11/09/12 — Duplin inducts honorees into county Hall of Fame

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Duplin inducts honorees into county Hall of Fame

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on November 9, 2012 1:46 PM

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Former state Sen. Charlie Albertson and his wife, Grace, are seen following his induction into the Duplin County Hall of Fame on Thursday night.

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This portrait of the late Dr. James Seaborn Blair Jr. of Wallace was displayed at the banquet.

Former state Sen. Charlie Albertson and the late Dr. James Seaborn Blair Jr. were inducted into the Duplin County Hall of Fame during a ceremony Thursday night at the Country Squire restaurant near Kenansville.

The two join a distinguished list of Duplin residents who have been recognized for their contributions to the county, state, nation and world.

Albertson, who served in the state Legislature for 22 years, is a singer and songwriter as well as a lawmaker. Over the years, he and his band have performed at venues across the state and nation -- including the Grand Ole Opry -- as well as overseas, entertaining American troops stationed in 26 countries.

Dr. Blair, who died in 1999, practiced medicine in Wallace for half a century and served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Noted for his stand on Civil Rights during the 1960s, he helped ease racial tensions in the county by serving as chairman of the county's Good Neighbor Council. He taught at Duke University, helped found the medical school at East Carolina University and was named Physician of the Year by the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians in 1987.

He died while still practicing medicine. All three of his children became doctors.

Albertson, 80, is a retired farmer and USDA official who has spent 60 years in public service. A native of Beulaville, he learned to play the guitar at the age of 12 by taking lessons from a local blind woman. He was the eighth of nine children and learned the values of hard work at an early age.

He served in the National Guard and Air Force before marrying his wife, Grace. They have been married 59 years.

Albertson worked as a plant protection and quarantine officer for the Department of Agriculture for 30 years and was active in a variety of civic organizations, as well as his church. He became a professional musician, appearing on the Wilburn Brothers television show, the Arthur Smith Show and even performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

He and his band toured 26 countries entertaining U.S. troops in the field. After entering politics, he was nicknamed the "the Singing Senator," by his colleagues in the Legislature.

Albertson first ran for the state House in 1988, serving two terms. He then ran for the state Senate and served nine terms in that capacity, making him the longest-serving legislator from Duplin County since the Civil War.

He was chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and held numerous other leadership positions, including being co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

A recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and many other honors, Albertson said he was humbled by inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

Albertson called the induction "one of the best evenings of my life," and said the award should go to his wife for her many years of support.

He said he learned his values from his father, who only went through the fourth grade, yet eventually served on the county Board of Education.

"He taught all of us to be involved in the life of the community," Albertson said. "I have been able to live the dream I have always had, to be of service to the people of my community."

Dr. Blair moved to Wallace in 1927. He was an Eagle Scout and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland.

Returning home, he was soon called up to serve in the Korean War, where he used his skills to help indigenous children in orphanages as well as the troops under his care. After being wounded and earning the Purple Heart, he finished his military career at Camp Lejeune, where he delivered more than 500 babies.

He opened a private practice in Wallace and was a leader in many civic endeavors, as well as Scouting and his church. He was a member of the Board of Visitors at Duke Divinity School for two decades and was later named an Emeritus member. He helped start a rural low-income medical clinic in Greenevers, which is now part of Goshen Medical Center.

"I can guarantee you, if you grew up in Wallace, you were influenced in one way or another by him," said Christine Mills Bryant, who spoke on behalf of the Hall of Fame Committee.

Dr. Blair later went back to school and earned a master's degree in sociology. In the 1980s, he became a professor of family medicine at Duke University and began the family practice program at ECU's Brody School of Medicine.

He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, two sons and a daughter, all of whom followed him in becoming physicians.

His son, Dr. Mott Parks Blair of Wallace, recalled asking his father, at the end of a Scout camping trip, why he made his Scouts clean up the campground even though the trash had been left by another group.

"Son, you leave a place better than you found it," he said.