James Thomas Emerson (J.T.) made a contribution to Danville/Pittsylvania County (VA) and the surrounding communities through the formation of the J. T. – Minnie Maude Charitable Trust. He lived a quiet, anonymous life but his legacy will benefit many lives with educational scholarships and through grants to tax-exempt organizations.
J.T. was the third of eight children. After living in Danville for several years, J.T.’s father moved the family to a farm in Caswell County (NC), where raising tobacco was the family’s main source of income.
After a short time on the farm, J.T’s mother, Minnie Maude, had to raise seven children and manage the farm alone after the unexpected deaths of J.T.’s oldest brother and father in 1939-40. Striving to keep her family together and fed, Minnie Maude’s children remember this persevering, determined, strong woman working from morning to night, “like a dog.” After the older sons left home, Minnie Maude moved her younger children to the Stokesland area of Danville. She became a regular merchant at the Danville Curb Market selling meats, fresh vegetables, eggs and canned goods. The life lesson Minnie Maude taught her children was to work hard and that if you, “take care of your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”
J.T. learned this lesson well. His siblings recalled J.T. bringing his frayed collared shirts to his mother so she could “flip” the collars to the opposite side, thus allowing him to wear the shirts longer. He also brought his socks to Minnie Maude where she darned the toes by slipping the socks over a light bulb.
J.T.’s first job was at Parrish Johnson Electric Shop in Danville where he worked sixty hours a week for $8.00. After finishing Ruffin High School, J.T. voluntarily joined the Army Air Force with the dream of becoming a pilot. Physical limitations prevented him from realizing his dream, so he trained as an electrician and served at the Marianna, Florida flight training school during World War II.
By working and making use of the GI bill, J.T. was able to attend what is now Danville Community College. He ultimately graduated from the University of Alabama in 1951 with a degree in industrial engineering.
J.T. started his career as a salesman for Honeywell and later became a buyer for Allied Chemical. After Allied, he continued his engineering career as an independent contractor for companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg’s and Mobay Chemical.
During the late 1950’s, J.T. became very interested in the stock market and began developing his lifelong passion for investing. J.T. was a risk taker but always maintained a long term approach. His first rule of investing, as one family member recalls, was to, “play the stock market just like you play poker, don’t risk any more than you can afford to lose.” J.T.’s investing success in the stock market was driven by his own extensive personal research.
Another lifelong passion of J.T.’s was sports; as a participant, a spectator and as a family mentor. As a young man, he played various sports including baseball and football. During his early adult life, J.T. was introduced to the game of golf. Golf became his sport of choice, due to its complexity and the personal discipline the game requires. J.T.’s investment principals carried over to golf as he constantly studied the game and practiced to improve; ultimately winning several local and corporate tournaments. As a golf “instructor” to family members, J.T. would always say, “there are no foul balls in golf.”
J.T.’s ultimate passion in life was the love he had for his family and close friends. J.T. had no personal interest in material things for himself and was oblivious to what others thought of him. He was always there to help family and friends, taking particular interest in their financial fitness, health issues and education. Many often used J.T. as a source of financial advice, knowing that he always had their best interests at heart.
J.T. was very conscientious about his own health and encouraged others to be mindful of theirs. He even provided financial incentives to several family members to practice healthier lifestyles and on numerous occasions helped others with doctor, dental and hospital bills.
J.T. was always very interested in young family members’ educational success and was quick to reward for good grades. J.T.’s most proud moments were seeing his family members graduate from high school and institutions of higher learning. His belief was that education would not guarantee a young person’s success, but it would give them the “ability to compete.”
J.T.’s lifetime realization of the importance of having the “ability to compete”, whether collectively or on an individual basis, prompted him through his final wishes, to form the J. T. – Minnie Maude Charitable Trust. He directed that the Trust’s primary goal would be to provide financial assistance for higher educational opportunities to deserving students in the Danville area, and the Trust’s secondary goal would be to assist the residents of Danville/Pittsylvania County (VA) through grants to tax-exempt organizations.
Through the generosity of this fun loving, intelligent and special man, many area residents will benefit from his Trust. The contribution that J.T. has made to this community will leave a lasting impression on everyone as to the kind of wonderful person this man truly was!