Hundreds Turn Out to Honor Jim Westbrook
Hundreds of friends, colleagues and supporters of the late James Layman “Jim” Westbrook joined family members Friday to honor the man who was to be Moore County’s interim manager.
Westbrook, who died Tuesday in a traffic accident near Vass, had a long and distinguished career as a local government manager in several city and county governments, including prior experience in Moore as a consultant.
The afternoon memorial service, held at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, began with comments from the Rev. Grady Perryman, pastor of the church.
“As we make our feeble attempts to say what cannot be said, while still in shock and disbelief, we gather to mourn our dear James Layman Westbrook Jr.,” Perryman said. “Only by the grace of God do we gather to celebrate his rock solid life, marked by monumental government service and an exemplary military career. He was always a rock on which we could lean.”
Westbrook’s former colleague Jeffrey Richardson, assistant manager with the city of Asheville, elaborated on the image of his former boss as a “rock.”
“Mr. Westbrook hired me in 1997 when he was the city manager of Asheville,” Richardson said. “Driven by principle, he led by integrity and was fiercely devoted to the International City/County Management Association’s code of ethics.
“The pastor described his life as being ‘rock solid,’ and that is how we saw him as well. Among the city of Asheville employees, his nickname became ‘The Rock.’ Jim was intense, committed, concise and clear. He expected operational excellence, but he also enjoyed camaraderie and fellowship. Conversations with Jim were seldom about him, but were about you.”
Richardson related an entertaining story about how Westbrook was once challenged by a formidable restaurateur.
“In 2001 we had 2,200 elected officials visit Asheville for a function, and we took them to a restaurant where all were prepared to enter, be seated, and eat after their journey by bus from various locations,” Richardson said. “The restaurant chef was a tall, robust woman who approached me and said, ‘Nobody comes into my restaurant until I am ready.’
“Just then, Jim approached wearing an expression that said he was not happy. The woman approached him, met him squarely eye to eye, and said the same thing to him before turning away.
“The 2,200 officials were still waiting, the city staff were kind of standing there looking at the ground, and then Jim’s wife, Diane, said to him, ‘You are a military veteran and a city manager, and she just ate your lunch.’”
Richardson waited for the audience’s laughter to subside before he continued.
“Very shortly afterward, the 2,200 elected officials were seated and fed,” he said, to more laughter.
Richardson said that employees soon learned what was expected of them under Westbrook’s guidance.
“You learned he would meet with you at least once a year and actively challenge you regarding your professional development,” he said. “Due to his influence, many of his employees went on to earn their master’s degrees and entered professional development schools as a result.
“He expected your best efforts, not just on your best days but every day.”
Army colleague Robert Christie recalled the rigorous training he and Westbrook endured in Officer Candidate School prior to serving in Vietnam.
“Jimmy and I first met in November 1967,” Christie said. “”The two of us and 120 other soldiers participated, and we ended up with 48 completing the training. Jim and I both made it.
“He passed and passed well. The men followed him willingly, not because he was an officer and military law told them to, but because they wanted to follow.
“We need thousands of Jim Westbrooks in the world,” he said. He was an honorable man, and we don’t have enough of them. By God, I miss him.”
Westbrook, who would have turned 69 this past Thursday, began his duties as interim county manager last Monday. The Moore County Board of Commissioners had voted unanimously on his selection to succeed retiring County Manager Cary McSwain, who was set to retire last week.
Numerous county employees attended the service, including McSwain and Assistant County Manager Ken Larking. The five sitting county commissioners were also in attendance, plus Randy Saunders, who will become the newest commissioner on Monday.
Parish associate Cynthia Strickland concluded the service with remarks about Westbrook’s character.
“He was well-loved and respected, a leader, humble but proud of his military service,” she said. “He was a good listener who knew when to speak, and he was quiet but had a big voice that he used when it was needed.
“He was smart, and he was wise. He met Diane as a teenager and never left her. They endured much happiness, and recently much tragedy together,” she said, the latter a reference to the 2011 death of their daughter, Ashley Westbrook Turton.
“There is now a huge void as our ‘rock’ is no longer here,” she said. “The one we depended on is missing. But we can let his qualities permeate our lives, and carry on the legacy to pursue excellence, respect others, enjoy life, and live as a good, faithful citizen of the world.
“He would want this,” she said. “He would say, ‘Carry on.’”
A reception followed the conclusion of the service in the church fellowship hall.
Westbrook was buried yesterday at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery in Chapel Hill, with full military honors.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story