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JCPS names 2019 Living Legends

Johnston County Public Schools named three former educators, Shirley O’Neal Cohen, Butler Hall, and James Phillip Pittman, as the 2019 Living Legend Award recipients.

The Living Legend Award is presented to former Johnston County Public Schools educators who were dedicated to the children they taught and left a legacy of influential teaching styles.

Their combined careers spanned more than 120 years serving in Johnston County Public Schools.

Shirley O’Neal Cohen taught in Johnston County for 37 years. Following her retirement, she has continued to help the youth by being an active member of the Johnston County My Kid’s Club.

Cohen is a life member of the NAACP, chartered member of Johnston County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, member of the National Association of University Women - Smithfield, member of the North Carolina Conference Women’s Missionary Society, and scholarship chairman for the Harrison Alumni Association. She is also a member of the Johnston County Health Department Faith Network, the Johnston County African American Caucus, Johnston County Democratic Women, and the Johnston County Citizen Association. She is an active member of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church.

When asked what advice she would give to current teachers, Cohen said, “You must have the love of God in your heart for all children. It doesn’t matter where they come from or who they are. All children can succeed if we love, nurture, and encourage them along the way.”

Butler Hall, a Smithfield native, served in education for 34 years. Hall got his start in education in Coward, SC as a seventh grade social studies and English teacher, and coach. Hall held many teaching and administrative assignments, the last of which was Principal at North Johnston High School.

After retiring from working in a school, Hall continued his servant leadership and served on the Johnston County Board of Education for 12 years. Hall was also awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Hall’s message to teachers is, “Leave a valuable legacy.”

James Phillip Pittman served Johnston County Public Schools for 40 years as a social studies teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School from 1969-1970 and at North Johnston High School from 1970-2009.

Pittman served as President of Micro-Pine Level PTA, Pine Level Mayor for six years, and Pine Level Town Commissioner for 20 years. He has been active in civic, church, and community service. He worked with Pine Level Fire Department; served as Pine Level First United Methodist Church Sunday School Teacher and Chairman of the Administrative Council; The Smithfield Area Ministries Food Closet; and Board of Directors for Pine Level Senior Citizens.

Pittman’s awards include North Johnston Teacher of the Year, Member of the Johnston County Athletic Hall of Fame, and Pine Level Citizen of the Year.

Pittman’s message to educators is, “All educators should accept responsibility for the success of their students. All students can be successful if teachers incorporate various teaching methods to aid students in reaching their potential.”