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Al King: One man, many hats 

by Najuma Thorpe, NCLM Director of Communications and Member Relations 

Vietnam. Classic cars. Fast cars. Cuban missile crisis. Municipal government. What do these things have in common?

Al King. 

Most people are fortunate to have one distinguished career, but King is working on his third -- all in public service. 

“Once you get involved in [public service], if you don’t become passionate about it you need to get out,” said King. “There is so much to do. I like people and I like helping people.”

On the front lines

King retired -- for the first time -- from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service. His Air Force time took him around the world and included a year serving as a commander in Vietnam.

In fact, King was in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. He  was stationed in California when his whole wing was told they were moving to Homestead, Fla.

“We all wondered why we were moving,” King said. “We learned that [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev and [U.S. President John F.] Kennedy were having a debate about the missiles in Cuba.  Kennedy told Khrushchev that if they didn’t move the missiles then we were going to destroy Cuba and everything around it.”

King’s wing was the lead.

“When we got there and they briefed us on what happened, I was told that I was the senior guy so I would be responsible for all of this stuff.”

He and his team worked out war plans and squadrons and fighters began arriving from around the world.

“We got so close to going and knocking those missiles out. Our aircraft were actually taxiing. These guys were my friends, and they were ready to go kick butt.”

But just before they took flight, the squadron commander received word that Khrushchev called Kennedy and told him they would remove the missiles.

Building a home back home

King was in Wichita Falls, Texas, when he retired from the Air Force in 1976.  His wife, Juanita, is an educator, but when their son and daughter, she stopped working to focus on taking care of the kids.  When they got big enough, she wanted to go back to work as an English teacher certified in special education.

“My wife and I grew up together in Mount Olive. Our parents thought that once I retired we would come back home, but we had no intention of coming back home,” said King.

They came back to Mount Olive on vacation one July a couple months before his retirement. Once the school system found out that Juanita was certified in special education, they recruited her.

“I wasn’t going to do anything for the first year after retirement, so I told her that it was up to her.”

The family decided to move back for a year and decide what to do next. It worked out well because it brought them closer to their parents and other family.

“I’m glad that we moved back because we were here to take care of family when they needed us,” King said. “I don’t have any regrets.”

King worked for the county for a couple years then came to the city of Goldsboro as the director of personnel and safety in 1979, a role that he held until his retirement in 2000. 

During his time working for the city he was involved in numerous organizations, including serving two terms as the president of the North Carolina Organization of Municipal Personnel Officers and as a member of the League’s Risk Management Board of Trustees.

Becoming mayor

“Al, we want you to be mayor.”

“You’re out of your #$*! mind.”

That is how the first call he received went as he was summoned back into public service after the passing of Mayor Hal Plonk, who died in December 2001. After he received a second call, it became clear that Al King was on his way to being Mayor King. 

It was up to the Goldsboro City Council to appoint a new mayor, and they were having a hard time agreeing on someone. That is how Goldsboro mayor and outgoing League president began his run as mayor. He was appointed mayor in January 2002.  He was elected to his first full term in November 2003 and has served since then.

“I told them, ‘Ok, I’m serving Plonk’s two years, and I’m out of here,’” King said/ “’But while I’m here we’re gonna do some stuff.’”

He’s proud of the growth of the city over the past decade. Downtown is in the midst of a streetscape project that is part of the city’s master plan. The project not only involves beautification of the downtown area, but infrastructure improvements that include water and sewer line replacements and burying power lines.  Restoring the city’s Union Station is also in the plans.

“We have several businesses who have told me that they are looking to come downtown when the streetscape is finished,” said King.

His two years as mayor turned into 14, and he’s not done yet.

“Man, I can’t find any better way to help people than public service.”