12/02/09 — Longtime county leader dies

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Longtime county leader dies

By Matthew Whittle And Steve Herring
Published in News on December 2, 2009 12:15 PM

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Atlas Price

Longtime county commissioner and school board member Atlas Price, 79, died Tuesday at his home in Seven Springs.

Price, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year, was remembered as a dedicated public servant who always had the county's best interest at heart.

Price spent nearly 30 years in public office in Wayne County.

"He was just a very good servant of Wayne County," said Wilber Shirley, a friend and the owner of Wilber's Barbecue. "His biggest asset was his willingness to serve. He was not an outgoing, loud person, but he quietly got things done. And he represented the average working person. We've been fortunate to have had an Atlas Price."

Echoing those sentiments was former state Sen. John Kerr.

"He was a person who really loved Wayne County. He wanted to make his county a better place, and he worked hard for the county and was really effective," Kerr said.

"It's a loss."

Price served on the school board for 10 years and on the county commission for another 18 years before his retirement in 2008.

He began his public service on the school board in 1976.

Then in 1986, he earned his first term as the commissioner at-large. He kept the seat for two years before running for the District 5 seat in 1988 following redistricting. Then, in 1992, after open-heart surgery, he lost his bid for a third term, but came back in 1996, winning the at-large seat, which he held until 2008.

During that time he spent nine years as the commission's chairman and three as its vice chairman. He also served on the executive board of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, and in 2005, was voted Commissioner of the Year -- the same year he was named to the Wayne County Hall of Fame. In October, he was honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine -- the state's highest civilian award.

Among the things accomplished during his time in public service were the merger of the Goldsboro City Schools with the Wayne County Schools, the construction of the county's ParkEast industrial site, the building of the new Wayne Community College, the development of the Wayne Water Districts, the construction of the courthouse annex and the creation of the countywide paramedic service.

And since his retirement, Price also had been vocal about the need for county officials to address the issue of Goldsboro High School and the other former city schools.

"I just thought I had some leadership abilities and that I could help improve Wayne County and make it better for its people. Some of it I was successful with, some of it I wasn't," Price said, speaking about his years in public office after receiving the Long Leaf Pine.

During his time on the boards he also was known as a diplomat and someone who would graciously help his fellow commissioners, many of whom considered him a good friend.

"I really enjoyed working with him," said Commissioner Andy Anderson, a Republican who served with Price, a Democrat, for 17 years. "We had a good working relationship. Atlas knew what was going in the county, always knew what to do. He was always for the taxpayers and the people he served. He was an honest and straightforward individual. The county and taxpayers have lost a true friend and servant.

"I have a lot of respect for him. He was a true commissioner and a true friend. He had integrity. I think he called a spade a spade. He told you truth."

Commissioner John Bell called Price a "trainer."

"He was a great man," Bell said. "He was a great friend. He loved this county down to the bottom of his heart. He took new commissioners under his wings. He would not tell you how to vote, he would tell you the process and let you make your own decision.

"I knew nothing about being a county commissioner before I went on the board. He took me under his wing."

Bell said that Price did not play partisan politics.

"If you could put his personality and his concern about the county and the way he loved his job and put it into feet, he would be a giant," Bell said. "I will miss him so much."

Commissioner Bud Gray said he and Price were friends before he (Gray) went on the board.

"He helped me once I was on," Gray said. "He always worked hard for Wayne County. He fought for all the industry he could get to build the tax base. I understood that he did the same when he was on the school board.

"You don't replace people like Atlas. He was a good commissioner. He tried to do it right and make Wayne County a better place to live. He was a go-getter. He would not take no for an answer. He wanted to do it right."

Price did not try to force people to follow his lead, said Commissioner J.D. Evans.

"He was very cordial," Evans said. "He gave you the information and you decided on your own. He wanted you to make a decision based on the information available.

"His service to the county was basically his heart. His compassion was service for his follow man. It is the passing of a dear friend, commissioner and county servant."

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Tyndall Funeral Home and will be announced.