How Small Town Mayor Joyce Whichard-Brown Is Making Main Street Vibrant Again and Getting Businesses Backby Cash Michaels December 29, 2019
WILLIAMSTON, N.C. – It was two years ago when Joyce Whichard-Brown rocked this small town in Martin County by unseating then Mayor Tommy Roberson, who had served for 22 years.
Whichard-Brown was the first African-American, and female ever to be elected mayor in Williamston, and her 61% victory was a clear sign that that the town was ready for change.
Today, in the middle of her first term, Mayor Whichard-Brown is already saying that she’s ready for a second-term, because her vision for the improvement of Williamston is far from finished. And neither is her energy or commitment to get things done.
“I’m lovin’ it,” she gleefully declared in a phone interview last week. “It’s working me…it really is…it’s a lot of going and meeting with people.”
Mayor Whichard-Brown especially loves visiting young school children, and upon their seeing her, hearing them sat how they’d like to grow up to be the mayor one day.
Joyce Whichard-Brown was born and raised in Wiliamston. She left right after graduating E.J. Hayes High School – the all-black school in Williamston – going to Alexandria, Va. to live in 1967. Eventually she went to work for the US Patent Office, and then later ran the offices of various law firms in Washington, DC, got married, and then decided several years ago to move back home, and then eventually run for mayor in 2015.
After she was elected, Mayor Whichard-Brown discovered something quite unusual – there was no office for the mayor. Her predecessor, Tommy Roberson, always did his business from home, which included taking important town documents with him.
Whichard-Brown knew instantly that was going to change, and ordered that she be given an office, with a one-way glass so that those in the hall couldn’t see inside. Now, however, Mayor Whichard-Brown says people coming for town business primp, and do their hair in their reflection while the mayor watches them.
The population of Williamston is 5,511 residents as of the 2010 US Census.
Whichard-Brown says she and the town council want to make Williamston “vibrant again,” which means addressing all of the vacant buildings on Main Street, getting businesses to come back, hire and operate like they used to. Renovations are being done presently. Whichard-Brown is also courting major corporations like Krispy Kreme to open a franchise there, and perhaps, a seafood restaurant.
“I just need downtown to pickup, and do better,” Mayor Whichard-Brown says.
Jobs are desperately needed, the mayor says. After they finish school, young people move away, just like she did back in the late ‘60s, looking for opportunity. So Whichard-Brown is always in the hunt for companies to see Williamston as a good place to invest, whether it be retail or manufacturing.
She also hopes that new Highway 87 that’s coming through will also bring a slew of new jobs to the area.
Housing is affordable, the mayor says, somewhere in the $100,000 range. But she puzzled as to why they are not selling as they should. Retirees are the bulk of new homebuyers, and will probably remain so until the job market picks up.
One common problem of small towns like Williamston is that there really isn’t a whole lot of young people to do, and Mayor Whichard-Brown is aware of it. She was able to get a local Boys and Girls Club to open – complimenting the bowling alley and two parks – and is hoping the council will work with her in establishing other healthy activities for young people to be involved with.
Mayor Whichard-Brown and her husband, of 15 years a retired attorney, moved back home from Washington, DC in 2005. She has two adult children from a previous marriage – a daughter, 50, who is retired from the US Air Force, and a son, 51, who is a standup comedian.
Ask her about that second-term she says she’s definitely vying for, even though she’s just in the middle of her first four-year term, and Mayor Whichard-Brown says, “Yes….I am so, so positive [about it].”
“I really do think this is what GOD has for me,” Williamston Mayor Joyce Whichard-Brown added, before she had to leave to appear in a town parade