William H. Clayton – A Gentle Giant Has Passed Our Way

By:  Brad Crone

Johnston County lost a titan on Sunday.  William H. Clayton, a long time beloved 4-H agent died in a tragic motor vehicle accident in Wake County while participating in a church outing.

Mr. Clayton touched the hearts and minds of thousands of young people during his storied career as a 4-H Extension Agent in Johnston County.  His worked helped pave the way for calming during heightened racial tensions as we integrated of the Johnston County Public Schools in the early 1970s.

And what was so amazing about Mr. Clayton was his humility.  He never wanted credit, he only wanted to serve.

Through 4-H camping, canoeing, conventions and projects, Mr. Clayton brought together young minds and talent, black and white students, from across Johnston County to the Extension Service building for fun and fellowship. Mr. Clayton was dedicated to the idea that extending education in a wholesome environment would pay great benefits for our future.

It did.

There was no greater cheerleader and motivator for the young people in Johnston County.  He brought together county leaders like Mr. Frank Holding, Mr. James Cash, Mr. Wade Stewart, Mr. E.S. Simpson, Mr. Romey Grantham, Mr. John Radford, Dr. Dickie Parrish, Mr. Gerald Toler, Mr. James O. Waters, Mrs. Carolyn Ennis, Mr. Ben Strifert, Mr. Carl Lamm, and Mr. Howard Benton to support 4-H and its mission.

As a sixth grader in Mrs. White’s class at Cooper Middle School in Clayton, Mr. Clayton recruited me for Johnston County 4-H.  What an exciting time from then to graduation.  What I learned goes way beyond my first 4-H Demonstration project, 4-H helped me and countless other Johnston County students build character, integrity and a commitment to excellence.

Mr. Clayton taught by doing.  My first 4-H Project was learning how to read the daily stock market report published in the newspaper.  Mr. Clayton came to the house to help me put together the posters and presentation – while ensuring that I understood the concept and could articulate it.  I learned from that project how to read the Dow Jones report and have used that talent for the rest of my life.

Mr. Clayton coordinated field trips for 4-H to local farms, so we could see a beef cattle farm, a tobacco farm and a cucumber growing operation near Wayne County that sold cukes to Mount Olive Pickle, Company.  Mr. Clayton took us to Bentonville Battlefield, to 4-H Congress and even let us participate in a radio show on AM 1270 WMPM, Smithfield to talk about 4-H in the Johnston County Public Schools.

Most of all, Mr. Clayton taught the order of the Golden Rule.  He taught myself and thousands of other students the importance of sharing love with other people. Mr. Clayton’s son, Wes, is an accomplished minister – carrying on a legacy in the Clayton family of serving other people.

Mr. Clayton was an innovator.  He was a community leader.  He was a builder of futures for the thousands of lives he touched throughout his career.  As a grown adult now, I look back and cherish his love, his devotion and his attention.  It made all of us better people.  Mr. Clayton was a quiet hero, a titan who graced us with his wisdom and his service to mankind.

Brad Crone is former editor and publisher of The Clayton Star and The Thomasville Times, he is now President of Campaign Connections in Raleigh, N.C.