Mecklenburg commissioner Neil Cooksey, who pushed for efficiency and accountability in his two terms on the county board, died Wednesday after a two-year fight with pancreatic cancer.
Cooksey, 51, had been in hospice care since late June.
In a statement, Cookseys family expressed thanks to friends, colleagues and supporters for the outpouring of love and support in recent years.
The care and prayers that were continually offered nourished and sustained us during Neils illness, the family said in a statement. Even during these difficult times, we ask that you reflect upon his life with joy and remembrance for his dedication to his fellow man.
An attorney by trade, Cooksey was elected as a county commissioner in 2008 and was in the final months of his second term. A Republican, he represented District 5, which mostly includes south Charlotte.
As a candidate and while in office, Cooksey often stated his goal was to bring common-sense solutions to county government, including pushing to cut the cost of government. He was not always successful, though, and had previously singled out a failed effort to get the county to privatize child support enforcement responsibilities.
In late 2009 as the county dealt with a financial probe of its social services department, Cooksey proposed hiring a county ethics officer that would investigate any reports of misuse and public trust. Last year, commissioners agreed to create a compliance officer position in the wake of a probe into the countys mental health agency.
The most important thing in life is, of course, your family and your kids but behind that is service to the community, said commissioner Bill James. He was willing to step forward and work to try to make a difference in peoples lives and I believe he accomplished that.
Said County Manager Harry Jones: Commissioner Cooksey was a respected public servant dedicated to his constituency and the residents of Mecklenburg County. His courage, leadership, knowledge and friendship will be missed. Our prayers and condolences are with his family.
Cooksey chose not to seek re-election this year citing, in part, a desire to spend more time with his family and job.
Cookseys cancer diagnosis came in early 2010, just a couple months into his second term on the county board. In remarks at a commissioners meeting that May, he said he considered himself cancer-free after undergoing surgery, and planned to continue chemotherapy and radiation treatments to stay that way.
He also pushed for the board to bring better awareness to cancer, and commissioners have approved resolutions in honor of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month.
Last November, Cooksey spoke of his fight and recovery at Carmel Presbyterian Church, where he was a longtime member and deacon. During his talk, he thanked those who supported him including his wife, Allyson.
But a month later, Cooksey was diagnosed with a blood clot that hurt his bodys ability to take in nutrients. That led to multiple hospital trips, and surgery, during the first half of the year. Cooksey entered hospice care in June after unsuccessful treatments to clear blockages in his intestines to prevent bleeding.
He would appear at two more commissioner meetings. During remarks in July, he spoke of his faith and encouraged those in the audience to let your whole life be a prayer.
When you get home tonight, there are special people in your life that you spend time with, that you care enough to build a life together, Cooksey said. Make sure that you hug that person a little extra harder, that you go out of your way to be a little extra nicer ... Be a little gentler. A little more loving, and itll serve you well.
Cookseys passing means local Republicans and commissioners must decide how to fill the remaining weeks of his commissioners term, which ends in early December. Republican Matthew Ridenhour and Democrat Paula Harvey are facing off on the November ballot to be the new District 5 representative.
Active in community
While Cooksey was, as he called himself, a citizen legislator, he also was active in the community. Hed served as a Sunday school teacher, elder and deacon at Carmel Presbyterian. He also was active in youth sports and held leadership posts in the past with organizations like the United Way, Boy Scouts and the Seigle Avenue Preschool Cooperative, according to his biography from the county.
Cookseys survivors include his wife, Allyson, and their children, Abigail, Anna and Charlie.
Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at Carmel Presbyterian, which is located at 2048 Carmel Road. A visitation will follow in the churchs fellowship hall and the family has invited the public to both events.