A life of ‘devotion to Siler City’

Posted 10/28/20

SILER CITY — Mayor John F. Grimes’ funeral was held Saturday on the Chatham Charter School grounds to commemorate his lifetime of service and decades of leadership in Siler City …

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A life of ‘devotion to Siler City’

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SILER CITY — Mayor John F. Grimes’ funeral was held Saturday on the Chatham Charter School grounds to commemorate his lifetime of service and decades of leadership in Siler City government.

Only a small group attended in person, but the Grimes family live-streamed the event internationally via NFI Radio Gospel Network and Facebook. More than 3,300 have watched the funeral recording posted on Grimes’ Facebook page; nearly 200 have commented with expressions of remorse and support for the family.

John Franklin Grimes III was born in Davie County and grew up in Cooleemee. His athletic prowess as a young man earned him 22 football scholarship offers, including one from every school in the ACC. Grimes chose to stay local and attend Wake Forest — a decision, his family said, that he made to ensure his parents could attend all his home games.

After graduating, Grimes enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving with the 8th Infantry Division in Germany during the Cold War. On the day of his passing, the family was moved to learn that the American flag over the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. was flown in Grimes’ honor as a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Army. The flag was sent to Siler City where it was displayed at the funeral.

A deep love of family informed Grimes’ decisions throughout his life. It was family that first brought Grimes to Siler City — in 1968 he relocated to work with his father-in-law at Cecil Budd Tire Company, where he remained for 49 years.

Not long after moving, the Grimes family became close friends with the Reschs — the longtime owners of The Chatham News and The Chatham Record. When Mary John Resch decided to sell the newspaper in 2018, two years after her husband, Alan, passed away, she said her friend John was one of the first and only confidants she told. Grimes’ commitment to family and community were inextricable, she said; they were what made him an outstanding public servant.

“I’m sad,” Resch said, “but I’m able to remember the good times, many happy memories — his devotion to Siler City and especially his devotion to his family. He was just a good guy.”

In the 1990s, Grimes’ “devotion to Siler City” moved him to enter the political sphere. He started with the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, where he led the ticket in the 1994 election year before localizing his attention in 1999, running successfully for Siler City’s Dist. 4 commissioner seat. He served four terms in that capacity before holding the mayor’s seat for another four terms.

Mayor Grimes was a capable policy maker, but his character is what earned him Siler City’s respect, his family said.

“He was humble,” his daughter-in-law, Alysia, said. “He was down to earth, and he just lived wide open.”

In the wake of his death, friends and colleagues reflected on the indelible impact Grimes made on their lives:

“I had the pleasure of working with John for 11 years,” Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray said. “He was a very good friend of mine. He loved the town and worked very hard to make sure that it moved forward in a positive way.”

Bill Haiges, Siler City’s Dist. 4 commissioner, was appointed to replace Grimes when the latter was elected mayor in 2013.

“They were some big shoes to fill ...” Haiges said. “He was a fine man and someone who loved this town deeply. We have made so many positive strides over the last nearly seven years under his leadership, and we are a better town because of that.”

Grimes’ success, friends said, was in his principled stand for what was right, not just politically advantageous.

“John had the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others,” Siler City Commissioner Curtis Brown said.

His sincerity and empathic communication skills inspired confidence in Grimes’ constituents as he led them through some of the town’s most difficult years.

“I had the pleasure of serving on the town board with Mayor Grimes for seven years,” Commissioner Lewis Fadely said. “The town was blessed to have him, and his death is a tremendous loss. John was a great leader for our town. Seven years ago, the town was not doing well economically. Through John’s leadership, the town started to turn the corner, and industry and jobs started coming back to Siler City. Now, we are doing much better than we were seven years ago.”

Siler City and its residents were definitely in John’s heart, Fadely said.

“And he cared about us all equally,” Fadely added. “The love he had for Siler City and its residents is evidenced by his years of selfless service to this town.”

That Grimes made immediate and lasting impressions on people he knew, even briefly, is demonstrated in the way Commissioner Norma Boone, who was appointed to her post just three weeks ago, remembers him.

On the day of her appointment, by which time Grimes had already taken ill, “Mr. Grimes called me and congratulated me on being appointed,” Boone said. “... he explained why he would not be there, but told me he wanted to make sure he called to welcome me to the board. In my interactions with Mr. Grimes, I always found him to be a kind and considerate man. He will be missed.”

The town’s board of commissioners has not discussed replacing Grimes as mayor, and it is possible they will defer that conversation for some time. It is a precedent which the board established after Mayor Pro Tem Larry Cheek passed away.

“I think out of respect they didn’t talk about it for a month or so,” Siler City Town Clerk Jenifer Johnson said of Cheek’s death, “because they just wanted to be respectful to his legacy. So, I don’t know if they’ll bring up (Mayor Grimes’ replacement) at the next meeting. It would be totally at their discretion what their next steps might be.”

The commissioners have three options for how to proceed when eventually they address the vacancy.

“They can interview people from the public or ask for letters of interest and then interview them and appoint somebody as temporary mayor,” Johnson said. “It can be that they appoint one who is already on the board as mayor. Or they can not appoint anyone at all and let the electorate elect somebody at the next election which would be in November of next year.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com


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