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Remembering Becky Heron

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The last time I hung out with Becky Heron we were riding on a refurbished school bus through the rolling countryside of northern Durham County.

A longtime county commissioner, she was among several dozen people on a Farmland Tour in 2009, an opportunity to meet Durham residents often overlooked by their city counterparts just a few miles away.

We traipsed through large dairy operations, greeted a herd of goats and explored historic African-American farms. On the commission, Becky, then 82 years old, stayed engaged with her constituents; her energy and attention never flagged.

Thoughtful, feisty and forthright: Becky advocated for the environment and defended the less fortunate—those on two legs and those on four. Her curiosity seemed boundless. She could digest vast amounts of information in a short time. She wanted to know how and why things worked—and how and why they didn't. Especially in her later years, Becky acquired the kind of fearlessness in the face of powerful special interests that comes from seven or eight decades of experience on this planet.

Becky died last week, at 86. She had been ill for about three years. When she resigned from the commission after 29 years, citing her failing health, I felt sad and dismayed, not only for her but also for the city of Durham. I wondered how the balance of power on the commission would change. It's not like Becky feared being the lone vote. For example, she was no fan of 751 South, the controversial development proposed for southern Durham County. And she would have been appalled at the recent legal calisthenics that went into making that development possible.

Becky reminded me of many elderly women I have known who came of age in a more challenging time. When Becky was young, which would have been in the 1940s and 1950s, women had few career and educational options, not to mention opportunities in politics. This generation of women has an inner fortitude and forbearance that I will not know if I possess until, if I'm fortunate, I make it that long.

That day on the school bus, I watched her chat with her colleagues and gaze out the window, clearly enjoying a day in the county she loved.

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