Former City Councilman and longtime city employee Joe Best is being remembered today for what he meant to the hometown he loved his entire life, and served faithfully for 35 years.
Joseph W. Best Sr., who passed away Wednesday, served on the Clinton City Council from July 6, 1971 to May 2, 1978, including a stint as mayor pro tem from Dec. 4, 1973 to May 2, 1978.
And that was just the start.
Following his tenure on the Council, there was not much of a hiatus before Best went back to serving his city. He took the role of the city of Clinton’s director of administration, which encompasses personnel and purchasing duties, and served in that position for 28 years from Oct. 1, 1978 to Sept. 30, 2006.
At the announcement of Best’s death, the city of Clinton put out a statement noting its “deep sadness” at the loss. In honor of Best’s service on the City Council, all flags were being flown at half-mast from Friday, April 13, through Sunday, April 15. He was honored in a memorial service at First United Methodist Church Saturday.
Leading up to Saturday’s memorial service, many peers, colleagues, friends and family took time to reflect and share their thoughts about Best, his love for family, Clinton and his community.
Mayor Lew Starling, who has served as mayor since 2001, said he was saddened by the death of Best, whom he had known his entire life. He noted his dedication to the city, no matter the capacity in which he was serving.
“Joe was dedicated to the city,” said Starling, “and always was an advocate for our citizens and employees.”
Former city manager Pete Connet touted the important role Best played in moving the city forward and the genuine care he showed for his job and the people with whom he worked — whether on the Council or a part of the staff.
“Joe was always a very active council member and took great interest in the affairs of the city,” said Connet. “He transitioned very well from the role of City Council member to city employee and as purchasing agent always worked hard to find the best deal for the citizens of Clinton. Joe cared a great deal about the people he worked with and it was a great pleasure to have served with him during my days as the Clinton city manager.”
Former Clinton mayor Emsley Kennedy similarly lauded Best, saying he worked every day to get the best possible deal for Clinton so funds might be spread around to other areas.
“I think that Joe was one of the best employees and City Councilmen that the city ever had,” said Kennedy. “He worked hard to save the city money and checked everything before purchasing something. He worked hard for the city of Clinton.”
Kennedy worked closely with Best, having been a Council member himself for 16 years before being elected as mayor, a post he held for the next 28 years before Starling took the helm. The former mayor praised Best’s abilities as a purchase agent, one he performed responsibly and efficiently in looking out for taxpayer dollars, he said.
“He did the city a lot of good and never bought a thing without getting prices all around,” Kennedy remarked. “He was a good Councilman and a good purchasing agent. I hated to hear about (his passing).”
Among Best’s many accomplishments, he saw the City Council approve the practice of adding fluoride to the public water supply, the first Cable TV franchise for the city of Clinton and the establishment the Downtown Special Tax District. Royal Lane Park and the wastewater treatment plant were also both expanded during Best’s tenure.
While Best was a Clinton native who lived here for 74 years, he moved to Raleigh in December 2010 to be closer to family. However, even though he moved physically from the Sampson seat, friends said Best always saw himself as a “true Clintonian” with strong roots in the community and in the First United Methodist Church.
He graduated from Clinton High School in 1955, where he participated in various clubs and was elected president of the Student Council his senior year. He excelled in athletics, being selected to play in the 5th Annual All Star East-West Football Tournament. He went on to attend East Carolina University, graduating with a bachelor’s in accounting.
He served in the U.S. Army and the N.C. National Guard from 1957 to 1966, moving to the rank of staff sergeant. Along the way, he married Betsy Ann Caison, his loving wife of 50 years who, along with their three children, now survives him.
Throughout his life, Best was active in his church and held various positions, from Sunday school teacher to finance chairman. Just as in church, Best accepted many duties in civic and other organizations.
While working with the city, Best served as president of the Carolina Association of Government Purchasing. He was honored with the 1998 Hall-Wicker Award, given by the association for excellence and his contribution to the purchasing profession.
Best’s contributions to community were numerous. He was treasurer and president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, receiving the 1974 Outstanding Chamber Member Award and being given the distinction of an honorary membership in 2001. Additionally, Best was awarded the Clinton Jaycee DSA Award in 1967.
“I’ve known Joe Best all his life, ever since he was a young boy down at White Lake. He was a very good young man and a fine man,” said Lawrence Caison. “Joe was a mighty good citizen of this town. He will be well remembered.”
Caison served on the City Council for 24 years, working alongside Best in doing the city’s business. However, the relationship between Caison and Best was more than friend or colleague, it was family. Betsy Ann is Lawrence’s niece.
“He served the city of Clinton well,” said Caison, “and he was a part of our family. He was a good family man.”
That family atmosphere was seen by the many who regularly frequented the Best family’s general store years ago. Located in downtown Clinton, the business was passed down through the generations.
“I knew Joe since he was a little boy and ran his store downtown,” said Kennedy. “He was on the courthouse square for years and years. His granddaddy ran a store on the corner, then his daddy ran it and then he did.”
From his service to the city to his civic and business involvements in his hometown, Kennedy said it was his hope that Best would be remembered for his selflessness to his community.
“I think he will be, I certainly think he should be,” said Kennedy. “He was certainly very active in this community and I think he should be remembered for that.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.