FAIRMONT HISTORY

Willis Fisher

Willis Gerald Fisher was the son of Elijah Fisher and Claudia Pittman Fisher. He was born in Ashpole, NC on October 9, 1904. Father Elijah was the depot agent for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. His mother was daughter of prominent farmer James Pinckney Pittman, who inherited property from Isham Pitman, first settler of Ashpole.

Educated in the Fairmont public school, he regularly won declamation contests from the time he was in elementary school. Upon graduation he enrolled at Wake Forest College but returned to Fairmont after one year due to the death of his father.

In 1925 he was licensed to sell life insurance in 1925 and did that until the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent depression. On January 6, 1927 he married Jessie Spivey of Whiteville and they set up housekeeping in his mother's home. In 1935 they had a son, Willis Gerald Jr.

By 1932, the Great Depression was at its height. There was no money and no jobs. Willis and his brother Pittman did the only logical thing that they could do. They pooled their money, rented a building and opened a grocery store with a lunch counter. Their $60.00 investment slowly began to pay off.

At first they made ends meet by selling hot dogs and cold drinks. Since they were conveniently located near several tobacco warehouses and company offices, they were able to stay afloat with the lunch counter selling a hot dog and a cold drink for ten cents. Gradually their business increased, doubling in the second year and again in their third year.

Willis, it turned out, was a natural promoter. One of his contemporaries said that he could sell "ice to Eskimos and sand to Arabs," exaggerating only slightly. In just four years, he and Pitt parlayed their small investment into a wholesale and retail grocery business with a reach of about a sixty mile radius from Fairmont. They sold fertilizer to their farmer customers, ice for refrigerators, wood and coal for heating and offered the first delivery service in town.

They also purchased locally grown produce -- fruits, vegetables and poultry -- putting money back into their community. Fisher Brothers Grocery employed nine people in 1936.

Though he was too old to be drafted, Willis served his community during World War II. He was a Town Commissioner and was very involved in War Bond Drives and Red Cross fundraisers.

After World War II the veterans returning from overseas were looking for ways to better the community. A group led by Willis, Jake Shocket and Wayland Floyd formed a local Civitan Club. Sponsored by the Whiteville club, it received its charter in July, 1947 with 35 charter members.

Willis the natural promoter began looking for projects for the club and settled on a minstrel show. Those were popular at the time and were guaranteed to generate a good crowd. On May 14, 1948 the Civitans produced their first minstrel and played to a packed house. Willis was in charge of the concessions. In 1949 they produced another successful show.

Willis became president of the Civitan Club in 1950 and said "Why don't we have a parade?" which led to him becoming the first parade chairman. Farmers Day was born. The minstrel was a financial and entertainment success, running for two nights with overflow crowds. The parade drew 8,000-10,000 people to Fairmont, and had five marching bands and more than forty floats.

The Farmers Day continued, each succeeding year larger and more successful than the previous one. Willis became known by all NC Civitans as the face of the Fairmont Farmers Day. He became a NC District Governor in 1952.

The Farmers Day continued, getting bigger and better every year until 1957 when the Civitan Club decided to not have a parade. It had become so large that the 50 member club was unable to manage it. The parade in 1956 had attracted more than 40,000 people to the festivities. The minstrel show continued, as did the farm show and the dances.

About this time Willis began having health issues. His father had died from kidney disease and now he had kidney problems himself. Finding no solutions to his health issues, Willis Fisher died on July 17, 1961 of kidney disease.

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