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CLINTON — Celebrating the Life of James Bizzell ("Jim") Darden III
With a mixture of sorrow and gratitude, we honor the remarkable life of James Bizzell ("Jim") Darden III, 76, a beloved figure in Clinton, NC, who passed away Friday, November 17, surrounded by his loving family. Jim's legacy is a tapestry of athletic talent, entrepreneurial spirit, scholarly pursuits, and especially a deep commitment to his family and community.
Born to Dick (James Bizzell Darden, Jr.) and Edythe (Edythe Taylor West) on September 28, 1947, Jim was a beacon of talent and determination from his youth. At Clinton High School, he was a standout athlete in both football and basketball, leading the basketball team to the Southeast 3A Championship as a Tri-Captain in 1965, and being named Purcell Jones Most Outstanding Basketball Player in 1965.
At Methodist College (now Methodist University), Jim continued his prowess on the court, becoming a basketball legend and setting records that still stand tall. He was a four-time All-Conference player and a three-time All-Tournament selection, leading to his induction into the Methodist University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002. He captained the Dixie Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Conference Basketball Team in 1969, leading his team to its first-ever conference title. Jim's legacy at Methodist University is cemented with multiple records, including the highest single-season point average and the most career rebounds. In addition to his athletic accomplishments at Methodist, his continued service and loyalty to Methodist University through the years earned him the Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2005 and Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2009. In 2022, Jim was inducted into the Sampson County Sports Club Hall of Fame. While at Methodist, Jim met and married his college sweetheart, Mary Nell Watkins, marking the beginning of a long and happy union.
For over 40 years, he poured his heart into Darden's Nursery, cultivating not just azaleas, but also a reputation for excellence in landscaping across Clinton, Sampson County, and surrounding areas. His horticultural knowledge and design expertise brought beauty to countless homes, making the town a more vibrant place.
Jim's passion for storytelling extended to the written word. He authored notable works such as Great American Azaleas and Guests of the Emperor, sharing his love for horticulture and history with a wider audience. His books are a testament to his vast knowledge and his ability to engage readers with his charming narrative style. In his later years, Jim delved deeply into the world of genealogy, tracing lineages and helping many in Clinton discover their roots. His enthusiasm for history wasn't just a hobby; it was a way to connect people with their pasts and each other.
Jim's life was a balance of personal and community achievements. He was a two-time president of the Clinton Rotary Club and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow. He was also a dedicated member of First Methodist Church, where he served in many capacities, including chairman of the Administrative Board from 2014-2020. Jim was also a mentor to many young people during his life.
Academically, Jim was equally impressive, graduating cum laude with a B.S. in Biology from Methodist University in 1969. He furthered his education with a Master's degree in Education from Duke University, excelling with honors in Botany.
His legacy in teaching began at Jordan High School in Durham, NC, and continued through his career at Sampson Community College where he taught horticulture for 25 years. Professionally, Jim made significant contributions as the Chairman of the Horticulture Technology Department at Sampson Community College. His commitment to education was recognized when he was a finalist for the N.C. Community College Excellence in Teaching Award. During that time, Jim played a pivotal role in enhancing the community college system ensuring that horticulture credits earned at community colleges are recognized and transferable to four-year institutions. His efforts were instrumental in making this significant change a reality.
Jim's rich and full life also included a commitment to the Jamestowne Society, whose members are descended from early settlers who lived or held colonial government positions in Jamestowne, Virginia, prior to 1700. At the time of his death, Jim was serving as Governor of the 1st North Carolina Company of the Jamestowne Society.
Jim is survived by his loving wife of 55 years, Mary Nell, and their sons James ("Jay") Bizzell Darden IV and wife Paula Eure Darden; and Jeffrey ("Jeff") Franklin Darden and wife Kathleen ("Katie") Goforth Darden. Jim also found great pride in his six grandchildren - Zachary James Darden and wife Maggie Langston Darden, Peter Franklin Darden, James Bizzell Darden V, Benjamin Eure Darden, Caroline Elaine Darden, and Henry Franklin Darden.
Jim is also survived by his beloved siblings - Steven Blaine Darden, William Ronald Darden and wife Terry Childress Darden, Denise Taylor Darden and husband Herman Grady Morgan, and many beloved nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his brother-in-law, James Herman Watkins, Jr., and wife Wanda Longmire Watkins. Jim was preceded in death by his father and mother, Dick Darden and Edythe West.
A celebration of Jim's life will be Monday, November 20, 2023, at 2 p.m. at First Methodist Church located at 208 Sampson Street, Clinton, NC, with Rev. Matt Seals and Dr. Edward Gunter officiating, with the visitation immediately following the service in the church fellowship hall. The burial will be a private family service.
The Darden family extends their deepest thanks to the community for their support and for being an integral part of Jim's fulfilling life. He left an amazing legacy, and he will be missed by all who knew him.
Royal-Hall Funeral Home is honored to assist the Darden family during this time.
Memorials can be made to First Methodist Church, 208 Sampson St., Clinton, NC 28328, in memory of Jim.