Betts still sees bright future for city


Twin County Hall of Famer Tom Betts sits in his office overlooking City Lake.


Staff Writer

Monday, March 11, 2019

A modern-day lion in winter, a reflective Tom Betts recently looked back on his life and shed insight on recent knavery at Rocky Mount City Hall.

A banker and businessman of great success, Betts, 77, became best at raising money for charities and political candidates. He's done so much for area education and transportation that the road running along N.C. Wesleyan College was named in his honor.

"I am bullish on Rocky Mount’s future," Betts said. "We are perfectly positioned for the positive announcements that are coming our way."

One of Betts' few rules is to talk plain, he said during two recent interviews, Tuesday at the Telegram's suite at the Rocky Mount Mills and Thursday at his posh office overlooking City Lake.

That's why Betts made sure to be crystal clear on his stance when it comes to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, who he has acted as advisor and confidante to the city manager since her arrival in July 2017.

"While Rochelle and I are friends, I really hate to say — she has to go," Betts said. "I am very fond of her, but there is no other choice."

In recent months, Small-Toney's been at the center of a storm of allegations of mismanagement and cronyism.

"I like Rochelle a lot — and I respect her — but I just can't see how it will work out under the current circumstances," Betts said. "For her sake, I wish she would resign. She doesn't need this. She is capable, and there are places that would welcome her. However, regrettably, we need a new pair of glasses right now."

Betts said he believes Small-Toney didn't quite understand the environment she was stepping into when she took the job a year and a half ago.

"Of course there's a list," he said of the alleged department head hit-list supposedly given to Small-Toney by a member of the City Council.

Betts, a Twin County Hall of Famer, served as chairman of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership for eight years. He shrugged off a recent rumor that Nash County wants to withdraw from the public-private industrial recruitment agency.

"We'll be OK," Betts said. "We'll just find another county to partner with."

Betts has had his hands in just about every area local endeavor of consequence in the past half century, but he struggled to come up with his most important accomplishment.

"I don’t know that I have one," Betts said. "I feel the best about my involvement in industrial development. I believe every man or woman should have the opportunity to have a good job so they can provide for their family — and that gives them dignity as well."

Betts said he's been overcompensating his whole life.

"Since I felt insecure and didn’t quite fit in, I had to run faster and to work harder," he said, trying to downplay the many accolades he's received. "I have accomplished some things, but that doesn’t make me special.

"I'm satisfied with what I have done — but it came with a price."

Betts is a recovering alcoholic. Attending eight AA meetings a week is part of his regular routine.

"Sober for six years," he said with more pride than when discussing any other milestone in his life — except his wife and two daughters.

Betts said his feelings of inferiority drove him to seek the spotlight, to feel important and oftentimes led him to the bottle.

"Fortunately, I usually got 'right sized' pretty soundly — and pretty quickly," Betts said. "I’m working on that, too. All that ego stuff usually ends with a bad hangover, and I know something about them also."

Born in 1941 in Rockingham County, Betts has lived in Rocky Mount since early childhood.

"I am no big deal," he said. "I have done good things, I have done bad things. I have character defects for which I owe amends. I regret my shortcomings, but I am working on them. Fortunately, I am very persistent, and persistence trumps almost anything."

Betts said he believes God gave him certain talents — like being a great communicator and being adept at prying money out of people's pocketbooks for a good cause — and that God expected him to use those talents.

"So I entered the arena," he said. "I know victory, and I have felt the sting of defeat and fear of rejection — but on balance, I came out pretty well. As I am fading away, I am finding peace, and I no longer need to be a pleaser. I am finally getting it."