Reunited After 65 Years

It’s never too late to say thank you

Dunn businessman Pat Godwin Sr., center, and his friend Susan Byerly of Erwin (not shown) traveled to Maysville, North Carolina, to reunite with his fifth-grade teacher, Joyce Herring, left. At right is Herring’s husband, Marlin. The Herrings were both teachers at Plain View School when Godwin attended school there. Joyce Herring made a lasting impression on the young Godwin. He was 11 and she was 23 at the time they last saw each other. Now they are approaching 80 and 90, respectively. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By Lisa Farmer
For The Dunn Daily Record

There are all types of reunions. Children with parents, siblings with siblings, school friends with each other, families in general. Groups celebrate reunions on a regular basis.

But one such reunion came after 65 and a half years.

Back then, an 11-year-old Pat Godwin was trying to learn to read at Plain View School. School wasn’t his thing.

“I wanted to be doing something and sitting in the classroom was not something I wanted to do,” Godwin said.

His fifth-grade teacher at the time, Joyce Herring, noticed how antsy he was.

“He was a hyper type. He had a nervousness about him, like he was uncomfortable being at school,” Herring remembered.

By the next school year, Godwin would slip out the window at school, go to his father’s sweet potato fields and never return. But Herring had an impact — one he would remind her of more than six decades later.

After slipping out of that window, Godwin went on to start his own welding service. Then, he started a dump body manufacturing facility in Dunn called Godwin Manufacturing. Then, he added plants in Kentucky, Ohio and Utah. Headquartered in Dunn, Godwin turned his town into the Dump Body Capital of the World, a designation the city would honor him for.

But back to his private life 18 to 20 years ago. His sister, the late Catherine Beasley, met up with Herring at a gathering. They started talking and Herring realized who Beasley’s brother was and the teacher remembered Pat Godwin. She gave Beasley her phone number and address, which Beasley gave to her brother who tucked it away in his desk drawer. After some years he came across it and did nothing.

The second time he came across it he said he thought to himself, “I am either going to throw it away or I’m going to call.”

So, he called last month.

“When I told her who I was right off she remembered me,” he said.

During the Fourth of July break at his Dunn plant, Godwin arranged to meet Herring in Maysville where she settled in after leaving Plain View. She and her husband, Marlin, who was an ag teacher at Plain View back in the day when it was also a high school, retired as teachers in Onslow County.

Godwin went to Herring’s address he had, but she wasn’t there. He called her. She had moved in that 18 to 20 years since Beasley saw her, but was just a short distance down the road.

“She said she’d be standing beside of the road waiting for me and she was,” Godwin said. “I felt like it was an old friend I had. I really liked her and she liked me.”

“She kept me at the front of the class. She’d sit on my desk and teach,” he remembered.

That was likely to keep him still and in his place.

“He never gave me any trouble. Only thing is he couldn’t be still,” Herring said.

The two said they wouldn’t have recognized each other; Herring will turn 90 in February and Godwin turns 80 on Thursday.

“When I taught him, he was tall and slender and when I saw him, he’s come to be a big man all the way around,” Herring said.

“You could count every rib I had,” Godwin said.

The two spent the day catching up, remembering shared experiences at Plain View School as well as old acquaintances.

Herring recalled that Godwin was a “whiz” at math, but he couldn’t read.

“Pat came from a hard-working country life. His father raised sweet potatoes. Pat wanted to learn. He was the best in math, but he never learned to read. They had tried to teach him to read with first and second grade books. I asked him what he was interested in and he said he wanted to get his driver’s license. So, I got him driver’s license books. We had a separate class of reading every day. The thing of that was to try to convince him that reading was something he could learn,” Herring said.

“I kind of made him my friend. He needed something extra. I was able to teach him some. How much he reads today I have no idea,” she said. “Most teachers had never spent much time with him. I was young and I was determined I could help him in some way.”

“I still have a problem reading some things,” said Godwin, a self-made millionaire. “To read aloud I just can’t do it.”

Godwin wrote Herring a letter around Christmas in 2009. She still has it. In it he thanked her for having faith in him and said she contributed to his success. He said the other teachers had given up on him.

Herring was 23 years old at the time Godwin was in her class and was just starting her family. She was pregnant and the county school superintendent said she couldn’t work past five months. Whether it was a county rule or a state rule, she didn’t know.

“I cried when I left,” she said.

“She got pregnant, and she had to leave,” Godwin recalled. “We thought it was the end of time.”

That was the last time the two saw each other until last month.

“I wouldn’t have took nothing for it,” Godwin said of the reunion. “She said, ‘I am so glad you came and we talked. It makes me feel good I had a part in your success.’

“There’s no question about that,” he said.

Herring said, “He told me I was the only teacher who took any personal time with him and that made my heart swell. As a teacher that’s what you want to hear.”

Herring said she was impressed with where her former student is now.

“He’s a miracle man. He showed me a picture of his jet. I rode in his nice car. He’s a good person and he loves the Lord, I know that,” Herring said.

“I sure appreciated him coming to see me especially all these years. I was thrilled to death I got to see him. He sure is not selfish, he’s generous. He’s overcome not being able to read,” she said.

He invited her to his birthday celebration, which has had to be postponed due to the recent COVID surge.

“I plan to stay in contact with her. I invited her to my 80th birthday. If necessary, I will go and get her,” he said.

Herring is just as determined.

“I am going to go to Dunn,” she said, “and I want to see his home.”

You never know what a difference you can make in someone’s life, even if you find out 65 and a half years later.

“She kept telling me there’s hope for me and I never forgot it,” Godwin said.