The city of Pembroke dedicated the park behind city hall on Sunday to Woodrow Pickett, who was the city’s mayor from 1978 to 1989.
Many residents, city officials, and family members came out to show their respect for Pickett, who has a heralded past in Pembroke as a community leader.
"I think he is one of the best mayors that Pembroke has ever had," said Steve Nolan, Chairman of the North Bryan Chamber. "He was a stabilizing factor in the beginning stages of the growth that we are now experiencing."
In 1984, current Mayor Judy Cook was appointed to city clerk under then-Mayor Pickett. Cook made the commemoration speech at the dedication ceremony. She reflected on some of her memories on working with Pickett.
"I’ll never forget my first day on the job," recalls Cook. "He called me in his office and told me that the most important thing is my family, and the job is second. How many employers do you know would say that?"
"He led by example and was very fair and diplomatic," Cook continued. "He never took sides. He was an ideal mediator who could filter opinions on both sides of an issue and give a cumulative solution that seemed to have the city’s best interest in mind."
Cook said he was a firm disciplinarian, and was effective without ever raising his voice. She recalled a time when a city employee, wearing casual clothing, came by city hall to speak to him and how Pickett reprimanded the employee for his attire. She recalled him saying those representing the city should dress respectfully while on grounds where city business is conducted, and even instituted a strict dress code.
Cook believes that this procedure and many others can be attributed to Pickett’s military background and the "standard operating procedure" that he took away from his many years in the service.
She showed a framed letter that she keeps in her city office that Pickett wrote to her when she first became mayor. She fought back the tears as she read some excerpts from the letter which reflected Pickett’s advice for her to maintain her virtues during her tenure.
She concluded her introduction with a brief synopsis of the progress that the city experienced under Pickett which included improvements in the fire and police departments and receiving numerous government grants.
Rev. Brad Butler gave an invocation followed by the unveiling of a sign to the newly-named "Picket Park", complete with a color photo of former-Mayor Pickett.
A reception followed at nearby city hall which included Woodrow’s granddaughter McKenna dedicating a song to him and a speech from Woodrow. This was followed by the many visitors congratulating Woodrow on the dedication and reflecting on his importance to the city’s history.
In his speech, Woodrow said he was grateful to the city and to his family. He reflected on his late wife, Dorothy Mae and on his 26-year military career. He joked about his age, which is "93 and a half", and said he was proud to be in the room with other past and present mayors of Pembroke.
"I’ve had several gatherings in the military, but this to me is the most important one of my life," Woodrow added. "I’ll just say a few words: God bless each and every one of you and thank you, Lord."
"He is a solid Christian man," said family friend Gwen Turner, who attended with her husband Lewell. "He takes those Christian principals everywhere he goes: to church, to work, to meetings, just applies them to all facets of his life."
"He’s the same person Monday morning as he is Sunday at Church," added Lewell. "You know how he stands on everything; he’s not going to change his Christian principles."
"He is one of the most well respected men in the area," Lewell continued. "I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about him, and you can’t say that about just anybody."
Gwen commented that his children and grandchildren are following in his moral footsteps.
"He was a good father figure," she said. "He was a good moral influence on their lives, and they’re now carrying out his legacy."
His son Wilson, owner of the highly successful Coastal Living Homes, was the first developer to invest in the city of Pembroke. He built the city’s first subdivision, Cameron Court, and has since built two more: another phase of Cameron Court and Pembroke Place.
"We’re very appreciative of the city honoring him," Wilson said. "We want to thank the mayor and city council as it was a very kind gesture. We hope the city park is used well, and that some of the visitors think back on its namesake as they enjoy the grounds. Our family is very honored by this."
Among those in attendance were the only other living former mayors of the city, Gene Cowart (Pembroke mayor 1990-1996) and Harry Owens (1972-1977).
Cowart, who also served in the city council under Pickett, said that the park was actually named for Woodrow years ago, but it is just this day becoming official.
"Mayor Pickett was a key character in the growth of Pembroke," Cowart said. "We had some good years, and a lot of things happen in those years. It was a growing time for Pembroke."
"He well deserves this," said Owens. "He’s done a great job in this city. The administration was well guided in his tenure, and there were a lot of accomplishments that are evident today."