A Tribute to Friends Who Inspired Us

Today I attended a funeral for a special man. The Reverend Joseph G. Vetter, better known to his friends as Father Joe, passed away on May 7, 2018. He was born in Greensboro, ordained into the Priesthood in Havelock, North Carolina, and spent his life serving the Catholic Church in the state.

Father Joe was a Priest but also Editor of The North Carolina Catholic newspaper, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Raleigh, Parochial Vicar at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Chapel Hill as well as Director and Campus Minister of Duke University Catholic Center. Obviously, he was a diplomat when it came to the UNC/Duke rivalry. Father Vetter served parishes in Cary, Siler City, Durham, Raleigh, Wrightsville Beach and Southport. After his retirement in July 2017, he retired to his home in the mountains of North Carolina.

I served with Father Vetter on the Board of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation for many years. I was struck by his deep love, intellect, compassion, affection, and commitment to serving people living in poverty. During my time as Executive Director of Dress for Success Triangle, Father Joe showed remarkable empathy for the challenges that face women and children living in poverty and the need for meaningful employment at a livable wage.

On May 2, one week before Father Vetter’s death, he attended a luncheon honoring his leadership in combating poverty and food insecurity in Durham with the launch of the Durham Community Food Pantry. The Pantry, sponsored by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, was established to fill the void in Durham which experiences a one-million-pound food shortage annually. The office suite in the pantry will be named the Reverend Joseph G. Vetter Family Enrichment Center sponsored by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation. It was an emotional day, and a few of us attending the luncheon realized it would be the last time we saw Father Joe.

Father Joe Vetter reminds us how one person can make a tremendous difference in the lives of people and communities. The difference does not require power or money, but rather an abundance of compassion, love and caring for one another and the willingness to take a stand.

Along with Father Joe, the Triangle recently lost two other exceptional nonprofit heroes who worked tirelessly to help individuals move out of poverty. Jean Williams, who served as the Executive Director of the Women’s Center of Wake County for 27 years, died in January. Debra King, a long-time advocate for affordable housing in Wake County and CEO of CASA died in April.

We will miss these exceptional leaders and honor their example to advance the lives of people throughout North Carolina. Thank you for your selfless service. The state is a better state because of your lives.

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