municipal League.

Abernathy succeeded in connecting the South Boston school system with the Halifax County school system as well as opening up solid waste disposal cooperation. Town manager Tom Raab said that Abernathy was essential to making the transition.

Aside from reversion, Abernathy was instrumental in efforts to revitalize downtown, especially in paving the way for the town to renovate the old South Boston bank and prepare it for Carter Bank and Trust to take over the building.

Abernathy also pushed for the Continuing Education Center, the Prizery Performing Arts Center, and the establishment of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

Others remember Abernathy as a pillar of community social life. Abernathy was pharmacist at Perkins Drug Store, Faulkner and Lawson Drug Company, and later Halifax Pharmacy. He served as a mentor to many youths who he led into the pharmacy profession, and Faulkner and Lawson was well known as a popular downtown gathering place with its old-style lunch and breakfast counter. It was renowned for the 10 a.m. “breakfast club,” where many of the town’s business leaders and retailers would swap stories.

Abernathy’s long-time neighbor and fellow businessman Ben Fincher remembered him most for his warm personality, not his accomplishments in office.

“He always had a smile on his face,” said Fincher.

But while he was an important figure, Fincher said that Abernathy himself was less inclined to seek the spotlight. “He was very community-minded and more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person,” Fincher said. “He was a low-key sort of person…He was more interested in getting things done than in being Mr. Popularity.”

Abernathy bought out his former employer Faulkner and Lawson, and he brought his own personality to bear on the store. He would decorate the front with well-chosen gift items for sale, and used it to play host to a breakfast and lunch group. Fincher said it was in character for him to be well-liked.

“We was always fun to talk to and could tell you a lot of interesting stuff because he was so smart,” Fincher said.

Fincher and Abernathy lived next door on Jeffress Street, one of the oldest neighborhoods in South Boston. Abernathy built his home there, a large building he designed to fit in with the Victorian architecture around it.

“It’s the only new home that’s been built on our street in a while,” Fincher said. “It certainly added to the neighborhood.”

Abernathy eventually sold his pharmacy to CVS and went to work in Centerville at their new location, and later retired. Fincher said that while Abernathy kept to himself, he was always open to visits, and often had people stopping by. He said that Abernathy spent a lot of time on the computer and ran a private print service out of his home.

“He had some printing capabilities that do note cards and things that were sort of specialized,” Fincher said.

Fincher said of Abernathy’s passing, “I’ll miss him for his uniqueness, and as a good friend.”

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