A routine proclamation before Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday night became a bittersweet, belated salute to former county manager Harry Jones.
In his first appearance before the board since it fired him in 2013 after 13 years as manager, Jones spoke in support of the county’s designation of Thursday as World Pancreatic Cancer Day.
Pancreatic cancer kills nearly all its victims within five years, a milestone Jones will reach in little more than a month.
Jones, as he told the Observer last year, called his diagnosis “one of the best things that ever happened in my life. … It’s taught me how to live and love and express myself in a better way.”
He put his walker aside and, in a strong voice, talked about his work mentoring fellow cancer patients and quoted from the late poet Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”
To a standing ovation, Jones then made his way around the dais, shaking hands with commissioners, including four who voted to fire him. He leaned across it to hug at-large commissioner Pat Cotham, who led the move to oust him.
Pancreatic cancer has touched the board before. Commissioner Neil Cooksey died after a two-year battle in 2012. Commissioner George Dunlap, who frequently talks to Jones, lost a younger sister and an aunt to the disease.
“We never really had that opportunity to say thank you,” Dunlap said later. Jones was not allowed to speak after the board voted to fire him, a move some commissioners later said they regretted.
Commissioner Vilma Leake told Jones she was gratified “to say it publicly to your face.”
“I want it to be said publicly that this board recognizes your valiant, significant service,” added chair Trevor Fuller. “We honor you and are blessed by you.”
Jones, in an email Wednesday, said he was pleased with how he was received but attended the meeting to raise awareness of the disease.
“Pancreatic cancer is a dreaded disease and needs additional federal funding to support increased research. The statistics that were presented last night highlight the need. While an argument can be made that we are making progress relative to the five-year survival rate (currently 8 percent vs. 6 percent), much more needs to be done. It is the only cancer that owns a single-digit five-year survival rate. I did not attend to bring attention to myself. I attended to support the effort to bring attention to the disease.”