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Former Henry County supervisor dies at 83
Thursday, August 15, 2013
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin staff writer
Former Henry County Supervisor James W. “Jim” Wagoner Jr., 83, formerly of Ridgeway, died Tuesday.
He served on the board of supervisors, including two years as chairman, during some times when there were controversial issues, including the Public Service Authority and its mandatory connection charges and the effort to build a Ridgeway area high school.
Wagoner was unopposed when he first was elected a Ridgeway District supervisor in a special election Nov. 8, 1977, to fill the unexpired term of Danny Washburn, said Henry County Registrar Liz Stone. That term ended Dec. 31, 1979. Wagoner defeated Francis Zehr by 34 votes in the election Nov. 6, 1979, to win a full four-year term, and he lost to Zehr in the 1983 and 1987 elections, according to Stone.
“He (Wagoner) was one of the best supervisors in the history of Henry County,” said Zehr, who served 16 years on the board of supervisors and now is a Ridgeway District member on the Henry County School Board.
“He was progressive. He looked ahead. He was a family man, community-oriented, a gentleman,” Zehr said of Wagoner. “He and I lived across the road from each other (on Sheffield Road, for a time). I taught some of his children.”
“We became the best of friends,” Zehr said.
“He was for zoning. He understood the value of education. He and I agreed on a lot of things,” Zehr said.
Former Iriswood District supervisor Max Kendall, who served on the board of supervisors with Wagoner, called him “very dedicated”; “easy to get along with”; “very business-like”; “pretty good at managing stuff, no matter what it was.”
“He was a real good supervisor,” said Kendall, even though he and Wagoner sometimes were on the opposite sides of issues while they were on the board together or later.
For instance, Wagoner “basically sided with the PSA” but Kendall was opposed to mandatory connection charges, and Wagoner supported building what became Magna Vista High School in the Ridgeway area and Kendall opposed it, Kendall said. “You could disagree with him and still get along.”
“He (Wagoner) looked after the interests of Ridgeway and his people,” Kendall said.
H.G. Vaughn, the current Ridgeway District supervisor, said, “Jim Wagoner was the reason I ran for the board of supervisors.”
Wagoner first approached Vaughn to run in 1991, but the timing wasn’t right for Vaughn, he said. “He (Wagoner) came back in 1995, and the timing was right. With Jim’s encouragement, I ran and won the election.”
He said Wagoner “was one of the finest people I’ve ever met; very honest; always had a bright outlook and a big smile on his face; was level-headed; didn’t overreact; thought things out; kept a cool head.”
Wagoner represented the people of the district well, Vaughn said, explaining that “he was out and about, stayed on top of things.” He also praised Wagoner for being a strong proponent of setting up a county planning and zoning department and described him as conservative but progressive.
Vaughn and Zehr said they appointed or reappointed Wagoner to the county planning commission.
Lee Clark, the county’s director of planning, zoning and inspections, said Wagoner was appointed to the commission on April 22, 1996, and resigned in 2008 for health reasons. “I could always count on Jim for level-headed, well-thought-out responses to issues and that he always had the best interests of Henry County in his mind,” Clark said.
Paul Setliff, chairman of the county planning commission, said Wagoner was a “superb” commission member who wanted to help the county grow and prosper. Wagoner studied every subject in great detail and conducted himself in a “very gentlemanly fashion. ... The dedication he gave to Henry County will be sorely missed.”
Joe DeVault is chairman of the county school board and formerly principal of Drewry Mason and Magna Vista high schools and Rich Acres Elementary. DeVault and his wife of 49 years, Jerri, were next-door neighbors of Wagoner when the newlywed DeVaults lived in Ridgeway. “I taught or coached all of his kids (at Drewry Mason). Jim was like a father figure to us ...” DeVault said.
Wagoner was “such a great advocate for the Ridgeway area and education,” DeVault said. He added he doesn’t know whether Carver and Drewry Mason high schools would have been combined into a new high school in the Ridgeway area without Wagoner’s advocacy. DeVault said Wagoner also advocated for more development and growth in the southern part of the county.
According to his obituary, Wagoner had served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Starling Avenue Baptist Church; had served on the County Assessment Board and the Electoral Board; and was a member of SCORE, Ridgeway Volunteer Fire Department and Ridgeway Ruritan Club.
He retired from Dupont as a supervisor after 40 years with the company.
Wagoner died Tuesday at the Landmark Center in Stuart, where he was a resident.