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South Boston mayor remembered as ‘true patriot’

As adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, Virginia Employment Commission manager, human resources director for Daystrom Furniture and later mayor of South Boston, Major General (retired) Carroll Thackston was in a position to touch the lives of a number of different people.

He touched them all in a positive way as a tireless advocate for his fellow veterans and citizens of the nation, state and town in which he lived.

Thackston, South Boston mayor since 2004, died Sunday in Lynchburg General Hospital at the age of 79.

“With the passing of Major General Carroll Thackston, Virginia has lost a true patriot and a dedicated public servant,” said Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

“Major General Thackston dedicated his life to helping protect and serve others, from his six years of active duty in the United States Army, to his 35 years in the Virginia National Guard during which he was appointed to the top position by Gov. George Allen, and then his public service as a town councilman and mayor of South Boston after his retirement.

“Major General Thackston also focused on helping others in his civilian life, having a long career as a human resources manager for Daystrom Furniture.”

A Concord native and 1955 graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Thackston served on active duty for six years and spent 35 years in the National Guard, the last four and one-half years as adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard under Governor George Allen.

As adjutant general, he oversaw deployment of 10,000 troops to the Sinai, Bosnia and the no-fly zone of Iraq. 

His first assignment with the Virginia National Guard was with the 1173rd Transportation Company, where he served as detachment commander and company commander.

He also served as inspector general and commanded the 116th Support Battalion from November 1977 to March 1980.

Thackston is the recipient of two Virginia Distinguished Service Medals, one bestowed upon him by Allen and the other by Governor Jim Gilmore.

“The commonwealth has lost a great Virginian,” said Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., the adjutant general of Virginia.

“He was a highly respected and admired general officer, and he remained a strong supporter of men and women in uniform in his retirement.

“Personally, he provided a great deal of advice and support to me since I became the adjutant general.

“We will miss him, and our thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to his family.”

Thackston was former manager of the Virginia Employment Commission office in South Boston, served as business analyst for the Small Business Development Center (Longwood College) in South Boston, as adjunct professor at Southside Virginia Community College in Keysville and was director of human resources for Daystrom Furniture.

Thackston retired from the military in 1998 and was appointed to council in January of 2000 to fill the unexpired term of “Corky” Rorrer.

He served as vice mayor until becoming mayor in 2004 upon the retirement of Glen Abernathy.

Thackston served on the boards of the Southfax Sertoma Club, the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, the Richmond and South Boston United Way, a member of the South Boston School Board, the board of the South Boston-Halifax County Museum, YMCA and the VMI Board of Visitors.

He was currently serving on the Halifax County Educational Foundation, the Virginia National Guard Foundation, The Foundation of the Higher Education Center and the Community Foundation of the Dan River Region Board of Directors. As a VMI Alumnus, he served as an advisor on the VMI Alumni Board. He was a devoted Christian and member of First Presbyterian Church of South Boston, where he was an elder.

 “It’s no question what a great leader he was,” said South Boston Town Councilman W. R. “Bill” Snead Jr., the son of a World War II and D-Day veteran W. R. Snead.

“He was just a dear friend, and I can say he’s someone I’ll always miss.

“I could always call him and get some good, sound advice, and I guess what I loved about the general was he was always able to be clear and concise.”

Snead noted Thackston’s support of veterans, including his father. 

“He would make sure to call me and check and make sure my dad would be in the Christmas parade and Veterans Day parade,” said Snead.

“He was always reaching out to veterans, and he worked hard with the VA and Dr. (Roger) Browne on behalf of veterans benefits.”

Those who may have disagreed with Thackston on some issues still liked him, Snead explained.

“I don’t think he had many enemies.  People who disagreed with him still liked the mayor.

“He was just that kind of a person, and I liked him because when he believed in something, he always stuck with it.

“I wish I had been acquainted with him and known him sooner,” Snead continued.

“I wish I could say I’ve been a life-long friend more than anything, but I really do treasure the years I knew him.

“My heart just goes out to the general’s family.”

South Boston Town Clerk Jane Jones worked side-by-side with Thackston.

“When you stop and think about it, he was a remarkable man,” said Jones.

“He was kind and generous and thoughtful, and he treated everyone fairly. He was just a really good person, and you never heard a bad word about him.

“He was the adjutant general, he was the mayor, he was a big whig at Daystrom, and he still treated the average citizen with just as much respect as he treated high level officials that he would have dealt with.”

“General Thackston’s passing is just devastating,” said South Boston Town Manager Ted Daniel.

“South Boston has lost a leader that very few communities will ever be fortunate enough to have.

“Under Mayor Thackston’s leadership, the town, in partnership with the county, saw success after success.

“The Service Authority, Waste Authority, Higher Education Center, Washington-Coleman Early Learning Center, Workforce Development Center, Primary Care and Dental Clinics and several affordable housing projects all came to fruition due to the mayor’s perseverance and drive.”

“To me, Mayor Thackston was the ultimate example of a Virginia gentleman,” Daniel added.

“As a graduate of VMI, he always conducted himself honorably, always doing whatever is just, always doing whatever is commendable, following the example of great Virginians before him.

“As mayor, his compassion and concern for the needs, desires and welfare of each and every citizen was second to none.

“The employees of the town are heartbroken that we have lost a magnificent leader, friend and father figure.

“All of the soldiers who served under General Thackston over the years and during his tenure as Virginia adjutant general know that we have lost a great leader and a kind, compassionate human being. We will miss him dearly.  We grieve with his family.”

“Appointing Maj. Gen. Carroll Thackston as adjutant general of Virginia was one of the most important decisions I made as governor,” said former Virginia Governor Allen.

“We made many visits to soldiers serving overseas and seeing Virginia Guard troops in action during state emergency response situations, and I could always count on him to make sure the Guard was where we needed them to aid their fellow Virginians.

“I could always trust General Thackston in times of military action in Bosnia and northern Iraq, as well as natural disasters in Virginia.

“He consistently led with integrity and was motivated by love of his fellow Virginians.

“His leadership in transitioning Virginia Guard operations to Fort Pickett in the late 1990s helped pave the way for the installation becoming the world-class military, public safety and civilian educational facility that it is today,” Allen said.

Thackston was more than a father, he was a friend, according to one of his sons, Mark.

“One thing, daddy had all these accomplishments, but the one thing I want people to understand is he just was a great guy,” he said.

“He’s our dad, my brothers and I, but we’ll miss our friendship as much as we miss what he provided for us as our father.

“I’ve been in the National Guard 16 years and one month, and Jon has been in for 21 years, the last nine in the Coast Guard Reserves, and Michael did a six-year tour with the Guard.

“I don’t go to a drill where one member of my Guard family doesn’t ask how’s your dad,” continued Thackston’s youngest son.

“They still tell me stories about how much he cared about everybody, general officers to enlisted men, privates.

“He was known in the Guard as someone who cared, and someone who took time to take care of the troops.

“He loved my mother, he absolutely adored my mother, and we’re going to miss his friendship, his wit, his leadership.

“He always had a good perspective on everything,” his youngest son added.

Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in South Boston.

Burial will follow at Oak Ridge Cemetery with military rites.

Visitation will be today from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Powell Funeral Home and other times at his home.