Mayor pro tem Maxine Harris was all about making a difference in the lives of people for many years.
Now, many are sadly saying farewell to the local leader who passed away Tuesday of natural causes at the age of 75.
“She fought hard for the betterment of the the community and she’ll be missed,” Mayor Lew Starling said.
Since 1997, Harris served as a councilwoman and was elected mayor pro tem by the city council in 2001. She made history by becoming the first woman to serve on the Clinton City Council and was the first African-American to serve as mayor pro tem.
The Sampson County native earned a degree from North Carolina A&T University. When she returned home, Harris began making a difference in many ways. After becoming a social worker, she made a decision to join the education field where she worked as a counselor and assistant principal.
City officials said she was committed to the idea of “when you know better, you do better.”
Her dedication to the community continued when she became a City Council member. As a city leader, she believed in great ideas.
“We exist for citizens,” she commented in a newsletter. “The city needs to be user friendly and citizens need to feel comfortable with their city government and employees.”
Those who knew her say she always welcomed residents to district meetings and said the meetings were a good opportunity to learn from residents. In a news release from City Manager Shawn Purvis, it was noted that Harris was a passionate supporter of her neighborhood and worked diligently with others.
As the mayor, Starling worked with Harris, her friend and colleague, for many years. Starling said Harris was an extraordinary leader.
“She provided great service to the city,” he said. “She did a tremendous amount of work to improve her district.”
Councilman Steve Stefanovich admired her contributions in education and the city council.
“I had the upmost appreciation for her,” Stefanovich said. “She will be missed in our city.”
He also appreciated her passion as a city leader and being straightforward on important matters. And with any municipal group, Harris and members have to “agree to disagree” on subjects.
“She was outspoken,” he said. “She always fought hard.”
The Rev. Marcus Becton, councilman, also respected her contributions to District 5, which comprises parts of central and western Clinton. He said Harris was an asset to the city and the district.
“Her main objective was to make her district better,” Becton said about Harris voicing her concerns.
Becton said some of her concerns and passion to make people’s lives better involved safety, crime and helping youth. One of her last discussions with council members was about building homes and ownership opportunities for residents.
“She was concerned about the well-being of people in the district,” he said. “She was a valuable asset to the city, just as she was in the education arena.”
Councilwoman Jean Turlington says she enjoyed working with Harris on the council and added that Harris felt like she had a duty to serve her constituents in District 5.
“She represented them well and she will be missed,”Turlington said.
Turlington added that she was a council member who represented equality.
Like his colleagues, Councilman Neal Strickland was grateful for the contributions of Harris.
“Maxine will be greatly missed by all the people that she touched, which was a lot,” Strickland said.
Strickland considered Harris a dear friend. She helped Strickland learn the ropes on the council.
“When I was a young councilman, she took me under her wing and showed me the do’s and don’t’s and how to become a good councilman to the city,” Strickland said.
She lead by example by making many improvements in her district, such as upgrades at the Sampson Center gymnasium, baseball field and park. Strickland said she was also an advocate for sidewalk improvements so children can walk to school.
“Maxine pushed hard for that,” Strickland said.
According to city officials, some of the revitalization areas consisted of areas around Bunting, McKoy, and Sampson streets. Harris led multiple cleanup efforts during her terms on City Council and promoted civic pride.
Harris was as an advocate for housing opportunities and worked with staff to identify needs in the neighborhood. The first house of the City’s Affordable Homeownership Program is on Lee Street and two homes on Williams Street were part of a 2010 Community Development Block Grant project. Most recently, Harris has worked with staff as the city has developed a partnership that hopes to construct 12 single-family homes along Bunting Street.
Saddened by the death of Harris, Starling stated that the community lost an incredible public servant and we will not be the same without her.
“We are all indebted to Ms. Harris for her years of dedication and hard work for the people of Clinton,” Starling said.
Arrangements for Ms. Harris’s memorial service have not been made known at this time. In honor of Maxine Harris’s service to the City of Clinton, all flags will be flown at half-mast from Wednesday, Feb. 22, through Monday, Feb. 27.