Brinkley Wagstaff is a teacher at heart.
Oh, sure, he’s held other jobs. He was the director of facility services with the N.C. State athletics department. And, at least for a few more months, he will retain the title of Wendell Parks and Recreation Director. But, first and foremost, Wagstaff was a teacher.
And that educator’s heart is what his Wendell colleagues mention first when they look back over Wagstaff’s career leading the town’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Wagstaff told Wendell Town Manager Teresa Piner earlier this month, that he plans to retire at the end of June.
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That will close the books on a 13-year tenure in Wendell for Wagstaff.
“This was something we had been talking about since last year, and we were kind of looking at December as a retirement date,” Wagstaff said. “But with my brother’s illness, that just kind of crystallized it for me and I decided to step down in June.”
Wagstaff’s brother, Rusty, underwent a well-publicized bout with a blood infection that nearly killed him and forced doctors to amputate his legs and hands to keep him alive. Rusty Wagstaff, after his release from Rex Hospital, flew to Minnesota for rehabilitation and is expected to return to his Zebulon home soon.
“Rusty’s going to need me to do some things for him and there are things I want to do for him, so this will allow me to do all that,” Wagstaff said.
Those who worked with Wagstaff say his loss will be a big one for the town. Piner, Wagstaff’s boss, calls it a big loss.
“Brinkley is going to be a difficult one to replace. He brings with him so much. He’s not just a department head, but a teacher. He does that with everybody who walks through his door,” Piner said. “He’s my Andy Griffith. He even has that tune on his cell phone. He’s someone you can sit down with and when you leave, you feel wiser.”
Wendell Town Commissioner Jon Lutz sounded a similar refrain. “When I joined the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, that was my first experience with government and Brinkley sat down with me and put me through an orientation so I’d have some idea of the programs and the facilities the town had,” Lutz said.
Wagstaff credits people he’s worked with and those who preceded him with setting up good situations for him, but, like Lutz and Piner, Wagstaff often returns to his roots as a teacher.
“I was an average classroom teacher,” Wagstaff admits, ‘but I happened to be there (at Garner and Broughton High Schools) at a good time. I was surrounded by really good people.” And good baseball players too, who won state titles for him at both schools. “I was smart enough to know that they didn’t really need me to tell them what to do. I just had to make sure they all got on the bus and made it to the game,”
Wagstaff left high school coaching to join the staff at N.C. State where, again, he was surrounded by good people including Wendell resident and Wolfpack golf coach Richard Sykes and associate athletics director Nora Lynn Finch. When he came to the job in Wendell, he took the reins just a few months after his predecessor, Chris Wiley, had completed construction of the Wendell Community Center.
Any job has its ups and downs. Wagstaff says he’s proudest of the town’s ability to increase the size of Wendell Park under his tenure. “When we purchased the Clark property, that was really a big deal. Then we added some more property and now we’ve got a 100-acre park in the center of town,” Wagstaff said. Chief among his disappointments, he says, is the town hasn’t had the funding to see other projects through.
The town will accept applications for Wagstaff’s position until April 18. Piner said she hopes to have a replacement in place by the time Wagstaff’s June 30 retirement arrives. “Brinkley has promised he wouldn’t leave me in a lurch. If we aren’t quite ready by then, he’s said he would still be around,” Piner said.
Sort of like that teacher who stays late after class.