In the early 1970s, Ed Tharrington was already an avid member of the North Carolina Junior Chamber, the long-established civic group with a mission to instill leadership through projects that benefit the greater community.
Quite active in his local Garner chapter, which he’d help found, Tharrington directed the Miss Garner Pageant for years before being called to take the Jaycee mission to the state level by Fred Morrison.
The year Morrison was president of the North Carolina Jaycees, he appointed Tharrington his right hand man, and under Tharrington’s direction membership increased significantly across the state. Though Tharrington preferred to remain behind the scenes, friends say his organizational skills and keen attention to detail were essential in driving Jaycee membership to new heights – including many members from prisons, a population often overlooked as potential community leaders.
That year, in 1973, North Carolina finished in the top 10 at the National Jaycee Parade of States at the group’s annual convention.
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“A lot of it was due to the work he did,” said Morrison, a senior administrative law judge. “It had been a long time since we’d been in the top 10 states.”
Tharrington, 78, died last month. Though he had long been considered an “exhausted rooster” by the Jaycees (an affectionate term for those who have aged out of the organization – the age limit has been extended from 36 to 40), friends say his impact cannot be overlooked.
Though North Carolina Jaycee membership has dropped considerably since Tharrington’s time, which saddened him greatly, during the past three years the group has raised more than $1 million for the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program at the Duke Cancer Institute. It was exactly that sort of contribution that inspired Tharrington to dedicate so much of his time to the Jaycees.
A servant and role model
For 44 years Tharrington worked for the N.C. Department of Transposition, inspecting bridges and making sure state maps were up to date. It was a position that lent itself to his personality.
“Everything is touched by the Department of Transportation,” said Gus Tulloss, former North Carolina Jaycee president and also a board member for the NCDOT. “You’ve got to be pretty detailed in drawing the maps. It was right down his alley.”
It was a good fit in other ways as well.
“Ed’s commitment to his transportation duties, his community, and his family reflect the values we embrace every day. He was a true public servant and role model,” said Transportation Secretary Tony Tata.
It seemed to his friends and family that when Tharrington wasn’t working for NCDOT, he was at work for his community.
He loved Garner, his family said. Tharrington helped found the Garner Library, served as president of his local Jaycees chapter and, of course, was a perennial member of the Parent Teacher Association at his daughter’s schools.
His wife of 57 years, Carol Tharrington, recalled the way she learned she was going to be a mother. After a long day at work, she came home with a terrible crick in her neck, and she told him about it. “He said, ‘Well, you can get it out, because you’re going to have a baby tomorrow.’ ”
After a 24-month-long wait, the adoption agency had come through with a child. Tharrington felt indebted to the Children’s Home Society, an adoption agency in Greensboro, the rest of his life and promoted adoption whenever he could.
‘We just take care’
Much of his energy went to his church, Garner United Methodist, where for 43 years he served as treasurer for the men’s Bible study group. His daughter, Jan Tharrington Dorfer, can remember him counting the money the group raised over the years. She would ask whether it was theirs, to which he’d respond, “That’s pretty much God’s money. We do not touch it; we just take care of it for the church.” As an adult she can appreciate how trusted he was to be tasked with that responsibility for so long.
And he was nothing if not thoughtful – a trait first demonstrated on his News & Observer paper route. When he came to the home of the Daniels family (founders and owner of the N&O at the time), Tharrington told his wife how he always got off his bicycle and walked the paper up to the front door.
Tharrington stayed in touch with old Jaycees buddies, taking the time to pick up the phone and check in with friends until just weeks before his death. The Jaycees stayed a part of him throughout.
“He knew what that organization could do, and it could do so much if everybody could work together,” Tulloss said. “He was a good leader.”