Retired?: Blount Rumley has plans for life after the Estuarium

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, January 10, 2015

Blount Rumley

Blount Rumley

Describing Blount Rumley’s tenure as administrator of the North Carolina Estuarium is like describing Michael Jordan as just a basketball player.

Jordan was a basketball player. Rumley was the administrator at the Estuarium. That’s the truth, but not the complete truth. There’s much more to the story than that.

Rumley retired from his position at the Estuarium at the end of 2014. Don’t think for one minute that retirement for Rumley means he will be less busy than before retirement.

“I’m giving myself several weeks to absorb my new life in retirement. I’m just going to let it soak in, see what happens. For a long time, and I haven’t had time to do it, I wanted to look at the history of Washington, its people,” Rumley, 72, said. “I think there’s a void of written material about this region since the early 1900s up through World War II. Of course, there’s (the) book ‘Washington on the Pamlico.’ … Daddy had written volumes of stuff on scraps of paper, put it in his pocket. When he passed away, I realized how much he had written down that I don’t know are written anywhere else. I’ve got a sack full of audiotapes … that are really interesting. I kind of want to do something like that.”

Rumley began working at the Estuarium before it opened its doors to the public in early 1998. His first day at the facility was Aug. 8, 1997. Rumley said his time at the Estuarium, allowing him to make connections with many people, gave him the self-confidence to pursue his future endeavors. He also believes the Estuarium continues to be a benefit to the area.

“I think telling the story of Washington and its people, its geography — I’ll say the region, not just Washington, because it’s more than Washington — and helping the local economy, the regional economy,” Rumley said about the Estuarium’s greatest impact on the area. “People are coming to see us. It’s helped tourism tremendously, I think. It’s been a benefit to our region, being Bath, Aurora and Belhaven, even New Bern and Greenville.”

Before joining the Estuarium, Rumley owned an auto-parts business. Selling it provided him the opportunity to apply for the facility manager’s job at the Estuarium.

“I’ve always been interested in most of the things the Estuarium stands for. … I wanted to do something else. It was about time to make a leap, I thought. The Estuarium was being built at that time. It looked like something that I really wanted to do,” Rumley said. “I had this strong yen to be part of that, so I applied for the job like some other folks. I was lucky enough to get it.”

Rumley said that because he “likes to talk to folks” his job at the Estuarium served him well.

“That’s the fun part. That’s the cream of it, right there — talking with folks,” he said.

Lynn Wingate, tourism-development director for Washington, said Rumley’s tenure Estuarium is one of connecting with people.

“To me, Blount has always been one of the most valuable assets of the Estuarium because not only did he know the history of our area, he loved sharing that history with out visitors, groups that came in. He was just a tremendous resource. People enjoyed talking him and learning about our history,” Wingate said.

“We would hear from tour operators, we would hear from people that would send us responses about what they enjoyed, that they had an opportunity to meet him. He always made a lasting impression and a very positive impressing about Washington,” she added.

Jackie Peoples Woolard, executive director of the Partnership for the Sounds, parent organization of the Estuarium, said Rumley’s retirement leaves a void at the Estuarium.

“I’m not sure I can put into words what he’s meant to the Estuarium. Blount’s a one-of-a-kind person in every facet of his life. He is exceptional. He started working while we were still working on the Estuarium. What he did for the Estuarium — he pretty much made it his own,” Woolard said. “He knows everything about everything in that building. He knows how every system works, where everything is located, how to fix anything that needs fixing, how to keep things working properly.”

Although blessed with carpentry, plumbing and other similar skills, it was Rumley’s ability to interact with people that was instrumental in making the Estuarium popular with visitors and area residents, Woolard said.

Rumley is an amateur historian. One could argue he’s a walking history book when it comes to most things Washington. Even his name incorporates two surnames names long associated with Washington — Blount and Rumley. Washington’s history is filled with references to Blounts and Rumleys. His legal name is Henry Blount Rumley Jr. Technically, Rumley said, he’s Henry Blount Rumley III.

“I’m descended from William Blount, John Gray Blount’s brother. Then, the Rumleys came up through the logging business. … Daddy was Henry Blount Rumley Jr., but then they didn’t have to have birth certificates until 1912, I think. Daddy was born before birth certificates came along. So, when his father died, he assumed, like as was the custom. … he dropped the junior and became senior. When I was born, they called me junior, when I’m really the third,” Rumley explained.

“So, really, I don’t even know my own name,” he said with a chuckle.

Rumley has plans to do something that’s a little different than telling Washington’s history.

“My wife has been after me to do this, too — bednight stories I’ll call them. The children, when they were little, I used to tell bedtime stories as I thought about it, right off the cuff. After awhile, I started to write them down. My daughter called them bednight stories instead of bedtime stories,” Rumley said. “Most of the time, they involved a very heroic, black dog, who through no fault of his own, performed miraculous things to save people. You know, very moral things. I’d kind of like to expand that and get that down in print. That’s on scraps of paper, too.”

Rumley also plans to spend more time doing woodworking.

“I like to do that, and I still have all of my fingers, but I have had a few near misses,” he said.

As for leaving the Estuarium, Rumley said, “I’m leaving some things behind physically, with what I’ve left there. You just don’t detach from all the people you’ve met and known. It was a strange feeling leaving that building for the last time.”

Rumley may not have the physical presence at the Estuarium that he once had, but the Estuarium will continue to be infused with his contributions, according to those who worked with him.
















About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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