Jenks Crayton, who served as Guilford County tax director for nearly a decade, and who passed away at 55 on Friday, Sept. 15, is being remembered fondly by family, friends and the Guilford County employees he worked with for so many years.
Guilford County Benefits Manager Carol Campbell, who works in the county’s Human Resources Department, said she has wonderful memories of Crayton, and she added that he was a very considerate person who was a delight to be around.
“He was a very, very nice man,” Campbell said. “I really think of Jenks as the quintessential Southern gentlemen.”
Crayton, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, was born in that coastal city on August 1, 1962. His father was a banker who moved the family to Columbia, South Carolina, when Jenks was 6 years old.
Jenkins Street Crayton Jr. graduated from Furman University and then went to work as a senior analyst for Styron & Associates in Statesville, where he was employed until he went into county government administration.
Guilford County hired Crayton as the tax program coordinator in February 1988 at the age of 25, and he worked in that capacity for almost a decade until he became Guilford County’s tax director on July 1, 1997. Crayton served as director until November 2006, when he resigned.
Campbell, like other county employees, recalled Crayton’s intellect.
“He was one of the smartest people I know,” she said. “He was very well read.”
Assistant Guilford County Tax Director Greg French, who worked with Crayton for years, said Crayton had a very wide range of interests.
“It was not just any singular avenue,” he said, adding that philosophy was one of Crayton’s interests.
Crayton also enjoyed the outdoors; he loved swimming, hiking, camping and bicycling.
As for indoor activity, one of his favorite pastimes was taking discarded antique clocks and getting them running again.
French said a key contribution Crayton made to Guilford County government was the modernization of the Tax Department.
“He had a real vision of what technology could do to leverage efficiency,” French said.
At Furman, Crayton earned his degree in economics and business administration. He also studied a good deal of computer science while there.
Several county employees said Crayton had a very close working relationship with the late Roger Cotten, who, as Guilford County tax director, hired Crayton, before Cotton was promoted to county manager in 1997. Soon after Cotten’s promotion, Crayton was named the county’s tax director. Cotten served as Crayton’s mentor in the practices of local government administration.
After Crayton left Guilford County in 2006, he did some tax and accounting work for Orange County as well as contract work for the North Carolina Department of Revenue. Former Guilford County Tax Director Francis Kinlaw took the position in 2006 and held the job until 2007, when he stepped down and current Tax Director Ben Chavis was named to the job.
Crayton was a colorful tax director who frequently battled it out with county commissioners during his tenure with Guilford County. The year of 2005 was particularly tumultuous after Crayton was falsely accused of wrongdoing by some Democratic county commissioners in what other commissioners dubbed a “witch hunt.”
In April 2005, Crayton was suspended while that investigation took place. The Rhino Times, the SBI and the Guilford County manager’s office looked into the charges at that time and found no evidence of any wrongdoing. Following a month-long intense review of Crayton’s administration, the North Carolina Tax Department found the same thing. The three state investigators came back with findings that there was absolutely no wrongdoing and they were so emphatic about that that they underlined for emphasis that Crayton had nothing wrong and performed his duties as tax director just as he should.
Though Crayton’s suspension was lifted, many say that that experience didn’t sit well with him and, the following year, he left Guilford County government.
Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, who worked with Crayton as a fellow department head, said Crayton was at the time “caught in the crosshairs” of a political battle.
“He was the kind of guy who was very by the book – very detail oriented,” Thigpen said, adding that Crayton worked well with Cotten.
Thigpen remembers Crayton fondly and said he enjoyed his company but distinctly did not like being a passenger in the car when Crayton was driving.
“I rode with him and he was one of the fastest drivers ever,” Thigpen said, adding that one time on the way out of a county parking lot Crayton almost hit the exit gate.
“I was about to climb out of his car,” Thigpen said.
Crayton was buried in a private graveside service this week. A memorial service in Columbia is planned for Friday, Sept. 29.