Looking back: Walter Cecil Rawls has died

Published 8:56 am Friday, September 5, 2014

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker.

by Clyde Parker

September 5, 1964

Walter Cecil Rawls, founder and benefactor off the library and museum in Courtland bearing his name, died on Saturday at his home, “Blueberry Hill,” near Smithfield. He was 69.

A native of Southampton County, he was born on a farm near Ivor. He was one of thirteen children of Annie Coffer Rawls and David Rawls. During his childhood, he was stricken with infantile paralysis.

Rawls’ first job was that of a motion picture projectionist. It was in Suffolk. The year was 1908. From 1912 through 1916 he worked in the real estate business after which he obtained employment as credit investigator for Bankers Trust Company in New York. In 1921, he went to St. Louis and started an investment banking career. However, he continued his New York connections.

From 1929 to 1933, while still in the investment banking business, he organized and headed an organization that pioneered in the development off television. The depression and the scarcity off transmitting stations caused the business to fail. A pilot model off his television set is now in the Rawls Museum.

In 1956, he retired and returned to his native soil. Now, he is best known as a philanthropist.

He poured about half a million dollars into the library and provided a large trust fund to finance his educational foundation. Rawls wanted to use a part of his wealth to help educate others who came up in the same modest circumstances in which he was reared.

And, Rawls was deeply interested in the plight of those who, like him, were handicapped by polio. He made many unpublicized donations to polio victims and support organizations.

He belonged to the English Speaking Union, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Sons of the American Revolution. He was a member off Oakland Christian Church, Chuckatuck, and a former trustee of Elon College.

Survivors are his wife, the former Ella Freeman of Gates County, NC, whom he married in 1922; two sons, Dr. Thompson Rawls of Pompano Beach, Florida and Walter Rawls, Jr. of Jacksonville, Florida; two brothers David Rawls of Smithfield and Robert Rawls of Norfolk; and a sister Mrs. D. C. Lewis of Lynchburg.



Community reaction to the recently announced $35 million expansion, and the estimated creation of 150 new jobs, at Union Bag-Camp Paper Corp. has been immediate and favorable. But then, why would anyone be opposed?

Members of The Tidewater News talked with four men who are close to the local economy and government. Here are their comments:

HAROLD ATKINSON, FRANKLIN CITY MANAGER: “Through the years, our progress as a town and then as a city has been closely related to the growth and progress of Union Bag Camp and its predecessors.” “We feel that this new expansion will mean a lot to our city, and we are also aware that our services will have to be broadened to meet the needs of a growing community.”

WILL STORY, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, SOUTHAMPTON COUNTY: “In Southampton, Isle of Wight and Franklin, we can look forward to continued growth. More jobs, of course, mean more money circulating in the area. And, we must be prepared for the increased demand for services.”

WOODROW LIVESAY, PRESIDENT, FRANKLIN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: “As president of the Chamber of Commerce, I wish to say thanks to Union Bag Camp for the confidence they have placed in our area. This expansion will have a tremendous impact on our area economy: One hundred and fifty new and permanent jobs plus hundreds more during the construction period. And, during the construction period, many and various materials will be purchased from local businesses.

C. F. SMITHWICK, VICE PRESIDENT, RETAIL DIVISION, FRANKLIN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: “I am certain I speak for the majority of the retail merchants in congratulating our No. 1 industry for its growth. We can certainly expect a continued growth in area retail sales as a result.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is cpjeep99@yahoo.com