• Smithfield's Distinguished Citizen, and top Tar Heel fan, says he's been greatly blessed

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    February 23, 2012

    The Chamber recently presented a Distinguished Citizen Award to a person whose success in life can be attributed to his customer service, his perseverance and his generosity.  He is Clarence Thomas Williford Jr.
    Tommy Williford was born in Wilson and attended Charles L. Coon High School and later, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During the Korean War, he served as s a medical specialist in the North Carolina National Guard. He likes to tell people that on a Guard trip to Fort Bragg, the truck in which he was riding stopped in Smithfield. He looked at his buddy next to him and said, “Why would anybody want to live in a one-horse town like this;” never dreaming that Smithfield would become the town he would come to love and make his living.
    After graduating from UNC, he returned to Wilson to work with his father in the struggling new car business. After a year of working with no pay, his parents pushed him to leave home, find a job and make his own life. He and his good friend, Pete Williams, who was also from Wilson, were hired by Commercial Credit Company. As many of you know, Pete came to Smithfield to work at First Citizens Bank and Tommy ended up here doing what he loved most – selling cars.
    In 1961, Tommy married a nurse named Jessie Lee Houseton. They would be married 43 years until her untimely death in 2004. The couple moved to Smithfield in 1963, where he became a partner with Claude Pippin at Pippin Cadillac Olds, located at the time near Johnston County Hams on US 301. Tommy had no money, so Mr. Pippin offered him the partnership on credit. They signed a contract that was written on notebook paper, put it in the vault and never looked at it again. To Mr. Pippin’s good fortune, he had unknowingly brought into the business, the hardest working person he would ever meet.
    In 1969, his life became complete when his daughter Leigh was born.  Right after the birth, he went to Centenary United Methodist Church, knelt at the altar,  thanked God for his new child and promised to be a good father.
    Mr. Pippin loved to play golf and would frequently travel to Florida and other golf locales. Not Tommy. His love was building a car business. He spent endless hours traveling up and down the east coast buying cars and meeting people. He organized a group of 20 dealers in three states that would get together regularly and go over ways to increase their sales.
    Tommy also found time to join most of the civic groups in Smithfield. He was president of the Smithfield Jaycees, worked with the Red Cross, helped establish the Contact Teleministries and served as finance chairman of the Wesley Hall building project at Centenary. Contact was dear to his heart and he spent many nights and weekends manning the phones, talking to people who needed someone to talk to.
    Tommy has played an important role in activities at the Chamber, since the 1970s. He has served on the Board of Directors of the chamber, has led several of the Chamber’s membership drives. And chances are, if you have ever bought a Gold Coast Raffle ticket, you got it from Tommy.
    Once you get to know Tommy, you will come to find he is an AVID Carolina Tar Heel fan. That’s AVID spelled in capital letters!  He is one of the largest contributors in Johnston County to the UNC scholarship fund. He was served as the county Rams Club president 10 times, and loved every minute of it. He has missed only three home UNC football games and only2 home basketball games in the last 35 years. One miss was to attend his wife’s class reunion, one was for a slipped disc and another was to attend his daughter’s wedding, although he did try to get her to change the wedding date.
    When Mr. Pippin retired, Tommy bought out the business and moved to a new location in West Smithfield. He continued to build a good business and work with a dedicated staff. Today he helps his daughter Leigh and son-in-law Brian at Wheels and Deals on Smithfield
    Tommy loves to travel, especially to the southwestern part of the United States. He has accumulated a large collection of Navajo and Hopi Indian pottery and Kachina dolls. His travels have also taken him to Israel. He was baptized in the Dead Sea on one of those trips. He has taught Sunday School for 40 years and is a Bible Scholar.
    In 2005 he married again, this time to the former Barbara Barbour Whitehurst. He acquired two more daughters and three grandchildren, all of whom adore him.
    Recently he was giving a senior in high school some advice on how to be successful in life. He said to her, “I learned from one of my customers a very valuable lesson. I complimented him on being so generous in his life. He handed me a Bible and asked me to read the third chapter of Malachi, which says, ‘Bring into my storehouse my tithes and if you will, I will pour out a blessing upon you so great, you will have to open the windows of your house because I will overflow it. I knew for me this meant my time as well as my resources. My customer was absolutely right. I have been greatly blessed.

    Photo: Barbara and Tommy Williford enjoy a moment with the UNC mascot.
    Rick Childrey, President
    (919) 934-9166

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