Charlton, 79, the longtime pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, 522 W. Main St., and former vice mayor of Johnson City, died Wednesday at Johnson City Medical Center.
“He was a ball of energy, and he used it always to do the work of God in our community,” said the Rev. Lester Lattany, who took over the duties of senior pastor at Friendship when Charlton retired in 2018 after nearly 43 years of service.
Lattany said Charlton was more than a minister. He was also an educator, mentor and advocate of children throughout the region.
“Those were the things that brought him joy,” Lattany said. “He had a great love for people, and could see the good in everyone.”
Charlton came to Friendship Baptist Church in the mid 1970s from his native Radford, Virginia, where he was the first African-American elected as a mayor of a city in Southwest Virginia, and the first African-American to serve on the Board of Education in Radford.
He began his political career in Johnson City by serving a five-year term on the city’s Board of Education. He went on to serve six years on the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission, and two years as vice mayor of Johnson City as part of a four-year term on the City Commission.
Charlton was also a faculty member at Northeast State Community College, and served as a member of the inaugural Admissions Committee for the pharmacy school at East Tennessee State University.
Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said she and other local leaders often looked to Charlton for counsel in both spiritual and leadership matters.
“He was a kind and gentle spirit who lifted people up,” the mayor said. If you were on his prayer list, you would hear from him.”
Brock said Charlton “set the bar high” for other local leaders to follow. She noted his last pubic appearance was leading the prayer in November before the city’s annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day.
State Sen, Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said he had known Charlton for more than 30 years. The senator said the pastor “was our rock ... a true renaissance man who was loved by all who knew him.”
Crowe called Charlton his “inspiration,” and said he was “a consummate statesman and diplomat who could bring together even the most divided.”
Former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden and Charlton were elected to the City Commission on the same ballot on 2001. Darden said he cherished both his working relationship and his friendship with Charlton.
“He was always upbeat and positive,” Darden said. “The reverend accomplished what he set out to do on the City Commission. He brought wisdom and stability. If I had to use one word to describe him, it would be — steadfast.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, also served on the City Commission with Charlton before being elected to Congress. Roe, a former Johnson City mayor, released a statement Thursday saying he was saddened to learn of Charlton’s death.
“Dr. Charlton was a faithful pastor, a public servant and a good friend,” Roe said. “I was proud to have served with him on the City Commission, where he served two years as vice mayor of Johnson City. He was truly a shining star on a hill.”