J. [James] Vivian Whitfield was born on July 23, 1894, in Seven Springs, North Carolina. Vivian was raised by his maternal grandfather, Mrs. M. F. Powers, of Wallace, North Carolina, having lost both of his parents at an early age. He attended Wallace High School and later the Horner Military Academy in Oxford, North Carolina. In 1915, he received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of North Carolina and upon graduation accepted the position as the commandant of the Horner Military Academy, which by this time had moved to Charlotte because a fire had destroyed the school in Oxford in 1913. While in Charlotte, he married Sarah Vick Stevens on April 12, 1916.
Vivian left Horner in 1917 to become a military instructor at the University of North Carolina, where he also studied economics, receiving his master of arts degree in 1919. He then entered the United States Foreign Service as a vice consul to Uruguay, and later to Argentina, Cuba, and Mexico, before leaving the government in 1927. After spending a few years in New York City, he eventually settled in Pender County, North Carolina, in 1935 to become a farmer. From 1943 to 1950, he was a director of the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
In later years, Vivian was also president of the Forest Farmer’s Association, vice-president of the North Carolina Forestry Association, president of the Seashore Association, chairman of the Commission on Interstate Cooperation, and a member of the State Council of Natural Resources. he was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly, serving first in the house of representatives (1947-1951) and later in the senate (1953). In 1947, he was appointed to the position of chairman of the House Committee on Conservation and Development, where he sponsored bills for the issuance of bonds to develop the ports of Morehead City and Wilmington.
Leaving the legislature in 1953, Vivian served as chairman of the Stream Sanitation Commission from 1956 to 1967, when it was renamed the State Board of Water and Air Resources. He continued to serve as chairman until his death. Also during the 1960s, he served as president of the Moore’s Creek Battlefield Assocation, a non-profit organization established in 1899 “to commemorate and perpetuate the significance of the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge through public awareness, educational programs and events, promotion of patriotism, and support and partnership with the National Park Service.” He was instrumental in establishing significant improvements to the battlefield park for visitors to enjoy. He obviously had a great love for his native state and its history.
Vivian also took great pride in his family heritage, for in 1961 he established the Society of the Whitfields with the goal of honoring and preserving the memories of William and Rachel Whitfield and their descendants. Since its founding, the Society has held annual family reunions at various locations in Wayne County, North Carolina, and worked hard to fulfill the mission statement by erecting historical markers, maintaining family cemeteries, reprinting the Whitfield, Bryan, Smith books, and other worthwhile projects. Vivian served as president of the Society until shortly before his death on November 19, 1968, in Burgaw, North Carolina. He was survived by his second wife, Vivian Barlett Stevens Whitfield, whom he had married on March 2, 1946. They had one child, John Stevens Whitfield, a veteran of World War II and a college economics professor. They also had two grandchildren, both still living: Jeri Whitfield Bridgers, and Thomas William Whitfield. (Some information has been corrected thanks to Ms. Rose Kennedy, a great grandchild.)