Neither Will Crocker nor Mary Williford knew they were getting an award. They didn’t even know they had been nominated.
Williford, the Cleveland Woman of the Year, said she was told her son would be receiving an award, so she came to support him. Crocker had his head down when his name was called. When he heard, “our Cleveland Man of the Year, formerly our clerk of Superior Court, Will R. Crocker,” his head raised immediately, his eyes got big and his mouth came open, as if confused.
“I couldn’t believe it when they started off talking to me,” Crocker said. “To tell you the truth, I was so happy I wanted to cry.”
The Man and Woman of the Year awards are presented yearly to people who have served the Cleveland community well over the years.
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James Narron presented the award to Crocker. His speech gave no indication as to who would win the award. Crocker was the clerk of court in Johnston County for 36 years.
Jonathan Breeden, who served on the committee that chose Crocker, said the retired clerk of court received the award because of the way he served.
“He did the job with integrity; you didn’t hear anything about money being missing or stuff not being done right,” Breeden said. “We were really very fortunate. He did a good job of serving this community for a very long time, and he’s a good man, and we felt it was important for this community out here to recognize him for his years of service to Johnston County.”
Crocker was born and reared on a farm near Pine Level. He became clerk of court in 1978.
“I tried to do my best to serve everybody in Johnston County, regardless of who you were or what you did,” Crocker said. “I am mighty humbled.”
Williford, a retired pharmacist who came to the awards dinner with her children and grandchildren, smiled when her name was called.
“I believed them,” she said of the ruse that got her to the dinner. “I was stunned, and I thought others deserved it.”
Williford, who grew up in the Cleveland community, moved away for several years during and after college. She came back in 1974 and has been here ever since. Williford worked with Johnston Home Health Care and Hospice for 12 years. She now volunteers at Johnston Health in Clayton. Her hobbies include cooking, growing roses, canning and writing poetry.
Don Wells, who presented the award to Williford, said she won because of her volunteer work at the hospital and in the community. She cares for those who are sick.
“She’s one of those people that in those end-of-life situations, she has the ability to comfort the patients as well as the family members,” Wells said. “Caring for the sick is her calling, and she’s done it all her life.”