10/12/07 — Butterfield to name post office for John Henry Wooten

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Butterfield to name post office for John Henry Wooten

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 12, 2007 2:13 PM

Hoping to honor a man he described as a "legend," U.S. Rep G.K. Butterfield introduced legislation Wednesday to have the Cashwell Drive post office named after the former educator and Wayne County commissioner, John Henry Wooten Sr.

"John Wooten was a dedicated public servant who was deeply committed to improving his community," Butterfield said. "With all his heart, he truly loved his family, church and community. He contributed immensely to the growth and development of Goldsboro and Wayne County.

"John Henry Wooten was a legend."

It's an honor that his family says he would have appreciated, but never would have been sought. He died in January at age 82.

"John was a good husband and father. He also was a public servant. It was just a part of him," his widow Ernestine Wooten said. "I think he would be pleased with it, but he would just smile. He wouldn't call up anyone and tell them he'd just had a post office named after him. He was a humble person."

His daughter, Nancy Wooten Coor, also thinks Butterfield's gesture is a fitting tribute.

"I think he would have thought it was nice -- a public facility with his name on it," she said.

Wooten, a Goldsboro native, was a graduate of Dillard High School, as well as of N.C. A&T State University's undergraduate and graduate programs. He later served as a trustee for the university and as national president of its alumni association.

Wooten also was a World War II veteran, having served as surgical technician in the Pacific Theater for the 2nd Infantry, 10th Army Division.

Upon returning to Goldsboro with his bride, whom he would be married to for 60 years, Wooten then worked as a science teacher at his alma mater, before moving up to be assistant principal and then principal.

"It's seldom you become principal at the school from which you graduated," Mrs. Wooten said. "That held a lot of meaning for him."

Education, she explained, was always an important part of his life.

"He was always focused on education. He believed in education. He believed that was the channel through which you could achieve your goals," she said.

Wooten was the last principal to serve at Dillard High School, which was closed after integration. He was there from 1960 until 1969.

"John Wooten was fully committed to ensuring academic success for black students in the face of segregation," Butterfield said. "He helped bring out the best in many of Wayne County's young people. He was a pioneer and he touched countless lives."

It was, said his secretary Willette Starke, "a blessing" to work with him.

After Dillard closed, Wooten worked in the central office as the assistant superintendent for curriculum until he retired in 1982. He also spent time teaching at Wayne Community College and was a member of the First African Baptist Church in Goldsboro.

He was elected to the county Board of Commissioners in 1986 and served for 12 years. During that time he sat as the county's first black chairman and was named outstanding county commissioner by the Neuse River Council of Governments.

"He just knew that was another way he could serve," Mrs. Wooten said.

But she added, he took his pioneering role in stride.

"He just enjoyed serving," she said. "He didn't make a big deal out of it."

Serving with him, though, said current Commissioner Atlas Price, was a privilege.

"John Wooten was a fine man and he was a good friend to me over the years. I never met a more concerned and compassionate man than John Wooten about the people of Wayne County. We worked together on a lot of issues. He was the kind of guy, that anything came up, he would tackle it. He did a lot for Wayne County that people don't even realize." he said.

That legacy of service also had an impact on his children.

He taught us to "always lend a helping hand to someone, and to never charge for the knowledge you have," said his son John Henry Wooten Jr. "I think it would be a great day for all the citizens of Wayne County to honor one of its own."

Now that the legislation has been introduced, Butterfield said he hopes it will move as quickly as his request for the William Street post office to be named for Philip Baddour Sr. That bill was recently approved by the full House and has now gone to the Senate.