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Whitson's next chapter set in church

David Whitson spent his career crunching numbers, collecting tuition and paying the bills for three community colleges. In a change of pace, he took a job as assistant county manager for Henderson County, a new challenge that he found fulfilling.


What nagged at him, though, was a sense that he needed to tackle something bigger than local government borrowing, school construction bids and intra-agency contracts.
"About four years ago I guess I got this itch to do something different," Whitson, 61, said in an interview. "I'd been doing the same work with the community college system for 30 years, and I had a growing desire to have a deeper understanding and knowledge of God."
He had toiled all his adult life in the bookkeeping office, not the classroom, of community colleges.
"And so, it just so happened that I saw the opportunity at Liberty University, and I took one class and liked it. ... I just made a decision to retire and go into school fulltime," he said.
Starting in the fall of 2010, he plunged into online courses on theology, which used words he'd never heard of and required a huge amount of reading.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it. The first semester I took three (courses), nine hours (credit), and I learned right quick this is too much, even in my retirement," he sad. "It took a lot of work — research, writing papers, reading."
He didn't stay retired long. A year after he left BRCC, he took the post at Henderson County, then spent nights and weekends in a book or on a laptop working toward his degree at Liberty.
"I just completed that last month," he said. "And the opportunity at the church became available — I don't think it's a coincidence — at the same time that I finished the degree."
The church is New Morgan Hill Baptist in Candler, led by an old friend and current pastor, the Rev. James Walker. And the opportunity is church administrator, the manager who handles day-to-day operations and, for Whitson, wearing a familiar hat — counting the money and paying the bills.
The son of former Hendersonville First Baptist Church minister Ian H.C. Walker, James Walker had made a name for himself — and helped spark the phenomenal growth of Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville — in the 1990s and early 2000s. Walker left Asheville a few years ago, did mission work and then took a pastorship in Georgia before returning home to become senior minister of New Morgan Hill. Like Biltmore, New Morgan Hill is growing fast, by about 500 members since Walker took the pulpit.
"We expect a lot of things to happen at New Morgan Hill," he said. "Because of that, a lot of people want to be on the groundwork with this ministry. I think a lot of James. He is an outstanding leader, pastor, Christian."
As a deacon at Biltmore Baptist, Whitson had chaired the finance committee and taught Sunday school. About a year ago, he and his wife, Jean, moved their membership to New Morgan Hill.
A native of Yancey County, Whitson worked at community colleges in Mayland and Waynesville before David Sink hired him at Blue Ridge Community College about six years ago. He and his wife have two grown sons. They plan to stay in their home in Mills River as he pursues his next chapter.
A calm and competent administrator, Whitson has been a key part of the repair job — healing even — that the Board of Commissioners and County Manager Steve Wyatt pushed forward after relations with the county School Board hit bottom amid dramatic budget cuts and open political warfare three years ago.
As the second-in-command in the executive office, he has been the liaison for the library, parks and recreation, Soil and Water Conservation, cooperative extension, DSS, the health department "and special projects for the commissioners and Steve the manager, and there are a lot of them that come around."
The commissioners and Wyatt put him in charge of negotiations between the Tourism Development Authority and museum over funding, and he has been working on the next round of capital projects.
"One of the special projects that I really enjoyed and regret really leaving is the construction projects with the school system and it could be with Wingate, the college, whatever it may be," he said. "I enjoy working with those entities and really kind of regret not being able to see all that through. But there's a beginning and it's off and running, so hopefully we'll continue the good relationship with the school system."
Armed with a deeper understanding of the Bible — and an embossed sheet of paper to certify it — he looks forward to serving alongside Walker, growing the Buncombe County church and attracting a flock of younger families.
"The impetus behind his ministry is teaching the Biblical word, being strong and faithful to the Biblical teaching," he said. "That's what we have at New Morgan Hill and that's what attracts those that really want to know the truth and have a deeper relationship with God.
"It's typically not the old Southern mountain style," he said of Walker's style. "I don't want to be offensive to the way I was brought up but we have a new generation out there, and we have to engage that generation with the way we do service but not compromise the message."