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‘SUCH A GREAT LEADER’
SoVaNow.com / February 21, 2013South Boston and other Virginia communities lowered flags to half-staff yesterday to honor the late Carroll Thackston, mayor of the town and former Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard. Thackston, a retired Army Major General, died Sunday night at Lynchburg General Hospital after an extended illness. He was 79.
The order to lower the flag came from Gov. Bob McDonnell, who extolled Thackston as “a true patriot and a dedicated public servant” in a statement issued Monday morning soon after word spread of Thackston’s passing.
The governor’s order applies to the State Capitol building, where the American and state flags will remain at half-staff until sunset today.
In downtown South Boston, a friend and former cohort of Thackston’s on Town Council, Tom Raab, recalled yesterday the good that Thackson did for the community during his lifetime — in ways large and small.
“He was just such a great leader,” said Raab, who served with Thackston after he was appointed to fill an open seat on Council in 1999. Thackston was elected to Council in 2000 and ran successfully for mayor in 2004. “I think God and country were the things with me that came across with Carroll. And he just loved this community.
“He shopped locally, he shopped with me, he probably shopped with every business in town,” said Raab, owner of Electric Service.
As fellow Council members, Raab and Thackston served during a time when Halifax County and South Boston were eagerly looking at ways to consolidate services and ease the strain on budgets. No matter was too trifling — whether it was the operation of the South Boston library or the flow of rainwater into the town’s sewer system.
One of Thackston’s lasting contributions, said Raab, was his work to relocate the South Police Department from the cramped side street office next to Town Hall to the existing SBPD facility on Hamilton Avenue, which prior to that time had housed a medical clinic.
“I think that’s been good for the town,” said Raab of the department relocation. “He and I worked hard to get that orchestrated.”
Mayor Thackston — known by many simply as “The General,” in recognition of a distinguished military career that spanned more than 40 years — had a knack for working smoothly and effectively with others, say his friends.
Ronnie Guthrie was a lieutenant with the 1173rd Transportation Unit of the Virginia National Guard, stationed in town, when then-First Lt. Carroll Thackston, a Concord native, was transferred to South Boston. Taking his place amongst a somewhat top-heavy group — “We had more officers and NCOs than you could count. We didn’t have many Indians. It was kind of an odd unit,” recalled Guthrie — Thackston quickly won over his fellow Guardsmen. Including the lieutenant he outranked.
“We became friends right away,” said Guthrie, who would become Thackston’s next door neighbor, a relationship that endured 30 some years until his death this week. “He was just a good, solid, honest guy. You could depend on him as a friend.”
With the Guard, “he was a good leader. He cared about his troops and his men. That carries you a long way in the military,” said Guthrie.
Thackston also charmed with a quick wit and a teasing manner — something that Guthrie, living next door, often found himself on the receiving end of.
“It’s kind of a tough neighborhood around here,” Guthrie said yesterday from his home on North Main Street, “to live between him and [former delegate and judge Frank] Slayton.”
With the Virginia National Guard, Thackston rose up the ranks, becoming an inspector general, a battalion commander, state military personnel officer, and chief of staff and Assistant Adjutant General. In 1994, then-Governor George Allen appointed Thackston to serve as Virginia Guard Adjutant General, a position he held through Allen’s term.
Thackston’s prominence typically won him an audience, including in 2010 when he traveled to Washington to testify before the House Armed Services Committee. Thackston, a staunch Republican, had agreed to join a Fifth District veterans affair group organized by then-Congressman Tom Perriello, a Democrat. Despite the difference in political outlooks, he became an essential part of the effort, said Frank Carr, a Perriello supporter and a Halifax veteran who today serves as state chaplain for the American Legion Department of Virginia.
“He was very concerned about veterans issues and wanted to make sure veterans in the county were getting what was due to them. He was very attuned to their needs,” said Carr. “To me, he was the county’s representative for veterans throughout the state. He was so recognizable as a past Adjutant General. It’s going to be hard to replace someone who’s done the things he’s done.”
Even with headstrong personalities among the group, Carr said, “everybody treated [each other] with utmost respect. I thought there was going to be some conflict, but we never had one, not one difference. Everybody was focused on the same issue, which was bettering the conditions of veterans in Halifax County.”
As part of that quest, Thackston pressed for the addition of a VA health clinic in South Boston. Ultimately, the Veterans Affairs Department opted to establish a new clinic in Farmville to serve veterans residing in out-of-the-way areas of the Fifth District. “We laid the groundwork for them to get their clinic,” said Carr. “We put in a lot of time trying to get that.”
Prior to their participation together on the Fifth District panel, Carr had worked with Thackston on local initiatives, including the Halifax War Memorial. “He worked on anything dealing with veterans, on high school ROTCs, all the way to even before he was mayor,” said Carr.
“His son is military also. I’m sure he had a lot of input in his career.”
A funeral for Gen. Thackston will be held Thursday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in South Boston. Burial will follow at Oak Ridge Cemetery with Military Rites.
Born in Concord, in 1933, Thackston attended Virginia Military Institute, earning a bachelor’s degree in history. In his professional life he worked as a human resources manager at Daystrom Furniture and as former manager of the Virginia Employment Commission in South Boston. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Frances Anne LeNeave, and three sons and four grandchildren, and other family members and friends.
Donations may be made in lieu of flowers to the Fund for Halifax County, C/O Community Foundation of the Dan River Region, 541 Loyal Street, Danville, VA 24541, First Presbyterian Church, 800 North Main Street, South Boston, VA 24592, or the VMI Foundation, PO Box 932, Lexington, VA 24450, or the Virginia National Guard Foundation, Inc., Bldg. 316 ATTN: Mr. Cecil, Fort Pickett,
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