Richard G. “Dick” Sears, who helped transform the city of Holly Springs for two decades as mayor, has died of cancer. He was 83 years old.
Sears was elected mayor in 2001, calling his then 3-year-old granddaughter his campaign manager.
He ran unopposed for re-election in 2005 and was re-elected three more times until his retirement in 2021. He announced his illness in April of the same year.
As mayor, Sears worked to make the community of West Wake County an attractive town where residents could “live, work and play without having to go out of town for most services”, according to a press release.
Sears’ motto throughout its campaigns was, “If it’s good for the kids, it’s good for Holly Springs,” the statement said.
The city grew to a population of over 46,000 during Sears’ 20 years in office.
He has been involved in various community initiatives, including the charter of the city’s Kiwanis, Civitan, Lions and Rotary clubs. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce.
“He was a giant”
Originally from Muncie, Indiana, Sears moved to Holly Springs in 1995 after working for 35 years with retailer Sears in New York, Pennsylvania and Chicago. There, he became the store’s national group marketing manager. He is a descendant of Richard Warren Sears, the founder of the department store chain.
“You couldn’t get to a Subway sandwich shop opening without Dick Sears cutting the ribbon,” Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said Friday. “He was everything, and he was such a defender of the city.”
Sears graduated from Perdue University in 1961.
Hutchinson said Sears is the reason Holly Springs has become a “mecca” for life sciences and technology companies.
“(Sears) was such a positive force who understood how to grow communities in a sustainable way,” Hutchinson told The News & Observer. “Him should be remembered for this legacy he created. Holly Springs is what it is today in quality of life, government infrastructure, business center, especially in the sciences of life, thanks to Dick Sears.
Biotech companies like Amgen and Fujifilm have come to Holly Springs in recent years after years of strategies led by Sears and other city leaders, Hutchinson said. The two factories intend to employ more than 1,000 people in the region.
“What he saw was the importance of creating site-ready locations. What he did was he created a site-ready location, so when Amgen came looking for a place to put their life science manufacturing, they had Holly Springs,” Hutchinson said. “Companies obviously want an available, talented workforce, but they also want a government that works.”
Hutchinson said Sears made sure the businesses had permits and that inspections were completed so they could start operating in the area immediately.
The city has also created more parks and greenways under Sears leadership, Hutchinson said. He was also instrumental in building Ting Stadium, where the Salamanders collegiate summer baseball team plays.
The stadium was renamed for Sears after its retirement last year.
“Not only is he a legacy for Holly Springs, but we have 12 mayors in Wake County and he was a legacy for other mayors,” Hutshinson said. “He was a giant and a dear friend.”
Just five miles from Holly Springs was another Wake County town whose mayor aimed to transform the area into an attractive place to live and work.
John Byrne, the former mayor of Fuquay-Varina, was elected the same year as Sears. The two have joined forces to make the best decisions for growth and development for the people of their respective cities.
“We were able to do more because we did it together,” Byrne told The N&O. “It was almost like we were joined at the hip. I will miss him very much.
One of the projects they jointly pursued was to have the Triangle Highway, NC 540, pass through Holly Springs, Bryne said.
“(Sears) could really see the long-term value of transportation,” Byrne said. “He was a good listener for people. He was willing to devote much of his time and energy to improving not only Holly Springs, but also southern Wake County.
Another project was the completion of the 50-bed UNC Rex Holly Springs Hospital. It was one of Sears’ greatest accomplishments as mayor.
“It was not an easy project,” Byrne said. “It was being ready to be denied, to pick yourself up and keep pushing the ball forward. He was one of those people who really had a good sense for his community. …We became partners in this project This will be a long term benefit to our region for years and years to come.
Roy Tempke, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said in a statement to The N&O that Sears was a “stalwart advocate for Holly Springs and the health of its residents.”
“Mayor Sears was one of a kind,” Tempke said. “He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on.”
Leaders and friends pay tribute to Sears
In a statement, current Holly Springs Mayor Sean Mayefskie said Sears has a “tremendous influence” in the community.
“Not only did he shape Holly Springs on big issues, including transportation, health care and economic development. His deep and genuine care for Holly Springs will be felt for years to come,” he said.
Congresswoman Deborah Ross, who serves the state’s Second District, tweeted that Sears had played “an essential role in Holly Springs.”
“We will always remember his extraordinary life and legacy,” Ross said.
Randy Harrington, City Manager of Holly Springs, said Sears “was one of our city’s greatest champions.”
“He has been a strong advocate for children, strong health care options, public safety, parks and greenways, new infrastructure and economic development that has created new jobs and increased the city’s tax base. “, did he declare.
Sears leaves behind his wife, Mollie, 60; three children, Rick, Mark and Kristen; 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A ceremony will be held in Sears’ honor in October at Christ Church in Holly Springs.
The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Sears’ anti-bullying campaign darling or any charity that benefits children to honor his lifelong dedication to their well-being, according to his obituary. .
This story was originally published September 2, 2022 12:00 p.m.