Meet NC’s Mayors — Charles Townsend Of Fairmont

May 20, 2020

Fairmont has witnessed the booms and busts of timber, textiles, and tobacco.
Credit Pittman Drug Co. / UNC Libraries

Summers were spent at his father’s gas station. Charles Townsend met all sorts of folks while manning the ice house. In the muggy lowlands of Robeson County, ice was a sought after commodity — no matter if you were raising tobacco or bidding on it in the warehouses. But as the cash crop went into decline, and Townsend considered his career prospects, he chose to leave the town of 2,000 people to work in retail. 

Mayor Townsend
Credit Town of Fairmont

Fairmont is located in Robeson County, south of where I-95 crosses I-74.
Credit Wikipedia, modified by WUNC

Since returning, Townsend has rediscovered the town’s character. Through working a variety of jobs, from substitute teacher to insurance agent, he measured the needs of his community. That experience urged him into public service.

At the beginning of his mayoral tenure, he used his leadership to prioritize skills-training and instilling confidence in the town’s young people, as he would have wanted for himself. But after witnessing main street shutter, he could no longer deny the discouraging realities of rural economics. Holding out hope for sustainable development in the wake of timber, textile and tobacco, he continues balancing the need for strong education with economic initiatives. 

But COVID-19 has presented yet another challenge: two of the area’s largest employers, meat processors and the state prison system, are hot spots for infection.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Fairmont Mayor Townsend about his changing understanding of success in the small community.