The fulfilling life of our beloved, Donna Arnold Thurman, educator, advocate and public servant, came to a peaceful close on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, at her home in Erwin.
Mrs. Thurman was born on Oct. 31, 1953, in Erwin. She was the daughter of the late James Arnold and Vera Bailey Mims. Mrs. Thurman was reared in Erwin and attended Gentry School, and the historic Harnett High School for her freshman year. With the desegregation of schools, she attended Erwin High School as a member of the class of 1971. Upon graduation, Mrs. Thurman matriculated to the verdant green and sloping hills of North Carolina Central University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology in 1975. She later continued her education, earning a Master of Education degree in Counseling from Campbell University, and a Master of School Administration degree from North Carolina State University.
On June 9, 1973, she married the love of her life, George Thurman. They planted roots in Erwin and to this union two children, Denise Nichole and Kevin George, were born. Her family was the greatest joy of her life.
Mrs. Thurman received her early religious instruction at the Benson Revival Deliverance Center. As an adult, she joined Saint John Missionary Baptist Church in Dunn serving in various capacities. In 2004, the family was led to unite with Mount Pisgah Harnett Original Free Will Baptist Church. Mrs. Thurman served on the church’s Sesquicentennial Committee, the Care Team Ministry, and she sang with the Senior and the Ever-Ready Choirs as her health permitted.
Mrs. Thurman was well-known across Harnett County as an advocate for families and students throughout her 34 years of public service. She served as a Child Protective Services Social Worker with the Harnett County Department of Social Services for 10 years.
Upon her transition into education, Mrs. Thurman taught in several schools within the Harnett County School System, including Coats Union School and Triton High School. She later served as a school counselor at Triton.
Serving as the last principal at the historic Shawtown School, Mrs. Thurman worked with Harnett Schools and Shawtown Alumni to insure that the school’s historical treasures would be properly stored and curated to preserve the legacy of the school.
In 2003, Mrs. Thurman returned to Erwin as the principal of Erwin Elementary School until her retirement in 2011. She holds the distinction of being the first African American and the first woman to lead the school from its opening in the 1920s.
Mrs. Thurman served in various Harnett County civic groups over the years. She served as a member and a president of the Women in Action. She was instrumental in commissioning the portrait of Dunn’s first Black physician, Dr. Conrad Belfry (C.B.) Codrington, at Betsy Johnson Hospital. She was a member of the Harnett County Arts Council and the Harnett County Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap Student Accountability Committee. As an auxiliary member of the American Legion (Charles Cook Post 193), Mrs. Thurman founded and sponsored the Every Teen Cares group, a collaborative effort between the American Legion and Triton High School.
Mrs. Thurman was lauded in many ways for her tireless dedication to the families and students of Harnett County and for her leadership in education. Most notable among these was receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the State of North Carolina. She was also proud to be honored on the Harnett County African American Heritage Monument.
Mrs. Thurman was preceded in death by her parents; brothers, Landy Levon Arnold and Leonard B. Arnold; sister, Prenetta A. Savoy; and her grandmother, Mrs. Lennie Ryals Arnold, whom she adored.
Fifty years of love and memories will be cherished by her husband of 47 years, George of the home. Her loving legacy will forever be in the hearts of her children, Denise and Kevin, both of Erwin; her brother, James Randolph Arnold of Greensboro; her godson and nephew, Michael Arnold of Kannapolis; her brothers and sisters-in-law, Betty Arnold of Erwin, James and Marilyn Thurman of Fayetteville, Ralph and Brenda Thurman, and Floria Thurman, all of Dunn, Linda Trice of Detroit, Michigan, Carnell and Gloria Robinson of Dunn, Sylvia Williams of Richmond, Virginia, Jacqueline and Dereck Whittenburg of Raleigh, and Annie Arnold of Dunn; her uncle, Henry Louis Bailey of Norfolk, Virginia; her aunts, Peggy R. Thurman of Brooklyn, New York, Mattie Bailey of Erwin and Mary Bailey Clark of Dunn; and her goddaughters, Samantha Bell of Fayetteville and Amora Grubbs of Garner. She will also be remembered lovingly by her nieces and nephews, her many cousins from the Arnold, Bailey, Ryals and McKoy families, the Erwin High class of 1971 and a host of friends, former students and co-workers, who will forever treasure the impact she made on their lives.
Professional services are entrusted to the Dafford Funeral Home of Dunn.