For years, Norlina’s Dwight Pearce has held the distinction of being the mayor who also manages the antique store next to the town’s main intersection. At the end of the month, he will retire from his service in guiding the town, but not from his lifelong pursuit of helping others.

Pearce, the son of the late C.H. and Ophelia Pearce, was born in Youngsville, but has called Norlina home for nearly all of his life since he was 6 months old. His family moved to the town at that time because of his father’s work with Seaboard Airline Railroad. 

Pearce attended Norlina High School from first grade through his senior year. There he found role models in and learned life lessons from teachers such as Coach Bob Price, Lucy Perkinson and Bessie Hicks.

The mayor went on to graduate from East Carolina University with a major in English and minor in Social Studies. Pearce also earned a certificate in Theatre Arts. 

Pearce completed a 42-year teaching career when he retired in 2011 after teaching at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, Warren Academy, Henderson High School, Vance Senior High School and Northern Vance High School. Primarily an English teacher, he also taught drama and speech for 15 years.

In addition to working with high school students in theatre productions and directing plays in the community, Pearce in 1972 became the founding director of the Henderson Rec Players and continued to direct productions for 30 years.

The 1970s also brought Pearce into the role of elected official as a member of the Norlina Town Board. He recalled that close friend Bill Perry, who served as the town’s mayor for a number of years, encouraged him to run for a seat on the board as a way to give back to the town. Pearce continued to serve on the town board until he was elected as mayor in 2007 after then-mayor Walter Newman retired. He has served in that capacity ever since.

Pearce considers Perry and the people of Norlina as among those who influenced the course of his adult life. Throughout his tenure in elected office, Pearce has viewed his role as that of serving the residents of the town he loves.

“The people of Norlina are so wonderful and encouraging and hopeful,” he said. “They will help when they can. They want you to be successful.”

Pearce also drew inspiration from Norlina resident Graham Grissom, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 100. For Pearce, Grissom exemplified a life of service as a World War II veteran, former Norlina mayor and Norlina Town Board member, businessman and active member of Norlina United Methodist Church.

During his time in elected office, Pearce has seen the staff at Norlina Town Hall grow from one person — the town clerk — to multiple people handling day-to-day town business. Among them, he credits town Public Works Director Blaine Reese as being largely responsible for upgrades to the town’s water and sewer system.

As mayor, Pearce is proud of Norlina’s growth in recent years, which has included the arrival and expansion of such stores as Family Dollar, AutoZone and Dollar General, and the annexation of businesses on the outskirts of town.

Norlina’s current commissioners, Town Clerk Christina Allman and Reese described Pearce as someone dedicated to treating citizens equally and fairly.

Allman highlighted Pearce’s love for Norlina.

“I feel like he’s been good for the town because he loves the town. He loves the people in the town,” she said.

Reese said that his grandfather, the late William Ellington, and Pearce were friends for many years. Both were also Masons. Reese recalled them cooking Masonic Lodge stews together. As Reese grew older, Pearce was his Grammar teacher during his junior year at Northern Vance.

“Dwight has been probably one of the most inspirational people I have known. He has been knowing me all my life,” Reese said. “He has given me encouragement to do my best, do right and treat everyone the same.”

Commissioner Wayne Aycock, who was elected earlier this month to succeed Pearce as mayor, said that Pearce provided important leadership lessons.

“He went straight by the book with no favoritism,” Aycock said. “I learned don’t jump to conclusions, take time to look (at issues) from all angles.”

Commissioner Bill Harris, who did not seek re-election to the board, described the mayor as conscientious and good at his job.

Commissioner Tyrone Simes, recently elected to his second term on the town board, said that Pearce provided him with support and advice.

Commissioner Lou Stultz, who did not seek re-election, placed Pearce among the people who have devoted much of their time toward serving Norlina.

“In the town of Norlina, we have been blessed with several people who have spent a lot of their time working for and with the town. Graham Grissom, Walter Newman and Dwight Pearce come to mind,” she said.

Commissioner Jimmy Overby said that in 40 years of service on the town board, he has worked with six mayors. He and Pearce taught at Northern Vance High School at the same time, and both are members of Norlina United Methodist Church.

“He has been an asset to the town,” Overby said. “He is honest and very easy to talk to. He is a fine Christian man and has been a friend.”

While his service as mayor is drawing to a close, Pearce will help the town of Norlina in other ways. He will continue to manage Roost Crossroads Antiques & Collector’s Mall where U.S. 1 meets Highway 158/401. Pearce worked with previous owner Herbert Burrows, a friend and former town commissioner, for a number of years. After Burrows passed away in 2012, it was a natural transition for Pearce to keep his friend’s business going.

In this role, he will continue to welcome people to Norlina and answer questions about the history of the town.

Pearce hopes to travel more, particularly to return to Italy, and to continue his service at Norlina United Methodist Church.

He praised the Norlina Town Hall staff for their work.

“A (town) board and mayor can only be as good as the town hall people,” Pearce said. “without the town workers, no board or mayor can do anything.

While Pearce will take a different service role in retirement from one aspect of his life, he remains grateful to those who mean the most to him: Norlina residents.

“Thank you, Norlina, for honoring me and allowing me to serve,” he said.