Planning Director answers a higher calling

Bridwell leaving city, county role to become deacon
Apr. 27, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Bob Bridwell, the longtime Sanford-Lee County Planning Director, is turning in his government job and taking up the cloth.

Bridwell, who is set to retire at the end of April after more than a decade as the city and county planning director, will be ordained as a permanent deacon in the Catholic church and serve at St. Stephen’s in Sanford.

“I started out to be a priest,” he said. “But then I met (my wife) and she changed everything. So I gave up on those plans and went on to other things. But I never lost interest in the religious and spiritual part of my life, nor in doing something in the church.”

Bridwell said he is particularly interested in helping individuals who struggle with addiction.

“And working with people who had those needs was one of the reasons why I am in the ministry,” he said. “I have a particular interest in helping people who have been forgotten and lost.”

Bridwell said his jurisdiction has been left in good hands, and he’s grateful for the chance to have worked with all of the employees.

“There are some extremely dedicated people who work for the city and county,” he said. “They work hard and try to do the right thing, and the public doesn’t always get that sense, but I see it and I know it.”

During his 12 years as the planning director, Bridwell oversaw the creation of the unified development ordinance and the county’s first transportation plan and focused on downtown Sanford redevelopment and the Endor Iron Furnace project. Most recently, he laid the groundwork for the implementation of the city’s $14.5 million bond referendum items.

“I am excited right now because I sense there is an opportunism that I haven’t felt in many years,” Bridwell said. “People are looking for good things to happen. It goes back to what I said earlier about a community being a living creature. You have to feed it, and help it grow, and let it grow. And that is what makes it a better place.”

Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks called Bridwell a gentleman who always worked to serve the county.

“I wish him well in his endeavor to serve in a higher capacity,” Parks said.

Broadway Town Manager Bob Stevens, who went to school with Bridwell at Elon University, said the town was never considered an afterthought during the land planning process, and Bridwell was always attentive to Broadway’s planning needs.

“He’s been a good friend,” Stevens said. “And we have known each other for a long time. I wish him well.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann said Bridwell’s contributions to the community will be felt for generations.

“Bob Bridwell has embodied the spirit that every community likes to have,” Mann said “His creativity, his insight, his leadership and vision — we owe him a great thanks for the things he has brought to this community.”