If former Sanford mayor Tommy Chester Mann Sr. were alive he would be celebrating his 97th birthday this Sunday. However, when he died in 2010, he left behind a legacy that continues to benefit many people in this area.
Mr. Mann’s son, Tommy Chester Mann Jr., and his grandson, Tommy Chester Mann III, called “Chet,” have followed in his footsteps by benefiting businesses, promoting arts and contributing to enhancement of this community.
How can three generations of men and fathers give so much of their time and talents?
Tommy Jr. says that his father demonstrated service, integrity and consideration, as well as hard work and relationship building to make a difference in the lives of others.
“Daddy did not preach about his religion or philosophize about his beliefs – he just lived an exemplary life,” Tommy said. “When he saw a need he tried to fill it, and he served as a role model for me and so many others.”
Mr. Mann grew up in Jonesboro, son of Lemuel and Mamie Holland Mann, and had nine siblings. He graduated from Jonesboro High School. In 1941, he married Sarah Miller whose parents Arnold Knight “A.K.” and Ruth May started Miller Funeral Home in Sanford.
Tommy said, “They enjoyed 69 wonderful years together before Daddy’s death in 2010.”
He noted, “Mama was the boulder of support behind the rock that he was and supported Daddy’s many endeavors.”
Tommy grew up with a sister, Peggy, and a much younger brother, Randy, in a house on Steele Street right across from the Sanford High School that his mother had attended.
Mr. Mann served in the United States Air Force during World War II, where he taught aircraft mechanics. After returning to Sanford he became the owner of Mann Implement Company that specialized in tractor and farm machinery and Evinrude Boat and Motors.
Mr. Mann was elected as a Sanford Alderman in the early 1950s and eventually served the town as mayor from 1963 to 1965. Tommy said he spearheaded a campaign to access water from the Cape Fear River to prepare for the growth of homes and businesses. That initiative still benefits Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties.
In 1968, Mr. Mann embarked on his second career as the first student recruitment officer at Central Carolina Technical Institute (now Central Carolina Community College) and became the first industrial development officer.
Mr. Mann retired in 1988 and became involved in saving the old Sanford High School. He helped to create the Lee County Arts and Community Center to provide space for performances, arts activities, meetings and offices. The facility was renamed the Mann Center of North Carolina in 2015.
Tommy Mann Jr. contributes
Armed with Christian values and a good work ethic, Tommy Mann Jr. majored in business at Western Carolina University at Cullowhee. Here he met Joyce, a native of Mocksville. The couple married in 1965 and settled in Sanford. Tommy and Joyce have two sons, Tommy Chester “Chet” Mann III and Jeffrey Allen, who were born in 1966 and 1969, respectively.
Tommy’s first position at the booming Roberts Company in Sanford was not his dream job because he worked inside too much, but he learned a lot. There were 1,200 employees and he made many friends.
At age 24, Tommy started a welding supply company in Sanford. As it turned out some of his contacts from his job helped him get contracts with Coty and other major companies moving into this area.
Tommy grew Central Welding & Industrial Supply Inc. and was joined by his brother, Randy, and sons, Chet and Jeff. The family expanded the business to 23 employees.
Due to a health crisis in 2004, Tommy let Randy and Chet take over Central Welding, and in 2007 the new owners sold it to a Fortune 100 company, Praxair.
Through the decades, Tommy has contributed energy and enthusiasm to various organizations. He joined the Sanford Chamber of Commerce and served as chairman of the board two times. In 1993, he received the chamber’s “Small Business Person of the Year” designation. Two years ago, Tommy was honored with the chamber’s Dedicated Service Award at the annual banquet.
Chet Mann serves community
Chet credits his father and grandfather for his ongoing commitment to make a difference in improving this area and North Carolina.
He stated, “I learned many things from my father and grandfather in my life. They were very similar in their beliefs and values – primarily they taught by example. My granddaddy and dad lived their life with purpose and humility. They both put their priorities in order ... God, family and community. They have always been my heroes and always will be.”
In 2007, Chet became involved with mortgage lending and is currently N.C. area manager for CMG Financial Inc. In 2013 he was elected mayor of Sanford and continues to serve in that capacity.
Chet is married to Sanford native Missi Lawrence, and the couple has two sons. Tommy Chester Mann IV, called “TC,” is a musician in Nashville. Elliott Knight Mann graduated June 6 from Lee County High School and will attend Methodist University in Fayetteville.
On Father’s Day, Chet will join members of his family to celebrate the annual observance. He notes, “I know I am very fortunate to have been guided by the best father and grandfather anyone can imagine and I am also blessed with a wonderful mother and grandmother. They have all made family their priority.”
AlexSandra “Sandy Lynn” Lett is a professional speaker and the author of several books. She can be reached at 919-499-8880 or LettsSetaSpell@aol.com.