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Charlie Messer, longtime county commissioner, dies at age 66

Charlie Messer, a devoted advocate for Henderson County as a member of the Board of Commissioners for the past 20 years and a tireless promoter especially of parks improvement, died early Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 66.

"Commissioner Messer’s fingerprints are all over this community," County Manager Steve Wyatt said. "His impact on education, anything to do with young people, economic development and his love of parks and recreation — a way to give kids positive outlooks — will long be seen. He is as much a champion for Henderson County as anyone, and his legacy will be leaving us much better than he found us."

A member of the Board of Commissioners since 2000, Messer filed in December for re-election to a sixth term, saying that he wanted to follow through on the major projects under way in the county.

"Six months ago I didn't know (whether he would run) because of some medical problems I was having and I've got all that (resolved) and I thank the good Lord," he said then. Cancer had returned more recently, and Messer was hospitalized at Mission Health in Asheville. In his final hours, when he asked to go home to Henderson County, Wyatt arranged for a Henderson County ambulance to transport him to the Elizabeth House, escorted by sheriff's deputies. He died around 1 a.m. Friday "after a Herculean effort to bring him back to Henderson County so that he would draw his final breath in the place that he loved," Wyatt said.

As a commissioner, Charlie showed a deep interest in matters of land planning, education and recreation, and was a leader in the adoption of the Land Development Code, which brought county-wide zoning. He served as the both chairman and vice chairman and also was chairman of the Cane Creek Water and Sewer District, and had served on the Board of Trustees for Pardee Hospital.

In statements the county released Friday morning, fellow commissioners and county administrators expressed admiration and respect for Messer and sadness at his passing.

"For two decades Commissioner Messer was a linchpin in County Government," current Chair Grady Hawkins said. "He at all times had the best interest of our county when making tough decisions. He will be sorely missed but his contributions to this county will be evident for many years to come."

"It is a sad day in Henderson County when we lose such a stalwart member of our community," Vice Chair Bill Lapsley said. "I have been a benefactor over the past five years of Charlie's wisdom and guidance. His dedication and service to Henderson County will be missed by the Board of Commissioners for years to come."

"Henderson County lost a true friend and servant today and I lost a friend, colleague and mentor," Commissioner Rebecca McCall said. "I will always treasure the past two and a half years of serving on the BOC with Charlie. It was evident to me from the beginning that he truly loved this county and the citizens and wanted the best for all. He will be sorely missed by all."
"I knew and worked with Charlie for many years and in every decision or action he took I could see the love and devotion he had to his family and to the citizens of Henderson County," Commissioner Mike Edney said. "I will miss him."
"Charlie Messer was a rare gem," Assistant County Manager Amy Brantley said. "A true gentleman, and a passionate advocate for those causes near to his heart, all of which were dedicated to the betterment of the community we call home. His easy smile and gentle humor touched everyone around him, and I will forever treasure having had the privilege to know and work with him these last 20 years."

"Commissioner Messer said over and over that he wanted to make Henderson County an even better place for his children and grandchildren," County Attorney Russ Burrell said. "His pride in talking about them was always clear. Charlie’s work on the Board of Commissioners is great and lasting evidence of his success."

Messer was a steady presence in local politics and governance for three decades, starting on the Fletcher Planning Board in June 1993 then serving on the Fletcher Town Council until he was elected to the Board of Commissioners. Throughout that time, he remained close to the regular working people he saw every day at Charlie's on the Creek, his convenience store and gas station in Fletcher. He called many customers by name and usually remembered their brand of cigarettes, which he reached for as they strode up to the counter. He knew what factory they worked in, what new home they were building or which roof they were replacing.

"I've enjoyed working with the people," he said in December. "Like I said, I don't agree with everybody, but I can be in it, just like a marriage, and try to get something done and accomplished."

As a long-time commissioner, he participated in decisions that led to new schools and parks, including the Athletics and Activity Center on the former Hendersonville Christian School campus; the Pardee-Mission medical campus on the county line, the health sciences building on the Pardee campus, the new emergency services headquarters, the $60 million Hendersonville High School construction and renovation project and more. Throughout his 20 years of service on the Board of Commissioners, he has been a consistent and vocal advocate for parks improvements, especially youth softball and baseball, pushing to upgrade ballfields at Jackson Park and the Etowah Lions Park so they could attract regional tournaments. On issues of water and sewer rates, he declared often that residents of the northern end of the county were being overcharged by the city of Asheville for water and the Metropolitan Sewer District for wastewater service, and he joined other commissioners in pushing the city of Hendersonville to equalize rates for its customers outside the city limits.

A native of the N.C. mountains, Messer was born June 11, 1954, in Waynesville. His family moved to Henderson County and he graduated from West Henderson High School. He is survived by his wife, Sheila Baldwin Messer, two daughters and two grandsons. No arrangements had been announced on Friday morning.

Messer's death leaves Republican leaders scrambling to appoint a replacement for his seat and also a candidate for the November election. Debbie Roundtree is the Democratic nominee in the District 2 election. Although a candidate must live in the district, all Board of Commissioners seats are elected countywide.

The party executive committee must submit its nomination within 30 days to serve the remainder of Messer's term, which expires on Dec. 7, and to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot as the Republican nominee for the seat. As long as the executive committee submits the name by the deadline, commissioners must appoint that person to the seat and accept the nomination for the November ballot, County Attorney Russ Burrell said.