EDITORIAL: Saying goodbye to Walter McNeil

Apr. 02, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

It is with great sadness that the Sanford community bids farewell to Walter McNeil.

McNeil, 75, who died Sunday at Central Carolina Hospital, will be remembered for many reasons — perhaps foremost as the city of Sanford’s first black and also longest-serving council member.

McNeil should not be remembered solely for that accomplishment, although it is a tremendous legacy. He was foremost a man who cared about the city he served and its people.

McNeil may not have been the most outspoken of council members, but when he did speak, it was with compassion and a desire to help make Sanford a better place.

Sanford City Clerk Bonnie Davis said of McNeil, “He always wanted what was best for Sanford and its citizens.”

N.C. House Rep. Mike Stone, who once served with McNeil on the council, said, “Though we hail from differing political viewpoints on some issues, Walter was always respectful, methodical and passionate when making his points.”

Whenever people think of National Night Out, they should thank McNeil. He established the program here in Sanford that has grown into a highly anticipated and well appreciated annual event that unifies local citizens against crime.

Others will remember McNeil for his artistic abilities. He was a florist whose flower arrangements were absolutely beautiful.

While McNeil’s tenure as a city council member stands out, it was his role as an educator that may have had just as great an impact.

“He not only touched my life as a youth, but many other young people he taught and coached,” said Sanford Mayor Chet Mann.

Stone noted that McNeil taught he and his brothers and sisters in the fifth grade, and that he benefited from McNeil’s mentorship, advice and friendship.

“I appreciated his help, enjoyed my time on the council with him and was better off for his having been a great public educator. He will be missed.”

Indeed, McNeil will be missed.