Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kirk Smith (right) reads a proclamation honoring Dr. John Crumpton on Monday at Crumpton’s final meeting at Lee County manager.

By Richard Sullins | richard@rantnc.com

After years of service as County Manager, Dr. John Crumpton attended his last meeting of the Lee County Commissioners Monday. It was a sweet moment for the highly-respected manager, whose counsel and wisdom are often sought out by his peers across the state. But though his contemporaries from Murphy to Manteo may share many of the same responsibilities as he, few would claim to be his equal.

Kirk Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, left his center seat at the commissioners table and went to the podium to read a proclamation that was passed unanimously in Crumpton’s honor.

The commission recognized the departing manager’s career as the county’s top executive that has spanned nearly 16 years. It began in January 1992 when he was hired as finance director, a position he kept until July 1993. He left county government for other pursuits but returned in July 2007 after being hired as county manager.

Smith gave credit to Crumpton for having a knack to get things done. Like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Crumpton played a critical but often behind-the-scenes role in establishing the Sanford Area Growth Alliance in 2014, a public-private partnership that has been wildly successful in attracting new industries to Lee County.

When a quarter-mile wide EF-3 tornado with winds approaching 160 miles an hour struck Sanford in April of 2011, wiping out the Lowes Home Improvement store on Horner Boulevard with 100 people inside, it was Crumpton who stepped up to lead the county’s response to one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever to hit the southeastern United States. More than 500 buildings in Lee County were damaged and losses topped $57 million. His leadership in an unprecedented time of crisis earned kudos from state and national leaders alike.

The proclamation pays tribute to some of Crumpton’s many other achievements, including construction of the W.B. Wicker Elementary School, improvements to Lee County High School, upgrades at several of the county’s parks (including Kiwanis Children’s Park), and his leadership in laying the groundwork for projects that will be completed in years to come, like the new county library near O.T. Sloan Park, the former Marelli property that is being converted into a high technology campus for Central Carolina Community College, and the Multi-Sports Complex that will begin construction later this year near the intersection of the U.S. 421 bypass and N.C. 42.

After the proclamation was adopted and Crumpton posed for a photograph with the seven commissioners alongside his wife Katherine, the retiring county manager took a few moments to speak about the importance of relationships in being successful in making local government work for the people.

“None of my relationships has been better than the one with this board of county commissioners,” he said. “I’ve worked for 22 commissioners and had six chairmen over my career. To the longest serving member of this board, Mr. (Robert) Reives, I want to thank you for your friendship and your counsel. You are a wise politician and you gave me a lot of great advice.”

After hundreds of meetings with commissioners over the years, Crumpton’s final words were of appreciation for the media.

“I want to say thank you to the press,” he concluded. “I’ve had a great relationship with the press for 15 years and eight months and it’s something I’m very thankful for.”

Sitting in the back of the room for the entire length of the three-hour meeting were many of Crumpton’s staff. He had personally hired most of them served as their mentor as their own professional journeys began. Perhaps it is they who will miss him most.

But one of their own will take his place in a week after Crumpton’s last day on February 28. A new era begins on Wednesday, March 1, when Assistant County Manager Lisa Minter takes her seat as Lee County’s first female county manager.