CLAYTON — Growing up on a farm, Ray Earp knew how to work hard.
“He worked from sunup to sundown,” said his longtime friend, Dr. Dicky Parrish of Selma.
Earp, 64, died Aug. 6 when his lawnmower rolled over on him.
“I don’t know of a finer gentleman in the world,” Parrish said. “He put everybody before himself.”
Parrish and Earp knew each other for more than 35 years. Earp supported Parrish when he first ran for the Johnston County Board of Education in 1988.
“We rode all over the county together trying to meet people and meet voters,” Parrish said.
Earp was instrumental in politics in a quiet sort of way, Parrish said. He was a primary force for building Selma Middle School, which opened in 1992.
“He was always an advocate for education,” Parrish said.
The son of a successful doctor, Earp inherited much of his father’s land. But while it was common knowledge that he owned hundreds of acres near the fast-growing Clayton, he never boasted about it, his friends said.
Before the housing bust, Earp and his sister were in negotiations a with private developer to sell much of their land for what would have been Clayton’s largest residential development. He told a friend he wanted to leave his son and daughter their inheritance before he died. But the developer backed away from the deal in 2007.
Clayton Town Manager Steve Biggs said he was involved in those talks and knew Earp on a professional level.
“He worked with us on the Clayton-to-Raleigh sewer project, which will be going through his land, and on the greenway project,” Biggs said. The second leg of Clayton’s greenway, which will extend to Clayton’s Legend and Municipal parks, will also go through Earp’s land, and he was supportive of the town extending it, Biggs said.
“He had a huge impact in this community,” the town manager said.
Always a hard worker, Earp tried to not let health problems slow him down. Five years ago, he had a heart transplant. He spent a year recovering; but after that, he was back at work on his land.
Earp could also fix anything and speak intelligently on any topic, said Parrish, his longtime friend.
“He knew all about farming, the fire department, business, education; he was an immensely intelligent man,” Parrish said.
Earp was a volunteer with the Thanksgiving Volunteer Fire Department for more than 30 years and served as chief for about 20 years. He was also a member of the Smithfield-Selma High School Advisory Council for more than 20 years.
Surviving him are his wife of 39 years, Nancy Crews Earp; a son and daughter-in-law, Raymond “Chip” Earp and Caroline Earp of Clayton; a daughter and son-in-law, Leah and Lee Hodge of New Bern; a sister, Mary “Winkie” Worley of Selma; and two grandchildren, Reid Hodge and Mary Katherine Hodge, both of New Bern.
The family suggests memorial contributions to the Duke Heart Center, in care of Sean Sondej, Box 3943, Duke University Hospital, Durham, N.C. 27710; or to Centenary United Methodist Church, 140 E. Market St., Smithfield, N.C. 27577.