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Malcolm Thomas Cofer

SMITHFIELD — Malcolm Thomas Cofer, whose pride in being a Surry County native was matched only by his love for his chosen home of Smithfield and Isle of Wight County and the family he nurtured here, died on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2020, in his Magruder Road residence.

Mr. Cofer, the son of the late Thomas Linwood and Paulline Johnson Cofer, was born on May 29, 1943, and grew up on the family’s ancestral farm, located just west of Dendron. He graduated from Surry High School, attended Virginia Tech, and became a Lifelong Hokie Club member.

After attending college, Mr. Cofer moved to Smithfield and worked at Smithfield Packing Company before obtaining his license to open an insurance agency affiliated with the Equitable. He operated that agency for the next three decades.

Mr. Cofer married a Smithfield native, Edna Powell, in 1966 and the couple had one son, Thomas Edward Cofer, born in 1974. Their son was academically advanced, and from the beginning told his parents he wanted to explore space when he grew up. In 1989 those plans ended when Thomas was killed in a tragic accident at Smithfield High School following an Academic Challenge competition.

Thomas’ death devastated his parents, but rather than becoming recluses, the couple created and funded a scholarship in his memory, which still operates, and then began rebuilding their lives. Edna enrolled in college to earn a degree, and Mac pursued with renewed vigor a drive to serve the community that had begun in the early 1970s soon after he moved to Smithfield.

That service took numerous directions. Mr. Cofer was always fascinated by politics and as early as the 1970s, he ran unsuccessfully twice for a seat on the Smithfield Town Council. He was appointed to Council in 1978 and went on to win that seat in his own right during the next election.

Never afraid to take on a controversial project that he thought was in the community’s best interest, Mr. Cofer became a vocal proponent of expanding the town’s sewage collection system to the area east of Cypress Creek, which had been beset by failing septic systems and limited in its growth potential. The system was installed and had a dramatic and positive impact on the water quality of the Pagan River and Cypress Creek, but it came with a political cost. Voters opposed to the expansion launched a campaign against Cofer and he lost a bid for reelection in 1984.

He continued to serve on the town Planning Commission throughout the 1980s and was an early advocate of creating a Historic District Ordinance to protect the town’s most historic homes and commercial properties.

During the latter of those years, he also served on the Isle of Wight Planning Commission.

In 1991, Mr. Cofer won election to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors for the Smithfield Election District. During the next eight years, he and his fellow supervisors supported the Isle of Wight School Board in the county’s ambitious effort modernize schools. During those years, Isle of Wight built the Smithfield High School Auditorium, Carrollton Elementary School, Windsor High/Middle School and Carrsville Elementary School.

In addition to his governmental service, Mr. Cofer was a longtime and enthusiastic member of the Jaycees. He was twice elected president of the Smithfield Jaycees and was a Life Member of the Virginia Jaycees. Former Jaycees recalled his service this week, noting that he was a State Jaycee Senator in 1977 and a founder of a social group known as the Corps of Virginia Gentlemen.

He was a charter member of the Smithfield Kiwanis Club and an active volunteer in all its fundraising and public service projects. He took particular pride in the club’s annual youth fishing day, during which club members hosted inner city children at one of the Peninsula’s fishing piers.

Following his years on the Board of Supervisors, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Southeast 4-H Educational Center (Airfield 4-H Center) in Wakefield. He became a strong advocate of the center and often spoke to friends about what it offers the community.

He was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church.

As an adult, Mr. Cofer never farmed, but he never forgot his roots. Throughout his life, he would return to the Cofer farm where he found his soul renewed and his energy restored.

In addition to his son, Mr. Cofer was preceded in death by his wife.

He is survived by his sister-in-law, Willa S. Powell.

Funeral arrangements are pending at this time.

Online condolences may be registered at www.littlesfuneralhome.com.