GARLAND — A rainy Friday evening prevented the unveiling of a colorful mural in downtown Garland, but it did not dampen the spirit of community members and supporters in attendance.
Near the pulpit of Saint Stephen AME Zion Church, the sons and families of two history makers smiled as they stood next to a replica showing the faces of Dr. Amos Neill Johnson and his aide Henry Lee “Buddy” Treadwell in the sky. The two “medical trailblazers” innovated the Physician Assistant (PA) concept.
After months of planning by town’s North Carolina Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program (NC STEP) and other Garland officials, the special moment finally arrived through a dedication ceremony for the “Greatness of Garland” mural, which also features important parts of the town’s history. Some of them include the Brooks Brothers Building, the town’s seal, railroad tracks which sparked life in Garland and children next to a school to represent facilities of the past.
“It also represents continued growth, education and learning opportunities for today’s youth,” Mayor Winifred Murphy said. “The children represent a diverse population of children gaining leadership and business skills necessary for the continued economic growth, vision and unity.
“The Greatness of Garland Mural belongs to all of us and hopefully each day we’ll look at it with pride and each day it will remind us to honor the past, celebrate today and embrace tomorrow,” Murphy said.
Several leaders in Sampson County made remarks regarding the town’s history. Vivian Jernigan of Brooks Brothers talked about the history of the business, also known as Garland Shirt Company and Fleetline Industries at one point in time.
“We make shirts that go all over the world and we’re proud of that,” Jernigan said.
Robert Hall, the artist of the mural, was proud when Murphy asked him to paint the wall next to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Annex, near Rotary Park. It’s a legacy he wanted to be a part of and that’s why he agreed to make the mural. He said the work involved a lot of prayer.
“When she explained to me what the wall was all about, I knew that was a big legacy and a big part of history,” he said. “I was shocked because I had no clue that the first PA came out of a little small town like Garland.”
Some of the other presenters and invited guests included NC STEP facilitator Mary Brown, NC STEP member Jacqueline N. Johnson, community member Billie Devane, Sampson County Commissioner Harry Parker, the Revs. Dwight Palmer and Dr. A.D. Brown, and Dr. Eric Bracy, superintendent of Sampson County Schools.
Henry Lee Treadwell Jr., Mary Ann Treadwell Townsend, and Amos Johnson Jr. shared memories about their fathers’ relationships, contributions, personal memories and funny stories. Treadwell saluted Dr. Johnson for giving his father an opportunity to work with him, which was uncommon during the days of racial segregation. He later talked about how his father taught him a lot of things growing up.
“I miss him and even to this day, I have my moments …” Treadwell said emotionally.
Johnson spoke about how their collaboration started something, which is now shared throughout the world after Duke University visited the town and modeled its assistant program after their partnership.
“The first person you’re going to see when they examine you is a physician’s assistant,” Johnson said. “I had a couple of knees replaced already and who did I deal with? A physician’s assistant. I dealt with a buddy. This has gone all over the place and it’s incredible when you think about how it started right here in Garland.”
Temple Byrd spoke on behalf of the Duke Physician Assistant Program, which is currently celebrating 50 years. Byrd read a letter on behalf of the program. Byrd said the students thought so much of Treadwell, they named an award after him, which is given to the best professor. While talking about his father’s contributions, Johnson shared a funny story regarding a black widow spider and how Treadwell had the vaccine in his pocket ready for Johnson to treat a patient. Treadwell knew it was a spider bite as soon as the patient walked in, although Johnson had to do a little research first.
“It was so fantastic to see the world learn what these two had put together,” Johnson said. “It was those two working together that made all the difference and that’s how great Garland is.”
During her remarks, Murphy read a letter from Gov. Pat McCrory for the mural dedication. He stated that the Garland community has shown innovation, creativity and generosity toward the project.
“The citizens of Garland should be very proud of this and all of your accomplishments,” McCrory stated. “Keep up the great work, Garland.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.