Late councilman Walter McNeil honored with Order of the Long Leaf Pine award

Aug. 06, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

The city of Sanford celebrated its second recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award in two days when former Sanford City Councilman Walter McNeil Jr. received the award posthumously Tuesday.

Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Lee) presented the award to McNeil’s wife, Billie G. McNeil, during the Sanford City Council’s Tuesday meeting.

“Mr. McNeil cared about this community like no other,” Reives said. “He spent all of his time doing things to make all of us better, and we are all better for his service.”

McNeil worked as a teacher and assistant principal for 31 years in the Lee County School system and served on the Sanford City Council for 33 years.

“It’s a privilege and an honor for many reasons,” Reives said. “I’m involved in politics now, but long before it ever crossed my mind and long before it ever crossed my father’s mind, Walter McNeil was a trailblazer.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann said he was pleased that the presentation took place on the day of National Night Out, a nationwide community event that McNeil was instrumental in bringing to Sanford.

On Monday, Herbert A. Hincks, a former chairman of the Lee County Commissioners, received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award as well.

“In both cases,” Councilman Sam Gaskins said of Hincks and McNeil, “they gave so much to Sanford and to Lee County.”

Billie G. McNeil expressed her gratitude to the council, the city and the friends and family who came out to show support.

“I would like to say thank you on behalf of my husband,” she said. “Thank you once, thank you twice, thank you for everything.”

In addition to the presentation, council members also heard Monday from CEO Rodger Sauls of the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity.

“I want you to know I take this very, very seriously,” Sauls said of his position. “I’m fully committed to it. I have a strong vision for this community. ... [Sanford] has a wonderful heritage already. ... Now you have everybody rowing the boat in the same direction together, working toward the same thing.”

Sauls stressed that economic development is a community effort, and that it would take the partnership, the city council and the citizens of Sanford and Lee County to “get to the point where everybody is saying great things about this community.”

During the council’s meeting, it also:

*Authorized Brick Capital Community Development Corporation to cut and sell timber on its Washington Avenue property.

*Approved the by-laws for the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity.

*Appointed Daniel Owens to the Sanford Historic Commission for the term ending June 20, 2017.