Former state lawmaker remembered as hard worker


Former state Rep. Joe Tolson, D-Edgecombe


Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Joe Tolson was a quiet fella who got things done, according to his older brother Norris.

Joe Tolson died Sunday at 77. He's remembered by family and colleagues as a silent, strong man who put in the work.

Tolson is best known as a Democrat member of the state House representing Edgecombe County from 1997 to 2014. He also served as a budget writer focusing on education, technology and the rural economy.

"Joe was an excellent legislator who got it done with no fanfare and no speeches," said Norris Tolson, Joe's older brother who's known for getting things done as well.

Norris said his brother knew the issues better than anyone in the room. Joe served as co-chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. After leaving the legislature, Tolson served on the board of former Gov. Beverly Perdue's Digital Learning Institute.

Tolson received degrees from Barton College and the University of Virginia. He served as assistant vice president of Edgecombe Community College.

"He was a pretty smart guy," Norris said.

The brothers grew up in Pinetops along with four other brothers and two sisters.

Joe and Norris were the two youngest of eight.

"We were very close," Norris said. "He was a good brother and I'll miss him. He was struggling with his health, but it's still painful."

It's a pain Norris has endured over and over. He and another brother are the last survivors of the eight Tolson children.

Norris said Joe never let anything go to his head.

"No matter how important a job Joe had, he never changed," Norris said. "He was always the same."

Joe greeted folks with a handshake and a question about their family.

Joe was preceded in the state House by Norris. He was followed by state Rep. Shelly Willingham who said it hurt to hear about Tolson's death.

"Joe was a good friend," Willingham said. "I consulted with him often; he gave great advice."

Willingham said he's saddened by the knowledge Tolson won't be around to take his call when he needs him.

Joe Tolson died at Vidant Edgecombe Hospital in Tarboro after suffering a breathing and lung ailment for the past couple of years.