William Dees Jr. — A truly great citizen among us
In every generation, there are outstanding citizens. In Goldsboro and in North Carolina, William A. Dees Jr. was far more than that. He was, by any measure, a truly great citizen.
He died last Monday at the age of 85. Though in failing health for some time, he had continued working as an attorney even from his hospital bed a few weeks before his passing.
Reviewing his resume, one must wonder how William Dees found time to pursue his legal profession.
But being busy, and being called upon for leadership roles, were his callings even in his high school days when he was chosen as the first president of the Goldsboro High School Association.
While at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he was elected president of the North Carolina Federation of Students — as a sophomore!
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy immediately upon graduation from the university and earned the Bronze Star for his service as a demolition officer in charge of removing more than 600,000 pounds of explosives posing threats to Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific.
Public education always was uppermost on the list of William Dees’ priorities. He served on the State Board of Higher Education as chairman under appointment by Gov. Terry Sanford. But even after that, he consented to appointment to the Goldsboro Board of Education, serving as its chairman during the challenging 1960s and early 1970s that entailed implementation of the Civil Rights Act.
He later served key roles as a director of the N.C. School Boards Association.
William Dees subsequently became the first elected chairman of the Board of Governors of the state’s 16-campus university system. Fellow members, recognizing his background and finesse in pulling together people of divergent and competitive views, unanimously chose him for that role during the critical beginnings of the consolidated university approach.
Somehow, he found time to serve seven years as a member of the Goldsboro Board of Aldermen, as Sunday school superintendent and a teacher in Goldsboro’s First Presbyterian Church and to head the local and district Bar Associations. And to build one of the area’s most respected law practices.
It was no small testament that Dr. William Friday and all the other past presidents and vice presidents of the consolidated university system, along with now President Erskine Bowles, came to Goldsboro Friday for services honoring William Dees.
Had William Dees entertained such ambitions, he easily could have been elected to the state House or Senate — or probably even to the governorship. He could have brought impressive credentials to a candidacy for state superintendent of instruction. He would have made an effective United States senator. And reviewing his background in war, peace and public service, his record of accomplishments and his impeccable character, one must conclude he would have made a fine president of the United States.
But William A. Dees Jr. chose his own niches, and they were ones that allowed him to make enormous, far-reaching contributions while continuing to live in his beloved Goldsboro.
We are a better community and all of our people here and across the state enjoy far better educational opportunities because of the sacrifices, the decisions and abiding leadership of this truly great citizen who lived among us.
Published in Editorials on January 14, 2006 10:07 PM