New Hanover County Commissioner Deb Hays died suddenly on Saturday, county officials announced this morning. The cause was likely a heart attack, according to a New Hanover County press release.
Hays was elected to a four-year term as a commissioner in 2020, taking office that December. She served as vice chair for part of that time.
Hays was 64 years old.
She was a longtime Realtor with Intracoastal Realty and has served on a number of other community boards, including previously as chair of the Wilmington Planning Commission and member of the Wilmington Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. She was currently the chair of Wilmington Downtown Inc.
“This is a shock for all of us and is a tremendous loss for this board and all of New Hanover County,” Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Rivenbark said in the release. “Deb was a long-time community advocate, a dedicated public servant, a friend and colleague, and – above all – a loving and proud mother and grandmother. She devoted her life to serving and helping others and cared deeply about this community. She will be greatly missed, and our prayers go to her family and friends during this difficult time.”
Hays was named Realtor of the Year in 2012 and earned the Hall of Fame award in 2020. Her civic service included involvement with Lump to Laughter and Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM).
“I will tell you that my real estate experience is by far not the biggest contributor to my understanding and dealings as a county commissioner; my public service is,” Hays said in 2021 in a profile story in WilmingtonBiz Magazine.
Building – and rebuilding – was a theme in her volunteer commitments. Her official county profile states that she has participated in the building of more than 20 Habitat homes along with 10 houses in Guatemala on a mission trip. She was involved in the rebuilding of post-hurricane New Orleans, and, closer to home, served on the Community Leaders Task Force for housing, renovation and rebuilding after Hurricane Florence.
Hays earned her bachelor’s degree from DePauw University and completed an IBM Masters Program, according to her profile, which adds that, before turning her hand to real estate, she was a bank officer, college financial aid director and longtime IBM corporate employee.
She was chosen as one of 12 members of NC Realtors to participate in the first year-long leadership development program, Leadership/NCR, and is a 2010 graduate of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Wilmington program.
“New Hanover County extends its heartfelt condolences to Commissioner Hays’ family as they grieve their loss,” county officials said in a statement. “In her honor, the New Hanover County flag on all buildings will be lowered Monday through the period of mourning and celebration of her life.”
More details will be posted as they become available.
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