A day after Hickory's mayor of 16 years, Rudy Wright, was found dead at his home, Wright's family has released a statement indicating that his death may have been the result of suicide.
While an official cause of death has not yet been released, the family's statement suggested that the mayor had previously struggled with mental health.
"Mental illness and depression affect so many regardless of one's position in the community, or the size of one's smile," the statement read. "If you, or someone you know may be considering suicide, please seek professional help."
The family's statement also asked mourners to consider donating to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Hickory in lieu of flowers.
Friends and longtime colleagues remembered the 69-year-old Friday as a kind, faithful public servant who thoroughly enjoyed his position in the community.
"Anytime you met him, there was a smile on his face," said state Rep. Jason Saine, who said he was shocked to hear of his longtime friend and colleague's passing. "[He] was what you think of when you think about a Southern mayor who just really loved people."
Warren Wood, Hickory's city manager, offered condolences in a statement. "He was a great mayor; sincere, passionate, and quick-witted" he said, "His loss is felt deeply and I offer my sincere condolences to his family."
Wright is survived by his wife, Donna, and his three children, Glenn, Justin, and Ashley.
State statute dictates that in the event of a death or other permanent vacancy, the city council must appoint a new mayor who will serve for the remainder of the unexpired term. A statement from the city of Hickory says City Council will make the decision in open session, although a date for the decision has not yet been made.
In the interim, Mayor Pro-Tempore Vernon Tarlton has assumed the roles and responsibilities of mayor, the city said.
Read the statement released by Wright's family below:
Rudy Wright passed away on May 11th. Rudy was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many; in these initial hours and days of celebrating his life, we, his family, deeply appreciate all of the kind words and stories from so many that he touched.
We would like to thank the first responders to the scene, the community of Hickory, and everyone who has extended their love and support to our family, especially Rudy's wife of 49 years, Donna. He was a man of intelligence and passion, as evidenced by his years as a successful businessman, entrepreneur, and public servant.
Rudy loved every minute of his 16 years as mayor of Hickory, NC. He loved being a part of community events, meetings, ribbon cuttings, and anything else that helped to make the community of Hickory a better place to live.
We are deeply saddened at his loss, and will miss his stories, his laugh, his stubbornness, and unique character that can never be replaced.
Mental illness and depression affect so many regardless of one's position in the community, or the size of one's smile. If you, or someone you know may be considering suicide, please seek professional help.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Hickory. More details about a public memorial to follow.