Valerie Woodard, a three-term Democratic county commissioner known as a passionate voice for social issues, died Friday.
The county didn't release the cause of death. Woodard, 56, was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday afternoon, though county officials did not know why.
Woodard missed a number of commissioners meetings a few months ago to have an undisclosed surgery, said board Chairman Jennifer Roberts, but Woodard kept that issue private. “She recovered and seemed to be in good health,” Roberts said.
Funeral arrangements and plans for a memorial hadn't been finalized. Woodard's family could not be reached for comment.
Woodard, the first African American woman to serve on the board, was running unopposed for re-election in District 3. That district, in central, east and north Charlotte, leans heavily Democratic, and more than half its voters are minorities.
The board of commissioners can appoint someone to fill her term, said Michael Dickerson, the county's elections director. Democratic Party leaders could appoint a replacement nominee to take her place in the Nov. 4 election.
Woodard was a former criminal investigator in the public defender's office and worked as a professional mediator. She'd also worked at the Department of Social Services. Her experiences served her well as a commissioner, said commissioner Parks Helms.
“It was hard not to really like her, even if you were opposed to her,” he said. “She was very aggressive in looking after the people in her district. But she had a way about her that made it easy for other people to work with her.”
Woodard often said she built cross-party support for a host of initiatives, including an HIV/AIDS advisory council and a push to appoint more minority members to commissions.
But she told voters she put the interests of the county ahead of people in her district.
“I don't know that extremely poor people in District 3 were excited about NASCAR,” she told the Observer in 2006. “But I think for the county as a whole, NASCAR was good.”
Dwayne Collins, chairman of the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, called Woodard his “political mentor” and a “voice for the voiceless” who often pushed for issues regarding minorities, poor people and others who were underrepresented.
“She took stances that may have not been popular,” Collins said. He said Woodard was the only commissioner to vote in February against appointing Chipp Bailey to be sheriff after a controversial race last fall. She also encouraged commissioners to appoint Bailey's opponent, Nick Mackey, who'd won a special election that was later overturned.
She was a graduate of UNC Charlotte and a deaconess at St. Paul's Baptist Church. She was a national NAACP trustee.
Robin Gill said she knew Woodard through their involvement in community groups, but the two became closer after sharing a hotel suite at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Denver. During the trip, Gill broke a bone in her foot. Woodard checked on her, and brought her medication.
Gill said she last saw Woodard on Sunday. Last month, the two saw Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. Gill said Woodard planned to tell her how she could become a party delegate for the next presidential election.
“She was just a bright woman and knew so much about politics, anything you wanted to know,” Gill said.