Colonel John Thayer Jenkins, retired commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, passed away on Thursday, July 25, 2019, at home.
Colonel Jenkins is a Warren County native born in 1921 in Macon, N.C. He was recruited to play football and baseball at N.C. State University, but signed as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox before being drafted in 1942. From 1942-1945, he served our country and received 5 battle stars in the 79th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. He arrived on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, six days after D-Day operations had commenced on June 6, 1944.
Upon his return from the War, “Big John” continued to pitch in the minor leagues until combat injuries forced him out of the sport. After a few months of construction installing rural power lines, he observed a trooper cruise by and decided that was his calling. In November 1947, Jenkins joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol. After training, he was assigned to patrol the highways of Craven County and stationed in New Bern, N.C.
As a career highway patrolman, he liked being where the action was and worked his way through the chain of command with a hardline on discipline, respect, and integrity. His career included promotions to corporal in 1959 stationed in Rocky Mount, sergeant in 1961 stationed in Goldsboro, lieutenant in 1967 stationed at Troop B Headquarters in Fayetteville, captain in 1969 and served as Troop C commander in Raleigh and followed by Troop A commander in Greenville.
After promotion to colonel in April 1977, Governor Jim Hunt was quoted as saying that Jenkins was “the strong leader I have been looking for to make the patrol a proud, professional organization once again,” and many of his colleagues acknowledged that he was in touch with the troopers as he led the patrol from the front seat of his cruiser instead of behind a desk. Colonel Jenkins would serve as commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol until his retirement on July 1, 1983.
Colonel Jenkins was known as a “Trooper’s Trooper,” and he faithfully served the citizens of North Carolina for nearly 36 years. Due to his significant contributions to the state of North Carolina and his exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments, he was a two-time recipient of the “Order of the Long Leaf Pine” Award.
He enjoyed 36 years of retirement. He returned to Warren County and restored his home originally built in 1790, played golf with family and friends, bought a home and farm in Hyde County and resumed his passion for waterfowl hunting, and spent significant time at his coastal home in Emerald Isle. Colonel Jenkins loved his family very much and was proud of their accomplishments. Throughout the years and until his passing, all of Colonel Jenkins’ friends and family knew that his “true love” was the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
Colonel Jenkins is survived by his wife, LaVerne Seagroves, of Apex; daughter, Cynthia Jenkins (husband, Grady Strickland) of Warrenton; grandson John T. Jenkins II, (wife, Judy Cartret-Jenkins) and great-granddaughter Carson of Raleigh; sister, Miriam Cohen of Ohio; and other extended family that loved and cared for Colonel Jenkins very much. In 2007, Colonel Jenkins was preceded in death by his first wife of 51 years, Addie King Jenkins of Statesville.
The family will host visitation at his home at 534 Eaton Ave., Warrenton, N.C. from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13. A celebration of the colonel’s life will begin at an 11 a.m. service at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church at 210 North Main Street, Warrenton, followed by lunch at the Warrenton Golf Club and a 2:30 p.m. graveside service at Sunset Hills Cemetery in Littleton, N.C. accompanied by the N.C. State Highway Patrol Honor Guard.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Post Office Box 614, Warrenton, NC 27589.