Dan Ramirez, the first Latino ever elected to office in Mecklenburg County, died Sunday evening after battling Lou Gehrig’s disease for two years.
He was 67.
A Republican who prized fiscal conservatism and helping constituents, Ramirez was elected to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners in 2002 and again in 2006.
“He loved serving on the county level,” said his son-in-law, Doug Vinson. “He didn’t aspire to be governor. He liked the opportunity of serving the people he lived with in this Charlotte community that he loved.”
Ramirez was raised in a poor neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. His father died when he was 8, and his mother paid the bills by cleaning other families’ clothes.
In 1970, he moved to the United States with $79 in his pocket, a wife and a newborn daughter.
Educated in photogrammatric engineering – turning aerial photography into maps that can be used by governments and corporations – Ramirez landed a job in Texas.
In 1974, Ramirez, wife, Cecy, and their growing family moved to Charlotte. And four years after that, he started his own business, Nova Digital Systems, a geographical information systems company.
“He was proud of how far he had come,” Vinson said. “He rose to become a successful businessman, government leader, husband, father and grandfather.”
In February 2012, Ramirez was diagnosed with ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a degenerative disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
At first, he kept it a secret from all but his family and a few others.
“I am basically a very private person,” he told the Observer in August 2012. “I didn’t want people to know.”
But he eventually went public after his wife and three grown daughters encouraged him to be more open about his illness so they could all benefit from the prayers and support of others.
Last year, Ramirez was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest honors, by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“Dan’s kindness, determination, fortitude and integrity are inspirational,” said McCrory, a friend and fellow Republican.
Six months after his diagnosis, sitting with his wife and surrounded by pictures of their children and eight grandchildren, Ramirez seemed at peace.
“I’ve lived a good life,” he told the Observer then. “I don’t have any regrets. I accomplished most of the things I wanted.”