Retired Salisbury civic leader John Broyhill marks 100 years

By Susan Parker
Posted 5/12/21

Retired Salisbury civic and business leader John Broyhill has joined a rather exclusive club — he recently became a centenarian, marking his 100th birthday with family members who gathered for …

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Retired Salisbury civic leader John Broyhill marks 100 years

John Broyhill turned 100 in his Florida home on May 3.
John Broyhill turned 100 in his Florida home on May 3.
Broyhill Family Photo

Retired Salisbury civic and business leader John Broyhill has joined a rather exclusive club — he recently became a centenarian, marking his 100th birthday with family members who gathered for an in-person celebration in Florida, where he retired a few years ago.

“We had a lovely birthday celebration with Dad and family,” said Susan B. Smith, one of Broyhill’s daughters. “It was nice to watch him enjoy his children and some of his grandchildren – and one of his 10 great-grandchildren.”

Smith noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had prevented more of the family from attending. It was a fitting way for a man who has always made time for family to spend this remarkable milestone.

Smith’s daughter, Kelly Friar, wrote a tribute to her grandfather on his birthday, May 3, 2021:

“This amazing guy, my Grandad, is 100 today! He taught me how to roller skate, how to read the stock market, how to read a newspaper, took me to D.C. and taught me the importance of loving our country, the importance of family and knowing where you come from, the importance of civil service and treating people with kindness. He took me on boat trips and to the beach. His home always felt like home. He loved my grandmother to her last breath. He put my grandmother’s makeup on when she couldn’t anymore and sat with her every day, even when she no longer could speak to him. He always greets the day with optimism. He loves his family. … We love you Grandad.”

 Broyhill, whose career was spent in management with the JCPenney Co., arrived in Salisbury 1952, 11 years and several transfers into his career with the national retailer.

But there must have been something compelling about Salisbury, because once he and his wife, Norva, settled in, they stayed put, raising their four children as Broyhill gradually became a community fixture.

Broyhill embraced his adopted hometown during a period of growth and rising prosperity, when opportunities abounded for civic leaders to leave their mark. Broyhill was up for that challenge.

His zeal for community service took root in a wide array of service organizations ranging from a fledgling United Way to the Salvation Army, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce and even some involvement with local government through service to the Salisbury/Wicomico Planning & Zoning Commission, urban renewal organizations and urban renewal efforts.

Everywhere he served, he left his mark.

He did it all without sacrificing family time, nor did his career suffer as a result.

Smith recalls both the routines and structures of family life.

“We enjoyed picnic dinners on the boat as a family on Wednesday evenings,” she recalls. “It was a treat because Dad worked so much as the manager of JCPenney. And we teased Dad that we liked Thursday nights because he went to Rotary, and we were allowed to eat in the kitchen — and eat breakfast food for dinner.”

Otherwise, she said, it was a family dinner at the dining room table.

Broyhill was instrumental in establishing the way the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore solicits donations, having worked with the late Jack Purnell to change the organization’s door-to-door solicitations to a payroll-deduction system. He and Purnell hired a professional to manage that first campaign and raised $100,000 that first year.

Broyhill served on the United Way Board of Directors for 15 years, and as president in 1962.

In 1966, he was sworn in as president of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce and served on that Board of Directors for 15 years.

In 1972, the year Henry S. Parker was Chamber president, Broyhill organized the first Local Government Committee. In 1976, when the late David F. Rodgers was Chamber president, he organized the first Business Affairs Committee.

Broyhill received the Chamber’s Community Service Award in 1983.

Downtown Plaza obelisk

But Broyhill’s most visible reminder of his service to the business community is the aluminum obelisk that was recently moved from the Downtown Plaza to the more-visible center of the new traffic circle at the confluence of Riverside Drive, Camden Avenue, and Carroll and Mill streets.

That sculpture was a memorial to the Chamber’s first president, Fred P. Adkins, and Broyhill served on the committee tasked with commissioning the monument, which bears this inscription: “Inspired by the achievements of the past and dedicated to the faith in the future.”

It was dedicated in 1970, part of the Chamber’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Chamber marked its 100th anniversary in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 1999, the Salvation Army of the Lower Eastern Shore in Salisbury awarded Broyhill a Lifetime Membership on its Advisory Board, the only individual to receive that distinction.

“One of the Salvation Army’s core strengths is its Advisory Board members,” said Capt. Matthew Trantham. “We depend on local leaders to advance the mission of the Salvation Army.”

Broyhill served as chairman of the Salvation Army Boys Club Advisory Board from 1974-76 and as chairman of the Advisory Board from 1980-82. He was Property Committee chairman while the Thrift Store on Vine Street was designed and constructed.

But for all his community service and dedication, Broyhill never failed to put family first.

“Dad loved history,” said Smith, “so we enjoyed vacations to many East Coast historic sites. Even when we were young, we know about Dad’s commitment to the greater Salisbury community. It made us proud that he worked to make our community better.

“He taught us humility and respect for others. One of his greatest attributes is kindness. He believes life is a series of adjustments. You may not always like what you were dealt, but you make the most of it,” Smith said.

Broyhill has practiced what he preached, making the most of every opportunity to make his community a better place — all while building a lifetime of fond memories for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.