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A grin swept over Jim Matthews’ face as he watched his family members file into the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center one by one on Sunday, part of a surprise ceremony as the family’s patriarch and prominent Clinton businessman was bestowed North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling presented Matthews with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and a special City of Clinton lapel pin as Matthews’ wife Bonnie stood beside him and their children, grandchildren and others nearly a dozen in number — some of whom traveled a great distance, unbeknownst to Matthews — beamed with pride.
“I thank you all for everything,” said Matthews upon receiving the distinction. “I look around this room and see many great people. I am very humbled about seeing you here today, and having some very special people behind me.”
Close to 100 people from the community were also on hand to pay tribute to their close friend and colleague.
“He is a friend of mine, he is a friend of the city and he is a friend of everyone here,” said Starling.
The mayor detailed a few events in Clinton’s history back in the late 19th Century that are noted in history books, including the Great Fire of 1877 that could be seen from Duplin County. He pointed to a couple other moments in time, but said that those moments in the grand scheme are few and far between. However, on this particular Sunday, Starling said a page in the history book would likely be reserved, and fittingly so.
“We rarely make history; many years there is no particular history made but today I believe that Jim Matthews’ grandchildren will be able to go to the history books and see that a great deal of the town’s people got together and honored a lifetime of service — that they got together a petition to see that this man is honored,” Starling stated.
Helen Kearns and many others spearheaded that mission to see Matthews recognized, as well as the planning of Sunday’s event.
Starling called his friend and fellow brother in Christ “constant, and forever consistent” across every facet of his life. The two attend First Baptist Church in Clinton together.
“He has excelled in his church life, he has excelled in his family life and over-excelled in his civic life,” said Starling. “It is my honor, on this day, the 26th of August, 2018, to recognize the latest and very special recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.”
Matthews has been prominent in the business community, establishing Matthews Drug nearly half a century ago and Matthews Cards & Gifts in later years. He has been the recipient of the Multi-Cultural Business Committee’s Humanitarian Award and the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce’s Member of the Year Award through the years, and has given of himself in various civic endeavors, including the Jaycees and Clinton Kiwanis Club.
He was instrumental in beginning the Clinton Area Foundation for Education and Starling noted Matthews’ sizable role in ensuring the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center was built. Matthews said many people in the room with him Sunday, applauding his lifetime of service, were just as crucial in those many missions to better the quality of life for Sampsonians.
“We dreamed the dream and we’ve done great things for Sampson County and Clinton,” said Matthews, who gave credit to the Jaycees. “They provided an avenue and a supply of people who would dream with us. What a great organization, and it has meant a lot to this town. I must salute them.”
He expressed his gratitude for the award, bestowed by the governor. After the ceremony, he also acknowledged his loving wife Bonnie as well as his parents, Eva and Spencer Matthews.
“I appreciate this so much,” Matthews said.
Ray Ammons, pastor at First Baptist Church, offered a prayer at the ceremony. He also offered some words honoring Matthews.
“Our entire experience in Clinton these last four years, Jim was so instrumental in that,” Ammons said. “We decided Gastonia was going to be our home for the rest of our lives until one Monday afternoon in January of 2014, and there was a call.”
It was Matthews. Ammons recognized the name, having been Matthews’ father-in-law’s pastor in Gastonia. From there, Ammons noted, the relationship between the two was built.
“I join with you in saying how much he has meant to us personally, how much his testimony has inspired me spiritually and we are just very grateful and very proud of you today, my friend,” Ammons said to Matthews.
He then offered a prayer in which he noted hearts filled with pride and of family love, not just of community inspiration.
“All of us would say thank you for Jim Matthews, for Bonnie and for their family,” Ammons said, leading everyone in prayer in tribute to Matthews. “For the spiritual testimony, for the devotion to this community, for the friendship he extends to us, for the care that he shows us when we are in need. It’s genuine … and so we are blessed. We also recognize with true sincere spirits that he is well-deserving of this honor this day, so it is a blessing to be a part of that.”
“Let us also recognize, in as much as Jim gives to us, there is a legacy, there is an opportunity, to grow ever stronger in the fellowship we share here in this community and in our world,” Ammons continued. “You call us to experience your love and you also call us to engage this world you love. That’s what Jim has shown us, so may we embody that spirit too.”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.