Lee Galloway, Waynesville's town manager for 18 years, never sought the limelight but he was in it big-time Tuesday as folks heaped tributes and farewell wishes upon him at his final town governing board meeting.
Starting with a retirement party and refreshments at 4:30, a steady stream of well-wishers filed into Town Hall to say good-by to the man who has steered the ship of state for the county seat since 1994.
Mayor Gavin Brown herded everybody across to Church Street about 5:45 for the first of several tributes. All eyes were on a town "cherry picker" as it unveiled a large painted wooden quilt square attached to the side of the Municipal Building which housed Galloway's former office. Part of the Ned Hildreth Memorial Quilt Trail, the square is named "Follow the Leader" and was dedicated to Galloway by the mayor, DWA's Buffy Phillips and others.
"Lee Galloway has always supported downtown Waynesville and without his interest and expertise, we wouldn't have been successful," said Phillips.
Accolades continued at the regular board meeting. Brown convened the meeting and immediately turned it over to Human Resources director Margaret Langston.
"This was Margaret's idea and the employees did it," he said of what was coming next.
What came next was the presentation of a plaque representing the Governor's Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
"I was thinking in terms of a proclamation from Governor Perdue, but then somebody told me about this," Langston said.
Galloway was clearly touched. He thanked employees and the board, reminisced a bit, and then fought back tears with his conclusion: "I couldn't have painted a picture of any better people to work with or any better place to work."
Fire Chief Joey Webb, Sr. lightened the mood when he and several Waynesville firefighters came forward with their gift — an honorary fire chief's helmet in the colors of Galloway's alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"He always supported the fire department," said Webb. "We have the new fire department largely because of his support."
Town Clerk Phyllis McClure presented her boss and teammate with a time piece along with tears and hugs.
"He has been wonderful to work with," she said.
Each alderman voiced his or her comments about the good work and lingering legacy of Lee Galloway. None was more touching that that of Alderman Gary Caldwell who spoke about what Galloway meant to him personally.
"I wasn't going to talk about this, but it's what I remember. It's when my daughter passed," Caldwell said tearfully. "Lee was there for me. He was the first person through the door. I'll never forget that."
At the conclusion of the 30-minute tribute, Brown asked Galloway’s, wife Nancy, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, to join the governing board and others for a group picture.
"We'll never be together again like this," the mayor said.
Galloway then resumed his seat next to McClure, and it was business as usual.
The governing board approved a request from Downtown Waynesville Association's Buffy Phillips to close part of Main Street at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 4 briefly for a Children's Parade.
The new event starting at the Historic Courthouse and ending at the First Baptist Church would be short, said Brown, "...because the participants have short legs."
The 2012-2013 Budget Ordinance and Fee Schedule was adopted as presented at a public hearing on June 12. No one spoke at the public hearing.
Adjournment followed and as the board room emptied, only Galloway, the mayor and an alderman or two lingered. Galloway and his wife Nancy Thompson are leaving soon for a month's motor-home vacation to British Columbia.
When he returns, Galloway plans to do some volunteer work and continue his role as Waynesville's representative on Lake Junaluska's Municipal Status committee.
About the Order of the Long Leaf Pine
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine was created during the term of Gov. Terry Sanford in the 1960s and is among the most prestigious awards granted by North Carolina. Recipients must have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state, either to their communities, extra effort in their careers,or many years of service to their organizations. The honor is most often presented when a person retires.
The recipient is named to the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary, "...privileged to enjoy fully all rights granted to members of this exalted order, among which is the special privilege to propose the following North Carolina toast in select company anywhere in the free world."
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown read the first verse of the well-known toast when it was presented to Galloway:
"Here's to the land of the long leaf pine, the summer land where the sun doth shine, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great, Here's to "Down Home," the Old North State!" from a poem by Mary Burke Kerr and Leonora Martin.
Among other recipients are Maya Angelou, Fred Chappell, William C. Friday, Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, Charles Kuralt, and several from Haywood County including Dr. George W. "Wally" Brown, Zeb Alley and Juanita Dixon.