Charles Wilborn donned a striped top hat to read Dr. Seuss to schoolchildren to celebrate the author’s birthday each year. (File Photo)
COVINGTON - Former City Councilman and beloved community volunteer Charles Wilborn died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 73.
The family will receive visitors from noon - 9 p.m. Friday at Lester Lackey and Sons Funeral Home, located at 1163 Reynolds St., SW, in Covington. The funeral will be at noon Saturday at First United Methodist Church, at 1113 Conyers St., SW, in Covington. Interment will follow at Lawnwood Memorial Park.
Wilborn was well-known in the community for his volunteerism, positive disposition and warm heart. A substitute teacher for more than 10 years with Newton County School System, he donned a “Cat in the Hat” striped top hat to read to schoolchildren on Dr. Seuss’ birthday each year.
“Mr. Wilborn was very dedicated to our school system. He was an active substitute as well as mentored many children through the years,” said Lee Peck, former principal at Heard Mixon-Elementary School. “He was very involved in our community and he worked many hours to make our community the best it could be. We will miss him terribly!!”
Wilborn served on the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority for 15 years and was reappointed by Commissioner J.C. Henderson to a fourth term last month.
“Rarely did he miss a meeting, and when he did it was because a classroom full of children needed him to help them with their studies,” said Executive Director Mike Hopkins.
“The Water and Sewerage Authority ratepayers have lost a willing and compassionate servant, the Authority Board of Directors a trusted partner, the Authority employees a strong advocate and supporter of their efforts, and I have lost a good friend,” he added.
Hopkins, a parent of special needs children, said that Wilborn was aware of the struggles his family faced.
“Every Saturday afternoon he called me not to talk about work but to ask me how was my family doing. Called each one of us by name. Every Saturday,” he said.
David Waller served on the Water and Sewerage Authority board for several years with Wilborn. After Waller was diagnosed with lymphoma, Wilborn called regularly to check on him.
“People doing that kind of thing helps you through those hard times and Charles was one of those that you could really count on,” he said. “He was always positive and upbeat and really cherished his time working with kids and trying to give them a positive attitude … He was always a very positive person and he wanted everybody to be happy and successful.”
Waller’s wife Connie is the former director of Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful, for which Wilborn served on the Board of Directors for many years.
“I’m brokenhearted about Charles and the community will not be the same without him,” she said.
Wilborn was on the Covington City Council for 14 years, from January 1991 to December 2005. As mayor pro tem, he served as mayor when needed, once for a three-month stint.
“Charles always made a vote that was for the best interest of all the people of Covington and I could depend on him for being on what I considered the right side of everything,” said former Mayor Sam Ramsey. “I think he let his religious feelings influence what he did … if we had more like Charles in the world we’d be in good shape.”
Wilborn was well-known for his expert sewing and alterations, having worked at men’s shops downtown for more than 40 years, first at J.C. Poole, a mens and ladies wear store, and then at Cohen’s Men’s Shop.
Wilborn learned to sew at age 9 from his seamstress mother, Orlena “Zell” Wilborn, who made clothes for her six children. As an adult, Wilborn made his own suits and clothes for his two children.
Wilborn developed a do-it-yourself attitude based on the teachings of his parents and out of necessity, growing up on a farm where he was responsible for milking the cows and helping cook breakfast before school. He would make the biscuits and his sister would fry up the bacon.
Wilborn’s mother provided his cooking education too, eventually broadening his responsibilities to include preparing vegetables, corn bread and chicken. Later in life, he became known around Covington for his decadent coconut and fried peach pies and German chocolate cakes.
When he was 8, Wilborn and his family packed their belongings onto a wagon pulled by a mule and moved from Morgan County across the line into Newton.
His work ethic and stellar reputation ensured that he always had a job in adulthood, and often, two or three at a time.
In the 1960s, a young husband and father, Wilborn provided for his family by working about an hour each morning dusting and sweeping at J.C. Poole, then immediately heading over to People’s Drug Store for a four-hour shift as a delivery boy, then rushing home for a two-hour break before he had to be at Bibb Manufacturing Company in Porterdale for the 3 to 11 shift.
Wilborn eventually became a salesman and handled alterations for J.C. Poole. When that store shut down in 1997, Philip Cohen, owner of Cohen’s Men’s Shop, persuaded Wilborn to delay his dream of going to nursing school to come and work for him. He remained there for nine years. In recent years, Wilborn continued doing alterations out of a small house on Brown Street, substitute teaching, working as a greeter at RL’s Off the Square and as a caretaker for an elderly man, along with serving on various boards.
In a 2012 interview with the Citizen, Wilborn said he hadn’t given up on going to nursing school and hoped to start playing piano at local nursing homes.
Then 72, Wilborn said he had no intentions of slowing down. With a grandmother who lived to age 97, an aunt who made it to 94 and a father who celebrated 91 birthdays, Wilborn was hoping for many more years ahead. “I’ve got to top them,” he said. “I’m going to get to 150.”
Wilborn said he hoped his legacy would be that he did the right thing in life.
“You’ve got to do the right thing. That’s what carries you through in this world, is the right thing. You just can’t do the wrong thing because there’s no future in that,” he said.
Wilborn is survived by two children, Bonnie and Barry, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.