Profile collage

Profiles from 2020

Mayor Jenn Weaver knows she has big shoes to fill, but that’s not slowing her down

You might find her walking with her daughter during an early morning school event, or marching to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with community members in sub-freezing temperatures. Attend a town council meeting and you will again find her leading the group in discussions through the late evening hours. But perhaps one of the easiest ways to find Hillsborough’s Mayor Jenn Weaver is to drop by Cup-A-Joe in downtown, where she will likely be snacking on a pastry and re-charging with coffee.

And for all her visibility in the community, the mayor and former commissioner insists she hasn’t always been so comfortable with the high-profile work.

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Dr. Felder: Just getting started — Orange County Schools Superintendent is focused

Dr. Monique Felder is certain there are many fun and exciting things to do in Hillsborough and other parts of Orange County. She’s confident she’ll get back to tending a garden and running regularly for exercise. But for now, the Superintendent of Orange County Schools is determined and focused on one thing: The children.

“My favorite part of my job is, and has always been, the children. If you’re having a bad day, you need to go visit a school,” said Dr. Felder. 

Dr. Felder has visited many schools. The native New Yorker has led school systems in New York City, Maryland and Nashville. Felder found that in each system, often far larger than Orange County’s, there were similar challenges: children needing support; children who were not proficient in reading; low math scores; and, achievement gaps. 

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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett: She has our back — Vaccine push has local connection

With the recent daily concerns — and panic — over the Novel Coronavirus, it’s reassuring to know people like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, are tirelessly working to find ways to help.

Did we mention that Dr. Corbett is from Orange County? Or that she’s from Hillsborough? Did we mention that Dr. Corbett, whose full title is Senior Research Fellow and Scientific Lead on the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team is a graduate of Orange High School?

“I went to (A.L.) Stanback Middle School,” said Dr. Corbett, “and I graduated from Orange High School in 2004.”

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 Dr. Carlos Ramirez: Cedar Ridge principal wants students to invest in school experience

With a doctorate degree in educational administration, Carlos Ramirez readily took on the challenge of stepping into a principal role mid-school year at Cedar Ridge High. The son of Mexican immigrants who obtained a green card through the Bracero program, Ramirez grew up surrounded by agricultural California, learning to drive a tractor before he could even drive a car. Today, you might find him on a hike with his dogs, reading science fiction novels, fishing on the dock in his backyard, or at his favorite downtown restaurant, Los Altos. 

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The Artist Formerly Known As Mayor Tom: Stevens ‘at peace’ with life out of the spotlight

If you see Tom Stevens taking in a view on King Street in downtown Hillsborough, he is likely: a.) admiring an area he had a hand in preserving/improving; b.) admiring a scene he has painted; c.) admiring a scene he plans to paint; or, d.) all of the above.

For 12 years, Tom Stevens was Mayor Tom, working Town Council meetings, listening to the locals, being the face of the town at events and having a key role in planning the future of Hillsborough. In between the endless mayoral duties, Stevens managed to find time to run his leadership consultation business. He also found time to paint the town. Literally.

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Will Atherton: Board of Education Chair knows OCS staff, schools, students worth breakneck pace

Will Atherton is on his phone, pacing between the outdoor seating of Weaver Street Market. The morning is brisk and the specialty grocery store is busy, but in a fairly typical way for a Thursday in late winter. The sky was colorless and blank; the air tense and anxious with coronavirus fears.

Off his phone, Atherton is all apologies for delaying our meeting. He’s been in close contact with Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder. He would receive several more phone calls before the end of the next hour.

For Atherton, the wheels of anticipation have been in motion for days over how the district would respond to the growing wave of cancelations and closings. As Chairman of the Board of Education for the Orange County Schools District, Atherton considers it a top priority to take part in as many school-related functions and information gathering and sharing events as possible. One might believe Atherton either has an identical twin or has discovered time travel.

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Representing in place: Rep. Graig Meyer is at home, but he’s hardly relaxing

It’s 7:30 p.m. and Graig Meyer is leaning forward in a chair in the den in his house. His smartphone is perched on a tripod and pointed back at him. A bright ring light illuminates Meyer’s face as he begins his Facebook Live video.

Tonight, Meyer is wearing a comfortable t-shirt and casual pants. The next night, Meyer will be wearing a t-shirt with the word “Brewed” over the shape of North Carolina, and the video set up will be in his backyard.

Meyer’s casual dress, video setting and ease in front of his smartphone camera belie the North Carolina District 50 Representative’s stress level.

“This is not a vacation,” Meyer said. “I’m working everyday from about 8 or 9 a.m. to 11 p.m or midnight. It’s a combination of legislative stuff, political stuff and my own business. And it’s stressful. There are some days when I feel better than others, but it’s stressful. Luckily my family’s doing OK, we’re all healthy. We’ve got food and shelter. We’re better off than a lot of people, but it’s a wild time.”

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Matthew Hunt: New Orange High principal is staying busy behind the scenes

Matthew Hunt, Orange High School’s new principal, is 6’5” tall. Right after attending school at Williams College in Massachusetts, he played professional basketball overseas as a shooting guard for a team in Holland. Although he was dwarfed by the seven-footers he competed against, in normal situations, Hunt stands out in a crowd. Situations like walking down a school hallway tightly packed with high school students jostling their way to first period.

But as Hunt stands in the hallway today, there are no students skirting by him on their way to class. There are only painters and maintenance workers doing upgrades on the nearly empty high school in Hillsborough. 

