A bouquet of flowers and a simple black ribbon were sad reminders Tuesday of the vacancy left on the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners by the surprising death of Valerie Woodard.
Woodard, the first African American woman to serve on the county board, died Friday from a rare blood disorder. She was 56.
A Democrat representing the 3rd District, Woodard was known as a passionate fighter for the underprivileged. She often took stands that were unpopular and never apologized for doing what she believed was right.
Tuesday's board meeting, dedicated to her memory, opened with a long, and passionate, invocation.
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Woodard was scheduled to give the prayer. Parks Helms did it in her honor, closing with a reverent observation of his departed colleague.
“She believed every person had worth and dignity and purpose in life.”
Woodard was elected to the board in 2002. She was running unopposed for re-election next month.
Known for constituent service, especially on minority issues, Woodard made a name for herself fighting for a county HIV/AIDS advisory council.
She frequently hounded county staff about hiring enough minority contractors and more than once broke with the rest of the board on controversial votes.
“I don't think people understand the total impact of her loss, on the board, on the city, on the county and the state,” said Paris Bostic, Woodard's longtime friend and campaign treasurer.
When she entered the board's chambers Tuesday, Bostic made her way down to the dais and hugged Woodard's empty chair.
“I feel like I'm in the twilight zone,” she said, barely holding back the tears.
Woodard entered Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday. She died a day later, diagnosed with TTP, which causes blood clots to form inside the body.
On Tuesday board members, as well as speakers from across the county, took turns remembering Woodard.
Commissioner Dumont Clarke said he and colleague Karen Bentley could always tell when Woodard was passionate about an issue because she prepared written remarks.
By the time she finished, Clarke said “you knew just where she stood.”
Near the end of Tuesday's tribute, County Attorney Marvin Bethune noted his colleague's trademark way of ending commissioner meetings. She would often close the night, giving updates on her activities.
She called the segment, “Woodard on the move.”
“It was always amazing to me that she … could spend so much time answering constituent calls,” he said, “and all the different places she could go.”