New Hanover County community remembers late commissioner Deb Hays, her passion for public service

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says she had a constant desire to help others.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 5:47 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County Commissioner Deb Hays died Saturday at the age of 64. Officials say she likely suffered a massive heart attack.

Like many in the community, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield says he was shocked to hear the news and hopes Hays’ passion for public service will live on.

“This is so unexpected,” said Barfield. “For someone that’s so young, almost in the middle of your career, so to speak, when it comes to, you know, being in elected office, she’s been a public servant for a long while, but being in elected office gave her a different view and a different passion that was very much infectious with a lot of the folks in our community.”

Before becoming commissioner in 2020, Hays served as the head of the Wilmington Planning Commission. She was also the chair of the board of directors for Wilmington Downtown, Inc. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says Hays had a constant desire to help others.

“I know in the last couple of days when I was talking to her, it was about affordable housing and it was about the homeless and, you know, what kind of resources can we bring to the table? What are some best practice methods she was looking at? She was a true public servant and whatever she did, she threw herself into it 100 percent,” Saffo said.

New Hanover County Republican Party Chairman Nevin Carr will be tasked with recommending someone to replace Hays’ spot on the board of commissioners. While the board does not have to adhere to the party’s recommendation, state law says the board must consult with the county party because Hays was a Republican representative

The New Hanover County Republican Party plans to begin accepting applications for the rest of Hays’ four-year term on Thursday and recommend a replacement to county commissioners by April 14. State law says if commissioners do not appoint a replacement within 60 days, the task will go to the clerk of superior court.

“She had such an impact on so many people’s lives in the community. You know, it’s going to be tough to replace the irreplaceable,” said Carr.

Meanwhile, those around the community continue to mourn the sudden loss.

“Very few people I’ve seen in public service put the time and the effort and the energy she put into into different issues and I will greatly miss her on a personal basis,” said Saffo.