By Catharin Shepard • Editor • A man with decades of experience serving as a county commissioner will return to the board next week.
The Hoke County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last Wednesday morning to appoint Robert “Bobby” Wright to serve out the remainder of the late Commissioner Lonnie Baldwin’s term in office. Wright and his wife, Shirley Wright, were present at the meeting for the vote.
“I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each one of y’all for the trust that you’ve put in me. I take it real serious, and I’ll certainly work real hard to do the best job that I can,” Wright said in comments after the vote. “We’ve got a good board, you can look at the things that have been done over the last 20, 30 years, and I’ll tell you, we’ll continue to do it. We’ll continue to make the citizens of Hoke County proud. It’ll certainly be good to be back with y’all, and I thank you again.”
Wright turned to greet a gathering of supporters from the community, watching from the audience, who backed him for the position.
“Y’all are the ones who helped remind the commissioners that we can work together, that we can do things that are beneficial for the county, and for all of that I do appreciate it,” he said.
Wright will take the oath of office this coming Monday, March 20 at the regularly scheduled commission meeting. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ room at the Pratt Building on Main Street in Raeford. It is open to the public. The board requested a light agenda to have plenty of time to attend to the matter, with a reception to follow.
Wright previously served 20 years on the Hoke County Board of Commissioners, before going off the board in 2020. He was narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary election that year in a contest so close that it went to a recount. Wright will serve out the remaining time of the late Baldwin’s term, which ends in December 2024.
Wright is a lifelong Hoke County resident and has farmed in the county for decades. He graduated from Hoke High and studied at Campbell College. As a commissioner, he has served on many committees and the Board of Health. He also previously served 10 years on the Hoke County Board of Education, and has volunteered with Smart Start and Hoke County Farm Bureau. The Wrights are longtime members of Bethel Presbyterian Church.
The North Carolina Governor’s Office honored Wright with the Order of the Long-Leaf Pine in 2017. The Robert A. Wright Hoke County Agricultural Building on Palmer Street was named in his honor when it opened in 2020.
Commissioner Harry Southerland called the vote to appoint Wright to the board “a great day in Hoke County.”
“This is a great day in Hoke County that we get to do something that’s going to be historic, to bring someone back to this board who’s going to bring us some wisdom and knowledge, and some unity. I’m so excited about that today,” he said.
The commissioners had a wide number of possible candidates for the seat to choose from, Southerland said.
“We had a lot of candidates. I can count between 20 to 30 candidates who were trying to fill this position or had some type of interest in this position,” he said. “After looking at all the candidates to narrow down the field, I looked at several different things. I looked at someone that could bring unity and vision to the board, someone that could bring wisdom and knowledge to the board, and I looked at someone that knows us as a board and knows us as a county, and has a caring and compassionate heart. That’s not to say that others didn’t have that, but there’s one that stands about all.”
Commission Vice Chairman James Leach made the motion to appoint Wright.
“It gives me great honor and great privilege this morning to sit here on this board for about 30 years, working with a young man for many of those years that I’ve enjoyed working with, him and his family,” Leach said. “It gives me great honor to make the motion that we do Mr. Lonnie Baldwin’s replacement with the honorable Mr. Robert A. Wright.”
Southerland seconded the motion. The vote carried unanimously.
Commission Chairman Allen Thomas congratulated Wright on the appointment and said he looks forward to serving with him again.
“I think Commissioner Southerland already stated that there were a lot of names of people who wanted to serve in this position, and it took us a while to get to where we are now. I know some people wanted us to move quickly, but I was more inclined to more correctly,” Thomas said.
The chairman recalled the vote in 2021 when the commissioners were tasked with appointing a person to serve out the remainder of the late Sheriff Dr. Hubert Peterkin’s term in office. At that appointment, the vote was not unanimous. Thomas said he wanted the vote to appoint a fifth commissioner to be unanimous.
“As soon as we found out about this vacancy, my promise to you was that when we got to this point, we would be united together, one board supporting one candidate,” he said. “Let the record show that this board has made a great decision in bringing back Bobby Wright.”
Several people spoke last week during the public input session of the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting to support appointing Wright to Baldwin’s seat. The chairman referred to comments from former County Commissioner Ellen McNeill, who spoke in support of Wright and in favor of having a diverse county commission, “because everybody wants to have a seat at the table and know somebody’s speaking for them,” she said at the time.
“Someone at the last meeting made a great statement, that people in this community need to have someone who looks like them,” Thomas said in remarks after the appointment. “And I mean that, from people who come from our background, we know what that means, we know what that feels like to look at people in authority, look at people in power, and to not see anyone who looks like us, not see anyone who understands the paths that we’ve walked. So that hit deeply to me, and I believe with my heart that Hoke County is better when we represent all people. While we do believe we’ve done a good job representing all people, we also acknowledge the fact that there is a missing piece. And today we have filled that missing piece, and we will make sure that all Hoke County residents, no matter what part of the county you live on, no matter if you just got here yesterday or you’ve lived here all your life, you will have someone on this board of five who you feel comfortable coming to and expressing your concerns.”
Commissioner Tony Hunt, who also served with Wright for many years, joined Leach, Southerland and Thomas in welcoming Wright back to the commission.
“I’d like to welcome Mr. Wright back to our board. As James has said, we’ve served many years together. Haven’t always seen eye to eye on all the issues, but we have always been able to move on from one issue to another issue, to always try to do what’s right for the citizens of Hoke County,” Hunt said. “I’m honored to have him back on the board with us and working with us, with all the great things that we have going on in Hoke County. He is part of the reason why this county is where it’s at today and the shape that it’s in. The hard work that he has done while he was on this board, and some of the seeds that he had planted and the fields that he had labored in government have come to fruition and are bearing fruit now. It couldn’t have a better person back on the board to be able to enjoy some of those fruits from his labors, and to help guide us and keep us in the direction we’re going.”
The chairman noted that the commission is planning for several upcoming events including a national conference in Texas.
“I’ve already told Commissioner Wright to pack his bags because there’s some fun things ahead,” Thomas said.
The board resumed the meeting Wednesday after recessing a meeting from Tuesday, held at the county agriculture center to discuss plans for the new county courthouse. That meeting itself was resumed from the board’s regularly scheduled meeting last Monday night.
In other business added to the agenda, the board additionally reappointed three members to the Hoke County Planning Board during the brief resumed meeting. Commissioners reappointed William Hollingsworth, Harold Brock and Byron Jones to the Hoke County Planning Board. A fourth potential member was sent back to the planning members for further discussion.
Hunt was out of state and attended the meeting by video call.