COOLEEMEE — Those who knew Tom Webb in public service say he was well-liked and friendly, and he loved to be out in the community talking to people.
Webb, 62, of Cooleemee, died Saturday at Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He retired from Schaefer Interstate Railing, was the former owner of Tom’s Guns in Granite Quarry and was previously employed with Bell South for 20 years.
Webb served for six years as a Rowan County commissioner, from 1990 through 1996, and later joined the town of Cooleemee’s planning board.
Steve Blount, who served with Webb on the Board of Commissioners, said he enjoyed working with Webb and remembers him as a “fun guy.”
“He was an enjoyable person and a very open person,” said Blount, a consultant and Salisbury resident. “I think he truly wanted to serve the people of Rowan County to his best ability.”
Webb was well-liked and affable, said John Holshouser Jr., a Salisbury attorney and retired Superior Court judge.
“He was one of those people that in public meetings that could certainly disagree without being disagreeable,” Holshouser said. “As I recall, he would always greet county personnel, his fellow commissioners and members of the general public with genuine warmth. He did his best to confront and to solve problems which came to his attention.”
Holshouser worked as the county attorney when Webb was on the board. He said Webb was very businesslike in meetings but always had a “bright countenance” on his face.
“I think Tom’s service on the commission was one which our community appreciated,” he said. “I just have very warm memories of my association with him as a commissioner.”
It may have been Webb’s easygoing manner that got him in trouble with the law.
After his 1994 re-election, Webb resigned in the middle of his term in 1996 while facing criminal charges.
The gun shop owner was indicted that year on eight felony counts and 12 misdemeanor counts related to federal gun law violations. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to five felony counts and five misdemeanor counts.
Investigators said Webb knowingly sold guns to people who did not have a permit and that he willingly broke laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
During the trial in 1997, federal agents testified that Webb had sold guns out of the back of his pickup at restaurants. They also testified that many of the guns Webb sold later were linked to crimes.
In a 2011 interview, Webb told the Post that he made mistakes in his recordkeeping and may have lost some paperwork, but those errors were careless and he meant no harm. He said he did sell guns casually to friends, but not if he knew they didn’t have a permit.
After his release in 1999, Webb moved from Rowan to Davie County and began to rebuild his life.
He reconciled with his ex-wife, Naomi, and the two remarried in 2000 after spending 22 years apart. They had first married in 1974.
Webb worked for seven or eight years at Schaefer Interstate Railing before entering retirement. As a convicted felon, he could not vote, sit on a jury or hold public office until his citizenship rights were restored in July of 2005. After that, he still could not carry a firearm.
Webb served two terms on the Cooleemee town planning board. In 2011, he ran for mayor of Cooleemee but lost to incumbent Lynn Rumley.
John Chandler, who was mayor when Webb was a planning board member, said Webb’s experience with the county saved Cooleemee a lot of time.
“His experience shortened the life of investigating certain things, because he had already seen it, and he knew what to do,” Chandler said.
Webb helped develop a strategic plan for Cooleemee, and he spoke proudly of what the board had accomplished when he ran for mayor. The town was one of the first in Davie County to have such a plan.
Webb also cared about keeping up the town’s appearance in order to make it more attractive for businesses and residents, Chandler said.
“Over the years, when industry leaves, the old mill towns start drying up,” he said. “He understood the importance of making your town look desirable. Those things were important to him.”
Webb was a member and former master of Fulton Masonic Lodge 99 A.F. & A.M., a member of the Rowan County Shrine Club and a special deputy with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department.
Chandler said Webb would strike up a conversation with anyone he met around the town of Cooleemee.
“He would always come by the town hall, very pleasant, always willing to give ideas about things,” he said. “He could draw you into a conversation because of the way he presented himself. ... He had just a calm spirit about him that was welcoming.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.