A son could not offer a higher compliment to a father.
On a bright sunny day, Brian Pearce would give his late father the ultimate praise.
“I wanted to be like dad,” he would say on July 23 in the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary, where family, friends and retired educators came to celebrate the life of Benny M. Pearce and to remember his 34 years as a Cumberland County Schools assistant superintendent, principal and teacher.
Simply put, Benny Pearce was a teacher.
“As you know, my dad was an educator,” daughter Kimberly Pearce Hall would remind us about her father, who also was athletic director for Cumberland County Schools for more than 20 years. “He taught us Friday nights were for football games, Saturdays for N.C. State football, Tuesdays and Fridays for basketball, and Sundays for Sunday school.”
But, she would say, he was her lifetime teacher.
“Dad taught me to be brave,” Hall would say. “He taught me to shoot a basketball. He taught me to love pets. He taught me to be spontaneous. He taught me to be a good parent. Dad taught me to work hard to be successful. Even after he had a stroke in 2002, he taught me to ‘Never give up.’”
Benny Pearce was the father every son or daughter should have in life.
“My father,” Hall would say, “believed in me.”
A humble man
Benny Pearce was a humble man who came from humble beginnings, born the 10th child of the late Lonnie Ervin and Mary Regan Pearce in Parkton. He worked at being a good student at St. Pauls High School and excelled in athletics to include football, basketball and baseball.
He turned away college athletic scholarship offers to accept a limited academic scholarship to at N.C. State University and in 1963 earned a degree in mathematics education that would lead to his nearly four decades as an educator for Cumberland County Schools. He earned his masters from East Carolina University in 1968 and an education specialist degree from ECU in 1974.
He wasn’t about nameplates on his door or his desk.
He wasn’t about titles beside his name to include induction into the 1998 N.C. Athletic Directors Hall of Fame. Proud, perhaps, but the accolades didn’t define Benny Pearce, which was just a part of his nature and humble ways.
He was about helping teachers and coaches and students, and helping all to be their best from the classrooms to the athletic fields and beyond.
After retiring from Cumberland County Schools on June 30, 1996, Pearce worked with Campbell University and Methodist University.
Eastover was home, and Pearce and his wife, Joann, loved being a part of the community at their home along “Gus Williams Curve” along Middle Road.
“He was one of the original people who fought to get us incorporated,” Charles McLaurin, the Eastover mayor, says about Pearce’s role as a member of the Progress Eastover Committee that led to the town’s incorporation in 2007. “He was a good man, and very smart. He gave us a lot of knowledge on getting incorporated. When we incorporated, it put us on the map and gave us a lot of independence.”
A day on his tractor and the aroma of the freshly mowed grass on a Saturday afternoon or any afternoon gave him joy. Sundays were for attending First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, where Benny Pearce was a ruling elder and Sunday school teacher.
“He embraced the humility of Jesus Christ,” the Rev. Michael Garrett, senior pastor, would remind us. “He was a man of hope because he was such a man of faith. His Bible is full of markings and tired pages, like an old Bible should be.”
Benny Morris Pearce died July 17.
He was 83.
“Now, Benny is with Christ,” the preacher would say. “But the end of his life is not the end of his story. He left a proud and a faithful legacy. His baptism is now complete.”
Brian Pearce would look toward members of the Eastover Fire Department and those representatives of Cumberland County Emergency Management Services, who Pearce says his father so respected and admired.
“As it got close to the end, he told me he wanted to have Cumberland County EMS and the Eastover Fire Department here,” a son would say as he choked back tears and looked at the pallbearers.
He would remind us of his father, the tireless educator.
“He made sure children were secure,” Brian Pearce, who is vice president of facilities and emergency management for Cape Fear Valley Health, would say. “I need to make sure patients are secure. I wanted to be like ‘Dad.’ It’s what I wanted to be my whole life. Even to the end, I wanted to be like Dad. My goal is now to honor his memory for all I learned from him in 50 years of life.”
And, if you will, a final word from a son in honor and memory of a father so loved.
“I know,” Benny Pearce would say, “I was blessed.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at email@example.com or 910-624-1961