Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
SELMA — Former mayor Charles Hester was a towering figure who, at times, could be gruff and intimidating in town council meetings. But the three-term mayor, who died Monday at age 83, was a patriot who friends recalled would spontaneously sing "God Bless America" and whose "bark was always worse than his bite."
"Charles Hester played a pivotal role in the development of Selma. He demonstrated his love for Selma by his service to our town as well as his financial investments in Selma properties," said Mayor Cheryl Oliver. "You did not need to know him long before you knew he also loved his family, church and country. As a proud U.S. Marine, he was known to spontaneously sing 'God Bless America' on numerous occasions. The town of Selma is glad that he and his family came our way. We will miss him."
Selma Town Attorney Chip Hewett agreed.
"Charles Hester was a great man that did a lot for Selma. He was a devoted family man and loved Selma Baptist Church. His bark was always worse than his bite and although he would never admit it, he was a gentle giant," said Hewett. "He was known for helping many in need. He had a habit of slipping silver dollars to people as a way of congratulating them for a good deed.
"In politics, whether you agreed or disagreed with him, you always knew where he stood. He enjoyed being mayor and relished his role as the leader of the town. He was a patriot that proudly flew flags all over his properties, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam war, and a Marine until the end. Semper Fi," said Hewett.
My Kids Club board member Jean Kelly recalled Hester's support of the former Boys and Girls Clubs of Johnston County.
"All of us at My Kid's Club really appreciate what Mr. Hester did through the years to support our young people in Selma, especially during his tenure as mayor., said Kelly. "As retired military, he recognized the benefits of having a Boy Scout program and he worked diligently to build our scouting program within the club. He often dropped in to talk with our club members.
"I was there one of these times and as we walked out together, he said to me our program was doing a fantastic job working with our children. I asked him, how did he know? His reply, 'Well, I've heard a few good things, but mainly I haven't heard anything bad and bad news always travels first and fast, so it must be good.' I will certainly miss him as I stopped by his office often to seek his advice."
Hester and his wife Barbetta celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in October. Hester was grand marshal of the 2018 Selma Railroad Days Parade last October.
A Greensboro native, Hester attended Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) on a basketball scholarship. That's where he met future wife Barbetta Godwin.
Hester, like his father, joined the Marine Corps. He trained at Quantico and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He then came back to marry Barbetta.
The Hesters went to Dillon, South Carolina, and got married. "The total cost of the wedding was only $20 and we got a free oil change while we got married," Hester said in an interview last year.
The Hesters have three grown children Chuck, Ron and Melissa.
Hester's military career took him to many places including Vietnam and Cuba. Barbetta accompanied him to Cuba.
She returned to Selma in 1975. Hester, a retired lieutenant colonel, was stationed at Marine headquarters in Washington. He would drive back and forth to Selma on the weekends. He came back home to Selma in November 1977.
When he returned home, Hester and Barbetta Hester's brother ran Brad's Red and White grocery store in Selma.
Her father dabbled in real estate. Hester said he served on every community board one could imagine.
In 1978, Hester Properties was born. Hester was the president and his wife was the office manager. There are several buildings in uptown Selma that bear his company's name. They invested more than $2 million in uptown Selma
Hester's company built 60 group homes for the mentally handicapped, built 22 post offices and had buildings throughout the state.
Hester entered politics in 2005 and served as Selma mayor for three terms.
Hester's funeral will be held Thursday at Selma Baptist Church. Burial will follow in Selma Memorial Gardens.