ST. PAULS — Claude W. Fulghum, who helped guide the government of St. Pauls for near two decades, died Tuesday morning in Greenville, S.C.
His death at age 79 came after an extended battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
Known for his even temper and ever-present smile, Fulghum was the town mayor for 17 years.
“He was a great man and one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet,” said Mayor Gordon Westbrook, who served as a St. Pauls commissioner while Fulghum was mayor. “I really believe that he was one of our best mayors.”
Fulghum served in the office from Jan. 31, 1977, to June 9, 1994.
“Claude was always fair to people,” Westbrook said. “You could count on him to be straight up and down with you. He was a good person to work with and a good person to know.
“The thing I remember most is that he always had a smile on his face. I don’t think I ever saw him get upset. Even if you disagreed, he would say let’s work it out.”
Fulghum worked for many years as city executive at First Union, now First Bank. It was the job with First Union that brought Fulghum, a Wilson native, to St. Pauls in 1971.
Westbrook said Fulghum’s banking background made him indispensable in helping lure several new industries to St. Pauls.
Fulghum gets much of the credit for the decision by Mueller Steam Specialty Company in 1989 to build a valve plant two miles west of St. Pauls. The company invested more than $5 million on the 40-acre site on N.C. 20.
“Economic development was really his thing,” Westbrook said. “He was a banker and he really cared about seeing St. Pauls grow and prosper.”
Lumberton Councilman Don Metzger worked with Fulghum on the Mueller Steam project when they were both members of the Committee of 100.
“He was a rare breed who went out of his way to do what was best for St. Pauls and Robeson County,” Metzger said. “He was an outstanding gentleman and a public servant in every sense of the word.”
Fulghum was involved in a number of civic organizations and charities, and was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 1994.
He served on Southeastern Health’s Foundation Board from 1998 to 2011. He was also chairman of the hospital’s golf tournament in 2007 and 2011 and served on Southeastern Heart Center and Academic Endowment campaigns. Fulghum was one six former board members awarded emeritus status in 2012.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth Askew Fulghum, who retired as a school teacher with St. Pauls High School.
He is survived by two children, Richard Fulghum and Janet Fulghum Mize, and three grandchildren.
“He was sweet and gentle, but also a strong leader,” Doug Mize said of his father-in-law. “He loved the Lord and he loved his family and he loved his community. And he was loved in return.”
Funeral arrangements, which are incomplete, are being handled by McNeill-Mackie Funeral Home in St. Pauls. The Robesonian will publish the full obituary at robesonian.com and in its print edition when it is available.