Community says goodbye to Commissioner Cooksey

Neil Cooksey, who represented the SouthPark area on the Mecklenburg  County Board of Commissioners as District 5 commissioner, died Oct. 10 at the age of 51 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Cooksey was buried Saturday, Oct. 13, at Carmel Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon, elder and Sunday school teacher. He decided this year not to run for re-election for the county board, and announced in June that he would stop receiving treatment and enter hospice.

“Neil was committed to the ‘cause’ and never wavered,” said Cooksey’s fellow south Charlotte commissioner, Bill James, in an email to South Charlotte Weekly. “He was a consistent conservative voice representing the interests of his district and south Mecklenburg. I will miss him and his voice on the county commission. Even though debates could get heated, Neil was composed and treated everyone fairly. I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice even when others were berating him for some position he took.”

Cooksey got involved in politics at a young age, graduating from Davidson College with a degree in political science before holding an internship at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He went back to school for his Juris Doctorate at the University of Michigan Law School before eventually heading back to Charlotte, where he met his wife, Allyson McWhirter. The couple had three children: Abigail Banner, Anna Nichols and Neil Cooksey Jr., and those who knew him said family was of the utmost importance to the commissioner no matter what was going on in county government.

“The most important thing in life is raising intelligent and articulate children,” James said of Cooksey. “Neil did that and focused on his family and his work. His legacy will live on through them.”

Cooksey’s seat on county commission will be filed in the November election, with new commissioners sworn in on Dec. 3. Democrat Paula Harvey and Republican Matthew Ridenhour spoke with South Charlotte Weekly following Cooksey’s death about what it would take to continue his efforts for Mecklenburg County.

“This is not about politics when something like this happens,” said Harvey, who saw her aunt die from pancreatic cancer two years ago. “You never wish anybody to have something like that happen to them. I’ve said many prayers for him and I’m sure he’s in a better place.

“He was very ill toward the end, but I was still so impressed that he was trying to do the job up until the very end. I want to be like that – I want to be a person who works for the people.”

Added Ridenhour, who earlier this year received Cooksey’s endorsement in the election, “He’s going to be really missed. He’s one of the good guys… I know he was a man of great faith and I guess there is some comfort knowing he’s with the savior in a new body.

“Those are impossible shoes to fill. He was very well respected and (had the) ability to think through solutions and find common ground. If I could do half the job that he did, I think I would be doing a pretty good job.”

Condolences for Cooksey’s family can be offered at

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