Smithfield Herald

Friends remember civic leader killed in motorcycle crash

David Arnn, left, with longtime friend Carlton Pernell, right, at the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Arnn and Pernell stopped there during a trip to Amish country last year.
David Arnn, left, with longtime friend Carlton Pernell, right, at the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Arnn and Pernell stopped there during a trip to Amish country last year.

David Arnn, a civic leader and director of Smithfield Manor nursing home, died tragically earlier this month.

Arnn, 71, died of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident near Mount Union, Pa. A longtime member of Rotary International, Arnn was on a motorcycle trip with other Rotarians when his bike crashed into a median.

Arnn was involved in senior care for 41 years, including a two-year stint as director of the Johnston County Council on Aging, now known as Community & Senior Services

Neal Davis, director of Community & Senior Services, recalled the quiet determination Arnn showed in his work. He was passionate about his work, Davis said, but never allowed himself to succumb to the stress of the job.

Families of nursing home patients are going through a difficult time. They sometimes lash out at staff, but Davis said Arnn never showed any hint of anger toward them.

“He just accepted that was the line of work he chose, and he understood how people might be frustrated,” Davis said.

Davis recalled watching Arnn deal with complaints by family members. He said they usually came in angry but walked out reassured that Arnn would address their concerns.

Family members would sometimes lodge complaints with the state out of frustration, Davis said. Auditors never found any substantial problems with his facilities.

Through it all, Davis said, Arnn remained calm, dedicated to his work. “He would always say, ‘We do this because we choose to,’” Davis said. “What he was talking about was providing people with care, despite the alligators surrounding the place.”

Rotary Club was another passion of Arnn’s. He was one of the biggest contributors to the Rotary Foundation and served one term as district governor. He even traveled to India to help support one of the club’s causes – distributing the polio vaccine to children.

Longtime members of the club said Arnn rarely talked about his own accomplishments.

“He was one of those guys that seemed to get things done … but he never seemed to draw attention to himself,” said Rick Carnagua, current governor of Rotary district 7710. “You don’t remember that it was about him; it was about Rotary.”

Martin Tetrault, a local attorney and fellow Rotarian, remembered how Arnn sponsored a local triathlon he was staging to benefit the foundation. They were having trouble raising money to cover the event’s costs.

“I hadn’t asked him, and it hadn’t been pushed on the other rotary members,” Tetrault said. “He took it upon himself.”

Arnn was a lifetime biker, but he approached riding in the same way he approached everything else: low key.

“He was not pretentious; he didn’t go out and buy $1,000 in Harley gear just to impress people,” said Carlton Pernell, who was riding with Arnn when he crashed. “He just loved to ride.”

Pernell and Arnn were close friends, often spending Saturday afternoons riding their Harleys wherever the day took them. They had known each other for more than 30 years – they watched their sons grow up together and attended countless Rotary functions.

But Pernell’s fondest memories of Arnn were of motorcycle trips. “You have to do it to understand it,” he said. “There’s kind of a bond between people who ride.”

In interviews, one word that frequently came up among Arnn’s friends was “quiet.” But friends said he wasn’t aloof or anti-social; he simply didn’t talk much about himself.

“I saw both sides,” Pernell said. “He loved to engage people in conversation. He’d always be inquisitive of the person he was talking to rather than talking about himself.”

But his accomplishments left friends and fellow Rotary members with plenty to talk about after his death. “He never said a lot, but his actions spoke loudly,” Carnagua said.