J.D. Bartley wore many hats during his time — including those of teacher and principal at Mount Airy High School, interim city manager, an official of Pine State Knitwear and most recently chairman of the Mount Airy ABC Board, among others.
However, Bartley’s long record of service — which also included being a Korean War veteran and serving on the governing board of Children’s Center of Surry — came to an end with a discovery made Wednesday afternoon.
“He was found (dead) at his residence, and died of natural causes,” Surry Emergency Services Director John Shelton said. Bartley’s body was located inside the Inglebrook Trail residence shortly before 1 p.m. He was in his mid-80s.
There reportedly had been concerns in the neighborhood about Bartley’s well-being, including not picking up his morning newspaper, which led to a welfare check at the home by public safety personnel.
He was warmly remembered later Wednesday afternoon by local residents including Todd Harris, a former member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners who worked with Bartley when the latter served as interim city manager from November 2000 to May 2001.
“And as I recall, he worked for little or nothing,” Harris said of Bartley’s filling in after City Manager Matt Bernhardt had vacated the post.
“He did so because he cared for the city and had an interest in public service,” the former commissioner said. This also included seeking seats on both the Mount Airy and Surry County boards of commissioners over the years.
Bartley had a well-rounded professional life that encompassed the educational, industrial and other realms, which enabled him to supervise the day-to-day operations of city government until a full-time manager could be hired, Harris said. “He brought that skill set to the table.”
Teresa Lewis, owner of the WorkForce Carolina employment firm and another former city commissioner, also had good things to say about Bartley.
“I was fortunate enough to know him in most all those capacities,” Lewis said of Bartley’s various roles, “as a student at Mount Airy when I first moved here and when I started my business he was one of my first customers at Pine State.”
Lewis had seen the retired educator just a few weeks ago at a physical therapy office. “And he looked great and he gave me one of his big hugs,” she said. Though she is a Republican and Bartley was a staunch Democrat, Lewis said that did not undermine their friendship and he often joked about the distinction.
“He was such a fine man, and enthusiastic and energetic about anything he believed in,” she added. “He was a man of his word.”
Though in his 80s, Bartley had remained active, including efforts on behalf of the Children’s Center and chairing the city Alcoholic Beverage Control board that oversees Mount Airy’s lone liquor store on Starlite Road.
Bartley was known for taking a hands-on approach to his work with the ABC store, where the mood was “bad” Wednesday afternoon upon news of his death, a store spokesman said.
This had included numerous trips to Raleigh in recent years to lobby against efforts to privatize the state’s ABC stores and otherwise wrest control from local boards, a situation in which Lewis also became involved while serving as a city commissioner.
Harris, meanwhile, indicated that the void left by Bartley’s death will be impossible to fill. “I considered J.D. a friend,” he said.
“It’s not the same with him gone.”
There was no word on funeral arrangements as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.