Millard Peedin was a third-generation tobacco farmer in the small town of Pine Level in Johnston County.
He worked his family’s land for 24 years, raising his family of five in the home where he was born. Yet many will likely remember him not as a tobacco farmer, but as a tax collector.
They will likely remember him fondly, too – a rarity in that line of work.
When he had gotten too old to raise the all-consuming crop of tobacco, Peedin turned to the public sector. He secured a full-time position as a Johnston County Deputy Tax Collector, where he became known as “the nice tax collector,” serving for 12 years in the post.
Peedin died this fall at the age of 96.
In the slow times during his farming years, Peedin often spent the tax season posting taxes for Johnston County residents. He literally listed the taxes – typed on paper – at the courthouse, before such things were automated.
But it wasn’t until he became a deputy that he had to deal with taxpayers on a personal level. He heard stories of families unable to pay amounts that to some would seem a pittance, but for these county landowners were an insurmountable levy. For years people would carry a debt they simply could not pay off.
Often these people had been dealt hardships such as serious illness. In these cases, Peedin was known simply to pay down their debt out of his own pocket.
He would tell his family, “It was just the right thing to do.”
As a career farmer working a modest amount of land, Peedin was not wealthy man. But his family says it was always in his nature to make the best of the situation – for everyone.
“It would just kind of set them free, you know?” said his son Steven Peedin.
His children have heard countless stories of their father’s kindness and how his paying a debt alleviated crippling amounts of stress.
“He was very adaptable,” said his son Steven Peedin. “Whatever situation confronted him, he would figure out a way to make it a happy place.”
Katherine Parrish, the youngest of his three children, remembers hearing about some of the “pitiful” circumstances he encountered. In one case, the husband of a couple had lost both legs because of illness, and the wife was also ill. They did not owe much, so he paid it for them.
“He was just very understanding of a lot of people’s predicaments,” Parrish said.
Born into a family of nine children, Peedin, did not initially plan to take over his father’s farm. At one point, it consisted of nearly a dozen tracts of land spread throughout the Pine Level area.
“Millard was a dependable, sweet brother who was always there for us younger children. We loved him dearly,” said Geraldine Crane, 92, his only surviving sibling. “He had a stabilizing effect on us siblings.
“He even told on my younger sister and me when he found us behind the barn, smoking rabbit tobacco! He was the kind of brother you would want to have.”
After high school, Peedin attended King’s Business College in Raleigh. In 1936, he began work for the federal government as a clerk typist. This education and training would serve him well during World War II, when he was posted away from the gunfire in places like West Palm Beach, Fla., and Natal, Brazil. He always felt a bit guilty about not being placed in combat, Parrish said.
After the war he worked two more years in Raleigh before returning home, where his help was needed. His parents eventually left the home to him, and, with the help of one of his brothers, he farmed tobacco and sold eggs. There were some 3,000 chickens on the property as well.
A few years into farm life, he met his wife, Sara, on a blind date. After the first date he was already telling his friends he had met the woman he would marry.
Though farming might not have been his first choice, he was happy to help his family, and he often told his children that his favorite years were the ones spent on the farm when they were young, Parrish said.
She remembers how loving he was, especially when arriving home after a long day in the fields.
“He would stop right there and get down and love us. And we’d look for a clean spot where we could kiss him,” she said.
Peedin would play the role of father figure to two of his grandsons as well, one being Chad Casey, who works in the advertising department at the News & Observer. Casey’s mother became a single parent when he was just 3 years old, and he was raised in that same farmhouse with the help of his grandparents.
Peedin more than made up for his father’s absence, said Casey: “I never hurt for not having that presence around.”
The two had breakfast together every Saturday morning for the last 10 years at the Parkside Café in Pine Level. Until his diet changed recently, Peedin would order two eggs scrambled softly, bacon, grits, toast and black coffee with one cream.
Though he was a small man, maybe 5-feet-5-inches tall at most, his appetite for breakfast was large – almost as big as his heart.
“Dad was small in stature, but I told him many times he was the biggest man I’ve ever known,” Parrish said.