Dr. J. Iverson Riddle

Dr. J. Iverson Riddle

A Morganton native who changed much of the way people with developmental disabilities are treated in the state of North Carolina was recently honored in the General Assembly.

N.C. Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-District 86) introduced a resolution in the state House of Representatives honoring the memory of Dr. J. Iverson Riddle, the founder and long-time director of the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center (formerly Western Carolina Center) in Morganton. Rep. Verla Insko (D-District 56), Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-District 24) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-District 111) joined Blackwell in the resolution.

Iverson Riddle was 86 years old when he died on May 9, 2017. He retired from the center in 2006.

The resolution says Riddle championed the belief that each person, including those with complex disabilities, deserves a life of dignity and respect and has the right to make small and large choices about his or her life; promoted an individual's “joy quotient” or satisfaction as the ultimate measure of the success of services; established the first Human Rights Committee in a state developmental center in the Southeast; established the first advocacy program in a state developmental center that later became state and federal requirements; and promoted the role of families as experts in the development of their children.

The resolution said Riddle, who served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, spent years treating people at the Foothills Mental Health Area Program, the Western Youth Institution (now Foothills Correctional Institution) and in private practice. He also served as a member of the staff at Grace Hospital in Morganton and served as the director of Broughton Hospital, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, North Carolina's western regional mental health services and the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Riddle was a charter member of both the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute and the Governor's Advocacy Council on Children and Youth, founder of a national organization for directors of state-funded developmental centers and once served as chairman of the Burke County school board.

Riddle’s widow, Marsha, was in the House chamber when the resolution was introduced. His children, Holly Riddle, Joseph Iverson Riddle Jr. and Ruth Riddle Jones, along with several grandchildren, along with the current director of the center , Todd Drum, also attended.

“It was beautifully done. Very impressive,” Marsha Riddle said of the event. “And Iverson would have been deeply moved by their comments, as I was.”

Marsha Riddle said she’s grateful to Blackwell for thinking to honor her husband. Blackwell and several other state representatives made comments about J. Iverson Riddle and he was given a standing ovation, she said.

“It was certainly a special thing to do,” she said.

Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at smcbrayer@morganton.com or at 828-432-8946.

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