Former Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones passed away from pancreatic cancer Wednesday. He helped steer the county for more than a decade and, in recent years, mentored those struggling with cancer.
Jones was hired as county manager in 2000, after serving nearly a decade as an assistant manager. At the time, the county was rapidly expanding and figuring out how to deal with that growth made for some tension on the board. Republican County Commissioner Jim Puckett says Jones knew how to relate to people and that was a big help with the board's dynamics.
"We had liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans and I think every one of us felt he had the same political philosophy as we did, which is rather unique," laughs Puckett. "He did have the ability to understand where each and every commissioner came from both personally and politically and use that talent to find consensus on the board."
Jones was the first African American to serve as county manager and Puckett says the two of them had a lot of conversations about race and how that impacted the county.
He and others lauded Jones for his systematic approach to monitoring outcomes and picking a strong staff.
"He provided the visionary leadership and the support and he basically said, 'Go do your job and help make this county great,'" says Hyong Yi, who served under Jones as budget director for a decade
Jones was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. He came under fire from commissioners for a botched property revaluation and not keeping them in the loop on matters.
"He made it very clear to staff that this is not about you. This is not about your performance. He made sure he protected the staff so they could go about doing their jobs effectively," says Yi.
The county commission fired Jones in 2013. Last December, commissioners called him back to award him the Order of the Hornet, the county's highest honor.
"As you can tell by looking at me, I'm a lot frailer than I was when I left three years ago and, guess what, ladies and gentleman, I'm stronger than I've ever been," Jones told those gathered.
And that's because he said his struggle awakened his faith and led him to help others with cancer. He died at the age of 67.