A mere three weeks after taking over as principal at Orange High, the school district closed in hopes of helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

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Sherita Cobb: Sherita Cobb is on a mission to feed those in need

Every Tuesday and Wednesday for around the past month, Sherita Cobb has hit the ground running as she makes her weekly trip to Sam’s Club to purchase huge quantities of food that will be taken to the Orange County Welcome Center where it will be sorted, bagged or boxed, and distributed to food delivery locations in the community.

But lately, Cobb, who is Director of Student Support Services at Orange County Schools, is hitting the ground hobbling. 

“I have plantar fasciitis,” she said. “I have to wear this boot for about three more weeks.”

However, Cobb is hardly slowing down. Each Tuesday, Cobb is joined by two social workers for a trip to Sam’s Club where they shop for food items in bulk. The food is loaded into a school bus and taken back to the Welcome Center where it is unloaded and sorted into stations of staple food items. 

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Hillary MacKenzie: New OCS Board of Education chair will keep ‘pushing forward’

One could easily say that when Hillary MacKenzie took over as chair of the Orange County Board of Education, she was taking on the toughest job in the area. But, while MacKenzie may agree about the toughness of the task, she would likely argue that she is a member of a strong team that is up to the challenge. Things are moving quickly (see related story on this page) and have already changed since MacKenzie spoke with the News of Orange about the role of the BOE.

How long have you been on the Orange County Board of Education? I was elected in 2018 and am beginning my third year on the school board, along with Sarah Smylie and Will Atherton, who were also elected for the first time in the 2018 cycle. Brenda Stephens was re-elected then and is beginning her 19th year on the board; Carrie Doyle, Jennifer Moore and Bonnie Hauser have just joined our team. Our board has a good mix of experience and new ideas.

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Harold Russell: Hillsborough native looks back on his humble beginnings and how the CDC has changed

When I called Harold Russell to ask if he would be interested in being interviewed for a story, the 85-year-old said he had just been tooling around with his lawn mower, and that he would be happy to talk.

Years ago, Russell was mowing his yard in Efland when his wife flagged him down to tell him he had a phone call. But that’s where the similarities stop. That call was from the Center for Disease Control. That call was with regard to a check he had coming to him for the use of a vaccination he had a part in creating.

“I told her to take a message, but she said I needed to talk to them,” Russell said. “I came in and it was the people in the technology transfer office telling me that some commercial company wanted to work on a product that I had developed. At that time if something was developed at the CDC, if they were licensing out a product to a commercial company, that company would have to pay to help recoup the CDC’s investment.” 

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Sen. Foushee brings varied perspective to legislature

Valerie Foushee has brought a varied perspective to her legislative role as the state representative for District 23, which covers Orange and Chatham counties. The lifelong Orange County resident worked for 21 years at the Chapel Hill Police Department and served on the Orange County Board of Education. She has been vocal at the local and state level in advocating for equal rights and opportunities for North Carolina’s minorities. 

Sen. Foushee spent some time talking by phone with the News of Orange, and answered a few questions about the positives and negatives facing the community.

NEWS OF ORANGE: How do you feel about the level of racism in Orange County? 

SEN. FOUSHEE: People who have not been so inclined to be as open with their rhetoric now feel embolden to do so. As someone who has lived in Orange County my entire life, and who has lived through the Civil Rights Movement and integration in the schools here, none of this is new to me. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I think it is a detriment to moving forward that so many people don’t think it happens in Orange County. That, to some extent, we live in a bubble. And that people don’t harbor those feelings of racism in Orange County. Because that’s just not true and it is not new. 

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Not just about not forgetting: Blackfeather wants press to remember a day that means so much to him

Before I get into the details and set up of this story, I want to issue an apology. As Managing Editor of the News of Orange County, I am sorry for not setting aside space in the Sept. 9 issue to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. 

I was sitting at my laptop in the News of Orange office, doing research for a story for the upcoming paper. My desk faces the many-paned window that faces the old Orange County Courthouse across King Street. I caught a glimpse of a man crossing the street toward the office.

It was John Blackfeather Jeffries, a Hillsborough-born, local historian, Native American, military veteran. He is also softly outspoken.

When he came in, I stood up and said, “Good morning,” but my greeting whiffed by him.

“I want to know what the paper did to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11,” he quietly demanded. John Blackfeather is not a big man. At 5’6”, I don’t tower over too many people, but I stood there looking down at him, stammering at the sudden realization that I had failed to mark a solemn and momentous occasion. 

I explained to John that I had been preoccupied with other events and mentioned the controversy over the potential 161-acre development and covering how businesses are dealing with COVID-19, among other issues.

John’s eyes were both tired and unsatisfied. He questioned why I couldn’t have assigned a reporter to write something on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Now, a lot of people don’t know that, while the News of Orange County has a paid staff of three, only one of those people is devoted to the editorial department: me.

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Awe of the law: A Question & Answer with Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood

Being well-liked and respected by nearly every community within a community can be like trying to thread a needle in a hurricane. And yet, somehow Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood has managed to slip that thread through to the other side. 

His role as a community leader extends far beyond his profession. Sheriff Blackwood is a prominent figure and keeps a high profile, often appearing at school-related events, community gatherings and keeping speaking engagements. He writes a monthly column called “The Lowdown,” that is popular among News of Orange subscribers and online readers.

“We’re real proud of the article,” Sheriff Blackwood said. “It’s kind of ironic: I can remember as a kid, my mom and dad would always read those editorials from people in the community. I think it’s ironic that anybody would be interested in anything I have to say. I get stopped in the grocery store, and they say, “Hey, I really appreciate you explaining that to me.” We try to focus on things that people question a lot. Chief Deputy Sykes came in one day with a question about a 9-1-1 call, I had been to a store and received a question about a 9-1-1 call, and I had already talked about explaining to people about the anatomy of a 9-1-1 call. That was a big hit. A lot of people have commented on it.

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