David J. Beal was a familiar presence at City Hall for years before stepping down as a commissioner in 2009, but he returned there Thursday night to receive a top state honor.
As a roomful of family members, friends and well-wishers watched during a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting, Beal was recognized publicly for a lifetime of public service with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award. It is has been called the highest civilian honor given in North Carolina.
“This is an award that is very, very special,” state Rep. Sarah Stevens said when presenting the Order of the Long Leaf Pine certificate to a man who has worn many hats during his long career.
In addition to serving as a city councilman for 10 years representing the South Ward, Beal is a former police chief here who also was a member of the Mount Airy Board of Education for seven years. Additionally, Beal was Surry County’s clerk of Superior Court for 14 years and served as an agent with the State Bureau of Investigation.
His service was not restricted to the public sector, however, with Beal also retiring as vice president of human resources for Renfro Corp. in Mount Airy.
“What this impressive resume does not show, however, is the character and integrity of the man behind it all,” Halee Ratcliff told the audience gathered Thursday night in the council chambers for the bestowing of the state award by Rep. Stevens.
Ratcliff is a student at Appalachian State University who is familiar with Beal from her former days at Mount Airy High, where he is an ardent supporter of Bears sports teams and well known as a public address announcer for baseball and other games.
The ASU student, who was an athlete at Mount Airy High, also cited Beal’s longtime involvement with minor league baseball, including serving as special assistant to the general manager of the Winston-Salem Spirits and Warthogs for 20 seasons. He is a member of the Winston-Salem Baseball Hall of Fame, the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame and the ring of honor of the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame.
After working last summer in the Raleigh legislative office of Rep. Stevens, who is an attorney in Mount Airy, Ratcliff said “one of our first projects” was to nominate Beal for the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Award recipients are approved by the governor, in this case Pat McCrory.
“Governor McCrory is very selective in awarding the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and the average process time for an application is about six weeks,” Ratcliff advised the crowd.
“When I received the call from the governor’s office that Mr. Beal’s application had been processed and accepted only two weeks after submission, I was hardly surprised.”
“It is personally signed by the governor” and not stamped, Rep. Stevens pointed out when presenting the Order of the Long Leaf Pine certificate to Beal, who subsequently received a standing ovation from those in attendance.
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine recipient said in remarks to the audience after receiving the award that he came to Mount Airy in 1967 expecting to stay only a short time.
“But it’s turned into about 50 years now,” he said.
Beal’s place in the community was cemented when he was appointed chief of police at the urging of top Mount Airy elected officials at the time.
“From that day on, I felt accepted in the community,” he said.
Beal added that words can’t express how good he feels about becoming an Order of the Long Leaf Pine honoree, and credited those he has been surrounded by over the years.
“I have had the best people, the best family, the greatest associates with me in my jobs,” Beal said.
He also credited the city officials he served with, many who are deceased. “I feel very special in this room,” Beal said from the podium of council chambers.
The longtime Mount Airy resident mentioned that everything he has accomplished was fueled by a desire to make a difference.
To illustrate that point, Beal referred to how he has drawn inspiration from Thomas the Tank Engine, the basis for a British children’s television series in which Thomas constantly seeks to be “a really useful engine.”
“Living a useful life is something I have tried to do,” Beal said.
He has succeeded, based on the reception the award presentation produced Thursday night.
“If somebody asked me the definition of a good man,” Mayor David Rowe commented at the end of the ceremony, “I’d say David Beal.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.