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HILLSVILLE — Richard Slate Sr. of Hillsville — a World War II veteran, chairman of the Carroll County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and an active member of the community — passed away on July 12 at age 92.
A former employee with the postal service, Slate became well known in his retirement through his volunteer work and countless contributions to the community. In addition to the IDA, Slate was a member and Ruling Elder of the Dinwiddie Presbyterian Church; and a member of the local Boy Scouts, Ruritan Club and Rural Mail Carriers Association. He was also a decorated combat veteran, who received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
In the days that followed his passing, several officials across the Twin Counties had warm words to honor his memory. Many expressed their sentiments, and spoke of Slate not only as a dependable asset to the community, but also as a dear friend.
“[Slate] has been with the IDA for more than 25 years, probably pushing 30. He’s been retired more than he probably had ever worked,” County Administrator Gary Larrowe said in an interview with The Gazette on Monday. “He had a wonderful life and didn’t let anything stop him. Overall… he was a hero. He was a proven hero because of his bronze star and purple heart, but he was also a hero to his community.”
Larrowe described Slate as a problem-solver, an advice-giver and an inspiration to the community. “He was someone you could count on for excellent advice and leadership. He loved projects, and loved getting them accomplished,” he said.
Larrowe named just a few of the projects Slate had been involved with, including several school projects like the upgrades that were recently made at Carroll’s middle and high schools, the HVAC project at the high school and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) lab.
“But one of his premium projects was bringing natural gas to Carroll County,” said Larrowe. “They had talked about that for 20 years or more, and he was tickled to death to make that happen.”
Slate was instrumental in bringing the Results company to Crossroads Institute in Galax. “He was over there on a weekly basis,” Larrowe said.
He also assisted in bringing other businesses to the area, such as Virginia Produce.
He had a huge hand in this week’s announcement involving Vanguard Furniture establishing its first Virginia household furniture upholstery production operation in Carroll County, according to Larrowe.
Over the years, Slate’s work has become recognized across the region. “I’ve had emails from two other county administrators — [in] Wythe and Grayson — who were very close to him. You just don’t see that. We sort of stay in our own tunnels sometimes. But he transcended that. He was an awesome friend to so many.”
Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said he was devastated when he heard the news of Slate’s passing. He explained to The Gazette that Slate had taken him under his wing when he began his career in Carroll, and he was a strong mentor for him ever since then.
Sweet even admitted to calling Slate “Granddad.”
“He was like a grandfather to me. I learned a great deal from him…. not just about industrial development, but just his skill in handling challenges and his approach to community development. He was masterful, to say the least,” he said.
Slate was never paid for his services, Sweet said, but he put everything he had into the position he’d held. “He truly showed me what public service was all about. He cared about the community and everyone he worked with.”
Last Thursday, Sweet shared that he was fortunate to have visited Slate in the hospital. “I spent a good amount of time with him, reminiscing about the projects and adventures we had embarked on together, and we laughed at some of the challenges we had faced,” he said. “Literally, through his last breath, he served the community. The community is at a loss for all he did for them, never asking for thank-yous, and never wanting to take center stage… because that’s not where he wanted to be. He just wanted to contribute.”
The Carroll County Board of Supervisors opened the July 14 meeting with a moment of silence in honor of Slate. After the meeting closed, several board members had comments in his memory.
Having been involved with local government for 40 years, County Attorney Jim Cornwell has represented localities all over the state. “Mr. Slate was actually one of the best chairmen of [an] IDA I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “He was very aware of the needs of Carroll County, and the abilities of the county and the things that the county could [and couldn’t] support. He was also very active in making sure that every transaction met the highest standards, for protection of the county and the benefits of the citizens.”
“Richard Slate was a tremendous asset and visionary for Carroll County,” said Supervisors Chairman David Hutchins. “At his age, [he] was more knowledgeable and had a much more articulate mind than most of us much younger.”
Hutchins added that the role Slate played in the development of the county made his position hard to fill. “In addition, Mr. Slate was my friend… he will be sorely missed,” he said.
“Mr. Slate was a mentor and a wise man, who was always willing to share his ideas,” said Supervisor-At-Large Sam Dickson. “He worked hard for what he believed in, and he believed that Carroll County was one of the best places in the world. He loved his county and he loved the people he worked with. He gave countless hours with no pay to try to advance a lot of the things and advantages he have is because of his hard work.”
Fancy Gap Supervisor Phil McCraw described Slate as a visionary, and described his accomplishments as unbelievable. “This is a huge loss for our area,” he said. “He is someone I had the utmost amount of respect for. My prayers go out to his family.”
Pipers Gap Supervisor Dr. Tom Littrell admitted that he didn’t know Slate very well, but recognized him by his works. “He was a very wise man, that certainly did things that enhanced Carroll County’s economic development, and in general, helped the county advance, even through the difficult economic times we’ve been through. We will miss his guidance, and his friendship,” he said.
Pine Creek Supervisor Bob Martin has known both Slate and his wife, Rachel, for “a zillion years,” he said, and had nothing but kind words for their family. “They really are first-class people,” he said. “Rachel, even when she retired [as a school teacher], she would come into the school and volunteer. She really gave of her time.
“[Mr. Slate] always had a kind word for everybody. I enjoyed working with him… and we will miss him,” he added.