Four former Mount Airy City managers accepted the invitation of the Mount Airy Rotary Club to share memories of the past at a luncheon at Cross Creek Country Club Tuesday afternoon. Former managers present at the forum were Pete Lyndens, Don Brookshire, Ron Niland and Jerry Cox. Commissioner Shirley Brinkley introduced the speakers.
“I think it is significant that these gentlemen have chosen to retire here,” said Brinkley. “What a good example. They have all left footprints which speak well of the character of the city and its managers.”
Lyndens, who served as the first city manager until 1963 spoke first. He explained how the governmental structure adopted by the town is similar to a company, where the manager is a CEO with the mayor and Board of Commissioners almost like a corporate board of directors.
“I came here on April Fool’s day which could have had bad consequences but it all turned out positive,” said Lyndens. “What I found was minimal government.” He said when he began with the city there were advantages and disadvantages to being a prosperous mill town. He outlined how the city developed an orderly agenda for meetings and a city code as well as drawing on state resources to improve finance managements systems, tax collection and even the police department.
Lyndens said at one point it appeared a disagreement between a former city finance officer and the chief of police had led to 20 years of requests for funding for equipment and additional training had not been approved, namely small weapons training. He said the Andy Griffith Show had been on television for around six months at this time.
“I was able to get the Highway Patrol Officer for Surry County to help us with the small arms training,” Lyndens said. “We found out in a quick assessment the firing pin from one officers weapon had fallen out and another had bent the barrel on his pistol so that if he had fired it, the thing could have blown up in his face.”
He said that on the first combat (weapons) draw practice an officer pulled the trigger on the pistol before it had left the holster, grazing his foot but with no serious injury. Lyndens said he and the police chief agreed the disciplinary action to the officer was to temporarily require him to carry one cartridge in his pocket and keep the sidearm unloaded.
Cox praised the work of managers before him for making leadership possible to help the community. He also recognized former public works director and city engineer Sam Spencer.
“One story I remember most was a call about us paying for injuries to a citizen’s rottweiler by our garbage truck,” Cox said. “He told me he was not going to vote for me and when I informed him I was appointed not elected he told me that made no difference, he was still not going to vote.”
He said town crews reported a noise of something hitting the side of the truck led them to discover the dog had clamped on to a truck tire and would not let go. Cox also related the early days of the Surry Arts Council in town.
“It’s really all about quality of life,” said Cox. “You have something here many communities don’t have. Don’t take it for granted where opportunities exist to protect and preserve.”
Niland also had a story about a citizen calling his office with concerns about a rottweiler. Town workers sent there returned and said they could not locate any dog.
“We called him back and he said he was talking about a rock. I had to learn to speak southern,” said Niland. “I want to thank all the community leaders now and in the past. I was here during the glory days when we had five times the city population in jobs. Mills passed people back and forth then.”
Brookshire briefly highlighted the city buying Reeves Community Center and talked about following the commissioner’s directions in two annexations the city initiated.
“As we look back we should look to the future not the past,” Brookshire said. “Always look forward and try to do things in a better way. Make it the best it can be and Mount Airy will always draw retirees.”
David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on twitter@MtAiryNewsDave.