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TOP 10 STORIES OF 2021: 7, 6, 5

 U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn makes a speech at state GOP Convention in November. U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn makes a speech at state GOP Convention in November.

7. The gift that keeps on giving

Madison Cawthorn wasted no time establishing his brand as the gift that keeps on giving. Just three days after he was sworn in as the youngest member of Congress, the Hendersonville native made a fiery appeal to the crowd gathered for the Jan. 6 rally for President Trump. “Wow, this crowd has some fight in it,” he exulted. “I am so thankful that each and every single one of you who’ve come. I just rolled down from the Capitol building about two miles away down Pennsylvania Avenue. And I will tell you, the courage I see in this crowd is not represented on that hill.” The 26-year-old firebrand wasn’t done. Last summer he served generous helpings of red meat to a crowd of supporters in Macon County. "I will tell you, as much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there's nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American,” he said before making a cryptic allusion to a plan to bust out “patriots” jailed for the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Trumpy lightning rod also:

  • Got caught in February with an unloaded 9-mm Glock in his carry-on bag at the security check at Asheville Regional Airport.
  • Repeatedly carried a large knife to school board meetings he attended to oppose mask mandates, in violation of state laws prohibiting weapons on school property.
  • Announced on Dec. 21 his divorce from his wife, Cristina Bayardelle Cawthorn, after eight months of marriage.
  • Stunned North Carolina Republicans and roiled the races for two congressional seats when he announced he was abandoning his current seat to run in the newly created 13th Congressional District west of Charlotte. That touched off a series of falling dominoes, including state Sen. Chuck Edwards’ entry into the District 14 contest and state Rep. Tim Moffitt’s filing for Edwards’s seat.

6. Obituary for a funeral home

The story of one of the city’s most respected and successful businesses came to an emphatic and tragic close with a state-ordered shutdown and the death of its generation patriarch. Founded in 1903, Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors had been battling to stay open since a consent order in November 2018. A series of complaints over the past two years and an inspector’s report ultimately sealed the fate of the Church Street stalwart. The N.C. Board of Funeral Service ordered the funeral home shut down and revoked the funeral director license of Thomas Redmond “Tom” Shepherd and the crematory license of his wife, Melody Shepherd. Three weeks earlier, the N.C. Cemetery Commission won a judge’s order to seize the assets of Shepherd Memorial Park and put the cemetery under the authority of an appointed manager. Tom Shepherd, who had been in failing health in recent years, died on Dec. 30, leaving the future of the family-owned business more clouded still.

5. District attorney removed from office

Appointed district attorney in 2013, Greg Newman had cruised to win election to the post in 2014 and 2018. But he failed to prevail in a Henderson County courtroom in April when his job was on the line. Superior Court Judge Robert C. Ervin of Morganton ordered Newman removed from office, two weeks after a three-day hearing into charges that the top prosecutor for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties had mishandled a plea deal for an accused child sexual offender, failed to ensure the victim and her family had the opportunity to speak and lied about his actions to the state Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission. “Judge (Athena) Brooks would not have accepted that plea on that date if she had been advised that the victim wanted to be heard,” Ervin wrote, citing the judge’s testimony at the state Bar inquiry. “The court would not have accepted (James) Sapp’s plea if the judge had been aware that the victim had not been notified of the hearing and wished to be heard by the court.” Regarding another Bar complaint that resulted in a reprimand of Newman,  concluded that the district attorney’s “misrepresentations ... to the State Bar in connection with the investigation into the grievance” constituted willful misconduct and a fourth grounds for removal under state law. A former mayor of Hendersonville, Newman accepted the order without appealing. “Mr. Newman is honored to have served the people of Henderson, Polk and Transylvania since 2013,” his attorney, David B. Freedman, said in a statement after the removal was announced. “His office has done great things to ensure the safety of the people of the community and he looks forward to being able to help them in the future.” Newman has since received an appointment to serve as a public defender in Buncombe County.