AUTRYVILLE — One of Autryville’s own, a man who served the town as a commissioner and helped build the fire department up from its foundation some four decades ago, was honored upon his passing this week.
Jonathan “Jakie” Faircloth, 61, died Monday at the age of 61. He was laid to rest in Autryville Cemetery following a funeral at Autryville Baptist Church on Wednesday. When news of his death circulated Monday, about 70 firefighters and community members gathered at the station to lower the flag as a tribute to Faircloth, whose fire helmet and turnout gear were placed at the base of the pole.
“Jakie Faircloth is the definition of a leader,” Autryville Fire Chief Andrew Hawkins said. “He did not lead with belittlement or intimidation. He received your respect due to how he treated each and every person he met.”
Faircloth was a town commissioner for Autryville and was founder of the its fire department, which he served as chief for 25 years. He resigned as a firefighter a few years back, but stayed very much involved, elected by his fellow firefighters to serve as president of the Autryville Fire Department’s Board of Directors.
“He was a super guy. Personally, he was a good friend of mine and he was a good friend to a lot of people. As a fire chief, he was a good, stern leader,” said Pittman Horne, vice president of the Board of Directors under Faircloth. “We’ve been together for 16 years or so within the department — he was the one who called me 16 years ago to join and I’ve been here ever since — but I’ve known Jakie ever since we were children. We grew up right here in Autryville. I’m 60 years old, he was 61.”
Faircloth’s dedication to his hometown and its fire department were evident to everyone, especially the ones who knew him best.
“He was dedicated to this fire department,” said Horne. “He brought a lot of good things not just to the Autryville Fire Department, but to fire departments in Sampson County that helped improve the service here. He loved the fire business more than anybody I know. He did all he could do for his fire department and the firefighters, and it was always by the book.”
That wealth of institutional knowledge began amassing more than 40 years ago.
Kenneth Langston, treasurer of the Autryville Fire Department Board of Directors, said Faircloth as a teenager had the idea for establishing the department. He knew the town needed a fire department that would protect its residents and their properties. Others joined forces with him. They took their personal vehicles to fires at first before they were able to purchase hoses and, ultimately, had a tank welded onto an old, retired fire truck they bought for just $300.
“With the town’s help, they were able to get a pump on that truck,” said Langston. “Those men and the goodness of the people of Autryville are what started this department.”
The Autryville Fire Department was officially chartered in 1974, with Roger Jackson Jr. as the first chairman of the board and Mickie Spell as the first chief. Robert Cashwell and Jakie Faircloth would later serve for a long time in those respective roles.
Horne said land was donated for the fire station by Erwin Benson. The original building was constructed by Faircloth, Cashwell and George Tyndall, he noted.
“The original building is still there and we’ve added onto it over the last 25 years,” Horne stated. “But Jakie was instrumental in building that two-bay cinderblock building. He was right there at the start. Jakie and George Tyndall laid the block for it and Robert Cashwell mixed the mortar.”
In those early days, it was often Faircloth who was first at the scene — be it a house fire, car wreck or another emergency incident — on that re-purposed fire truck.
Born on Christmas Day 1954 to the late Solomon James and Vernice Faircloth, Jakie Faircloth was not just a firefighter. He was a member of Roseboro Masonic Lodge No. 585, a member of Autryville Baptist Church and the owner/operator of Autryville Hardware Lawn and Garden. He loved serving his community, and in addition to his role on the town board, did so as part of the Autryville Beautification Committee, the Micajah Autry Society and other town-based endeavors.
“He was always a big part of everything going on in Autryville. He was very community-minded and was on a lot of committees,” Horne attested. “I relied on his guidance. He was just my go-to guy.”
Faircloth sought not to build himself up, but rather made it his goal to instill and further the knowledge of others, Hawkins said.
“Jakie preached that you were never too experienced, you could never know it all, so we should get out there and better ourselves,” Hawkins said, offering a quote from author Henri J.M. Nouwen. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
“He was a fine fella and a good businessman,” Langston added, “and he would do just about anything for you. He was a great man.”
Faircloth is survived by his wife, Linda Hall Faircloth, two children and four grandchildren. Horne said those grandchildren were the love of his life, especially in the last several years when he fell ill.
“He was just an amazing grandfather,” said Horne of his lifelong friend, whose first granddaughter was born about a month ago. There are also three grandsons in the family. “He just seemed to love those grandchildren.”
The love he had for his family and extended fire family and those in the community was reciprocated.
“He will surely be missed,” Horne remarked. “He was a well-liked person who had a lot of friends, including myself. He was a great family man, a great firefighter and a great leader.”
“Jakie led from beside us,” Hawkins added, “and that is what makes him irreplaceable.”
Faircloth’s family said that memorials may be made to the Autryville Fire Department or to the Town of Autryville Beautification Fund.
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